Cameron tells Nationals he’s retiring (updated)

VIERA,Fla. - A few minutes ago, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was joking with reporters about how empty the Space Coast Stadium clubhouse felt with only 55 players needing locker space. It was a far cry from 2007, when 71 players were jammed into the room, necessitating extra locker stalls in the middle of the clubhouse.

Now, there’s unexpectedly one less player.

According to this tweet from the club’s public relations department, veteran outfielder Mike Cameron has notified the Nationals he will retire. The 39-year-old Cameron, who signed a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training December 19, was expected to compete for the center field job, possibly working in a platoon with Rick Ankiel.

Cameron is calling it quits after a 17-year career in which he hit .249 with 278 homers, 968 RBIs and 297 stolen bases for the White Sox, Reds, Mariners, Mets, Padres, Brewers, Red Sox and Marlins. He was an All-Star in 2001 with Seattle, when he batted .267 with 25 homers and a career-high 110 RBIs, and won three Gold Gloves.

The Nationals clearly expected Cameron, who hit .203 with the Marlins and Red Sox in 2011, to report. His locker was already filled with uniforms bearing the No. 44, awaiting his arrival.

His announcement leaves the Nationals without a right-handed bat to platoon with Ankiel. The only right-handed-hitting outfielder on the 40-man roster is 21-year-old prospect Eury Perez, though the Nats have two non-roster invitees - Brett Carroll and Jason Michaels - who fit the job description. There’s also new hope for guys like veteran Roger Bernadina or non-roster invitee Xavier Paul, though they hit left-handed.

Cameron’s abrupt retirement could also open playing time for veteran utility man Mark DeRosa in the outfield. DeRosa was expected to fill spots around the infield, but can also has experience playing the outfield corners.

Update: Via Twitter this evening, Cameron thanked his fans. “Its been a true blessing for me to put on a MLB uniform for 17yrs!! he wrote.

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