Ronnie Belliard turns a double play

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.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.