Ronnie Belliard to retire after one final game tonight

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Veteran infielder Ronnie Belliard said Tuesday that tonight’s game for the Phillies’ Triple-A Lehigh Valley affiliate will be his last and that he’s going to retire.

Belliard signed a minor league deal with the Phillies after failing to make the Yankees out of spring training this year.  He played in 82 games with the Dodgers last season, hitting .216/.295/.327 in 162 at-bats.

Belliard was quite an underrated player at his peak.  He was viewed as a disappointment after coming up with the Brewers, in part because he never really improved after his strong rookie season.  Also, he often got dinged because he always carried some extra weight.  No one likes a middle infielder with a gut.

Still, he was a rock-solid second baseman for several years and even an All-Star in 2004.  He had his best Triple Crown season in 2005, hitting .284 with 17 homers and 78 RBI.  Later, he proved to be a very useful role player with the Nationals in 2008, hitting .287/.372/.473 in 296 at-bats, and in 2009, when he was a great pickup for the Dodgers down the stretch.

In all, Belliard hit .273/.338/.415 with 114 homers and 601 RBI in 1,481 games.  His career OPS+ of 96 bests that of fellow second basemen Brandon Phillips (.268/.318/.427, 94) and Aaron Hill (.268/.322/.420, 95).

Odds are that he would have had a longer and more productive career had he focused more on his conditioning. Maybe he’d still be going strong as a regular at age 36 right now. Teams certainly would have been more interested in taking a chance on him if he just once made a point of showing up in the best shape of his life.

But so what?  It was his career, and it was a darn good one that allowed him to make about $16 million in the process. Outside of the horrible 2002 season that caused the Brewers to kick him to the curb, he was pretty much always a useful player when healthy. And now he has a glorious second career in the world of competitive eating to look forward to.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.