Author: Matthew Pouliot

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Report: Nick Johnson chooses retirement at age 34

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Former Yankees, Nationals and Orioles first baseman Nick Johnson, one of the great what-ifs of the last 15 years, has opted for retirement, WFAN’s Sweeny Murti reports.

A phenomenal hitting talent, Johnson missed his first full season in the Yankees system before even arriving in the majors. He hit .345/.525/.548 in 132 games in Double-A in 1999, then sat out 2000 because of a wrist injury that required surgery. He debuted with the Bombers in 2001, but he struggled to establish himself as he continued to deal with wrist problems. After he hit .284/.422/.472 in 96 games as a 24-year-old in 2003, the Yankees traded him, Juan Rivera and Randy Choate to the Expos for Javier Vazquez.

Johnson played 4 1/2 seasons for the Expo-Nats and had his best year in 2006, hitting .290/.428/.520 with a career-high 23 homers and 77 RBI in 147 games. Unfortunately, his season ended on Sept. 23, when he suffered a broken leg in a collision with Austin Kearns. He went on to miss the entire 2007 campaign, and although he returned in 2008, he played in just 38 games then due to a torn wrist ligament.

Johnson’s last hurrah came in 2009, when he hit .291/426/.405 in 133 games for the Nationals and Marlins. He finished second in the NL in OBP to Albert Pujols. After that, he played in 24 games with the Yankees in 2010, missed the 2011 season and then played in 38 games with the Orioles last year.

Johnson, now 34, finishes his career with a .268/.399/.441 line in 2,698 at-bats over 10 seasons. That .399 OBP is 62nd all-time for players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. Had Johnson been able to avoid his initial wrist problems and stay relatively healthy, it’s pretty easy to imagine him putting together a career in which he had a few .300 seasons, several top-three finishes in OBP and maybe 300 homers over 15-18 seasons. Maybe that’s not a Hall of Famer, but with the possible .420 OBP, some would have argued for him.

Spencer Lader wants to take Carlos Delgado down with him

Carlos Delgado comeback
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If you don’t know who Spencer Lader is, that’s OK. Don’t feel bad. Still, the New York Daily News thought he was important enough to dedicate an article to his rantings, mostly because he’s trying desperately to connect Carlos Delgado to steroids.

Sports memorabilia dealer Spencer Lader and other defendants in the case want [Jose] Reyes, now with the Blue Jays, to tell them under oath what he knows about Delgado’s relationship with Anthony Galea, the controversial Toronto sports medicine doctor — and human growth hormone proponent — who pleaded guilty in July 2011 to transporting misbranded and unapproved drugs into the United States.

“I’m not saying Delgado used steroids, but I do have a right to know if he did,” Lader says. “We thought his name had commercial value, but everybody knows players linked to steroids have no commercial value.

“I want to be the first person in memorabilia to keep these people accountable.”

Ummm, no. You want to make money.

Here’s the case: Delgado is suing Lader and other defendants, saying them owe him at least $767,500 under the terms of the an exclusive memorabilia deal agreed to in 2006.

Lader, apparently, thinks his best defense is trying to get Reyes to say Delgado used steroids, something that seems both highly unlikely to happen and very irrelevant anyway. If Delgado’s memorabilia proved next to worthless, it certainly had nothing to do with him being connected to steroids, because no one really ever linked him with steroids until Lader.

Lader does make some other claims, of course, including the funny note than Delgado would sign Alex Rodriguez bats for Lader instead of his own. The article closes with one little gem:

Delgado never did reach the 500 home run club. He hit 473 home runs in a career that ended with a whimper. Delgado played in just 26 games for the Mets in 2009 before his season ended that May with hip surgery. Hip problems are a long-term side effect of performance-enhancing drug use, Lader notes.

Yeah, let’s just take his word for it. After all, it fits right in with the Daily News trying to link steroids and A-Rod’s hip injury last month.

Danny Espinosa will play through torn rotator cuff

Danny Espinosa, Allen Craig
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Rather than undergo surgery that likely would have cost him at least April and May, Danny Espinosa has decided to play through a torn left rotator cuff he believes he originally sustained in September, CSNWashington.com’s Mark Zuckerman reports.

Espinosa was originally diagnosed with a bone bruise after diving for a ball on Sept. 7.

“I knew something was wrong,” he said. “The cortisone shot masked me for a little bit, and everybody kept asking me: “Is your shoulder OK? Is your shoulder OK?’ I’m not going to come out and say, ‘Yeah, I’m hurt. My shoulder hurts. I’m just playing through pain.’ But there was something wrong.”

Espinosa struggled offensively over the rest of the season and only learned about two weeks after the Nationals were eliminated from the playoffs that he had a tear. He’s since worked to build up the muscles around his rotator cuff, and he resumed swinging on Jan. 1.

“My swing feels really good, better than it did last year,” he said. “I’m really confident in my swing right now. Maybe it’s because I have the confidence that my shoulder’s alright. But I do feel really good.”

Espinosa is set to remain the Nationals’ starting second baseman this season, but if the shoulder becomes a problem again, the team does have a quality fallback in Steve Lombardozzi.

Heyman: King Felix has no interest in four-year deal

Felix Hernandez
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FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported earlier in the week that the Mariners were considering offering Felix Hernandez a four-year, $100 million extension that would kick in after his current deal expires and cover the 2015-18 seasons. But if they were still weighing the possibility, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman says they might as well forget it:

Foxsports.com reported a few days ago that the Mariners were thinking about a four-year extension for $25 million a year, and while it’s not known whether such an offer has been made or even suggested yet, indications from people familiar with the discussions are that such a proposal would be a non-starter for the starter generally considered one of the best two or three in the game.

Heyman says it’d take a six-year offer to get Hernandez to the table now. But that wouldn’t make much sense for Seattle. The only reason to extend him this winter, when he still has two years left on his deal, is if he’d be willing to give them a discount. Since it seems that’s not in the cards, the Mariners should let 2013 play out and then try to hammer out something next winter.

Hernandez is due $39.5 million over the next two seasons before he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2014 campaign. That could be a huge winter if both Hernandez and Justin Verlander make it to free agency, but chances are that one or both will sign extensions before then.

Frank Thomas hoping for Hall of Fame enshrinement next year

Frank Thomas
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In town for SoxFest on Saturday, Frank Thomas was his typical direct self in expressing his desire to enter Cooperstown next winter and in labeling the numbers of steroid users “fake.”

CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes has the story, which includes a video interview.

Thomas has a very clear sense of his place in history, and he knows he ranks among the elite. And while bitter might not be the right word, he still takes issue over losing the 2000 AL MVP award to a player in Jason Giambi who later admitted to cheating.

“I spent my whole career working my butt off and hopefully I get what I deserve,” Thomas said. “Of course I would be disappointed [if unelected]. I’m not going to lie to you. Of course I will. Like I said, I think my resume speaks for itself. Losing a third MVP to a guy who admitted he was PED, I think that would have put me at another level that only a couple of guys have enjoyed ever in this game. The 12-year-run I had was incredible, very historical. So, I think I’ve done enough to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”

Thomas is right about that. He’s also right about the MVP thing. The only player ever to win more than three is Barry Bonds, one of those with “fake” numbers, according to Thomas. Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Mike Schmidt all won three apiece.

Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine will join Thomas on the ballot for the first time next year. Thomas indicated that he’d like to see those two and Craig Biggio share the stage with him at induction.