Ryan Howard files defamation lawsuit against PED accuser

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Ryan Howard files defamation lawsuit against PED accuser

Ryan Howard has backed up his threat.

He is suing the Al Jazeera network.

The Phillies' slugger filed a defamation suit Tuesday night in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. The suit (complete document here) was filed against the Al Jazeera network and two reporters who worked on a documentary that connected Howard and several other professional athletes to the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Washington Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman was also implicated in the report. He also filed a defamation suit in Federal District Court on Tuesday night.

Washington attorney Andrew H. Herman filed the lawsuit on behalf of Howard.

The suit contends that Al Jazeera "publicly smeared" Howard.

"This is a suit to redress an unjust injury to the public image and reputation of Ryan Howard, which have been damaged by outrageously false and defamatory statements recklessly published by Al Jazeera. ... The defendants publicly smeared Mr. Howard with false and unsubstantiated allegations of performance-enhancing drug use," the 25-page suit states.

The Al Jazeera documentary, which focused mostly on NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, aired last week. The report centered on the claims of Charles Sly, who at one time was affiliated with an Indianapolis-area anti-aging clinic. Sly made his claims while being secretly videotaped by a representative of the network. Sly began backpedaling from his comments even before the report aired and has since recanted his statements.

The report alleged that Manning received PEDs as he was recovering from neck surgery in 2011. Manning has strongly denounced the report and denied any wrongdoing.

The report also stated that Howard received PEDs. Howard denied those allegations to the network before the documentary aired. According to the suit, Howard's legal team warned the network not to broadcast lies about its client. The network stood by its report, which included the allegations against Howard. William Burck, a member of Howard's legal team, called the allegations “outright lies.” Burck followed up with a letter to Al Jazeera demanding a full and immediate retraction of the report. A week after the letter was sent, Howard filed lawsuit on Tuesday night.

"Today I authorized my attorneys to file suit against Al Jazeera and its reporters," Howard said in a statement Tuesday night. "Their irresponsible reporting forced me to take this action to protect my name and to fight back against the spreading of these lies. I will have no further comment, as the filing itself contains all I need to say."

PEDs have been an issue in baseball -- all sports for that matter -- for more than a decade. Accusations and denials are not uncommon. What is uncommon is an accused baseball player filing suit against a media outlet. Howard and Zimmerman may be the first to do so. Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong once sued a London newspaper over PED allegations.

Tuesday's lawsuit is another strong denial of any connection to PEDs by Howard. By filing suit, he is opening himself up to discovery and the possibility of having to testify under oath in a court of law.

Howard, 36, was the National League rookie of the year in 2005, its MVP in 2006 and a World Series champion in 2008. Once one of the game’s most feared sluggers, his production has waned since he ruptured his left Achilles tendon on the final swing of the 2011 NL Division Series.

Howard is nearing the end of his run with the Phillies. His contract is guaranteed through just 2016 at a staggering $35 million -- $25 million in salary with a $10 million buyout of the 2017 season.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."