Dan Johnson hits first three homers on season’s final day

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Sure, Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown. But that’s only because no one wanted to give Dan Johnson 550 at-bats.

Johnson hit his first three homers of the season for the White Sox in a 9-0 win over the Indians on Wednesday. He took David Huff deep in the second and fifth innings and then hit the second of back-to-back homers with Dayan Viciedo off Vinnie Pestano in the ninth.

Johnson had just 17 at-bats this season going into the night. He was in the starting lineup primarily because the White Sox didn’t want Adam Dunn to get two strikeouts and break Mark Reynolds’ single-season record of 223.

As you may remember, Johnson also came up big in last year’s season finale. Playing for the Rays, he hit a pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the ninth to send the game against the Yankees into extra innings. The Rays went on to win in 12 to overtake the Red Sox for the AL wild card.

In all, Johnson has 56 homers in 1,320 major league at-bats. The first 42 of those came with the A’s from 2005-07. After getting overtaken in Oakland’s plans, he briefly went to Japan, but didn’t find it to his liking. He’s mostly torn up Triple-A ever since. When he has played in the majors, he’s hit .184 with 12 homers and 40 walks in 217 at-bats over the last three years.

Johnson is 33 now and he’s not an exceptional first baseman, so it’s hard to say whether anyone will give him a real opportunity next spring. The White Sox don’t have room for him with Paul Konerko and Dunn under contract, so they’ll likely make him a free agent later this month.

Noah Syndergaard on Mets extending Jacob deGrom: ‘Pay the man already.’

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March has marked contract extension season across Major League Baseball. Just in the last week, we have seen Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Brandon Lowe, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly, Mike Trout, Eloy Jiménez, Blake Snell, and Paul Goldschmidt sign extensions. Nolan Arenado, Luis Severino, and Aaron Nola also notably signed extensions during the offseason.

One name strikingly absent from that list: Mets ace Jacob deGrom. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is coming off of a season in which he posted a 1.70 ERA with 269 strikeouts and 46 walks across 217 innings. It’s the lowest ERA by a qualified starter since Zack Greinke‘s 1.66 in 2015. Prior to Greinke, no pitcher had posted an ERA of 1.70 or lower since Greg Maddux in 1994-95 (1.56, 1.63).

deGrom is earning $17 million this season and will enter his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility going into the 2020 season. He will turn 31 years old in June, but is an obvious extension candidate for the Mets, who have built arguably their most competitive team since 2015, when the club lost the World Series in five games to the Royals. Thus far, though, the Mets and deGrom haven’t been able to get anywhere in extension talks.

deGrom’s rotation mate Noah Syndergaard is watching. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Syndergaard said, “I think Jake’s the best pitcher in baseball right now. I think he deserves whatever amount he’s worth. I want them to keep him happy so when it does come time for him to reach free agency, he stays on our side pitching for the Mets. I just think they should quit all the fuss and pay the man already.”

Syndergaard added that the recent extension trend around baseball — and deGrom’s lack of an extension to date — sends a message. He said, “I think so, yes, because of what you see in what’s going on in baseball right now. If there wasn’t a trend of other guys getting contract extensions, then I don’t know what the circumstance would be. But you see Chris Sale, Verlander getting extensions. I think it’s time Jacob gets one too.”

Part of the equation behind the recent rash of extensions is the stagnation of free agency. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel — two of baseball’s better pitchers — have gone through almost an entire spring training without being signed. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn’t find new homes until late February. Free agents in their 30’s are largely being underpaid or otherwise forgotten about. Extensions represent financial security for young and old players alike. Syndergaard himself can become a free agent after the 2021 season, so if deGrom’s prospects improve, then so too will his, at least without knowing the details of the next collective bargaining agreement which will be put into place ahead of the 2022 season.