suzuki_ichiro

Eric Wedge ‘leaning’ toward dropping Ichiro from leadoff spot

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The Seattle Mariners remain in a transition phase, attempting to undo the messes of Bill Bavasi while playing in a beefed up AL West division that includes two teams — the Rangers and Angels — that are throwing money around like they just got some magic pants.

A big part of that transition will involve 38-year-old right fielder Ichiro, whose contract runs out after the 2012 season. He’s coming off his worst season in the big leagues and will make $17 million in 2012, money the M’s would no-doubt like to spend elsewhere.

It seems that manager Eric Wedge is already preparing for life without Ichiro, saying in an interview with 710 ESPN in Seattle on Wednesday that there is “a good possibility,” he’ll be dropping Ichiro from his customary spot at the top of the batting order.

“I’ve been doing a ton of thinking about that and I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’ve got a vision in mind in regards to what I want to see happen. Obviously I’ve got to work off of Ichiro a little bit, but ultimately I’m going to do what I think’s best to give us the best chance to score runs, because it’s too important for us to make a huge step offensively.”

Pressed on the question of removing Ichiro from the leadoff spot, Wedge admitted that “if you had to put a gun to my head right now I’d probably be leaning in that direction.”

Wedge said his ideal leadoff hitter gets on base a lot – which Ichiro used to do (.370 career OBP), but didn’t in 2011 (.310) – and sees a lot of pitches – something Ichiro has never done. He mentioned Dustin Ackley, who hit .273/.348/.417 in 90 games as a rookie in 2011, as a possible replacement.

Click through for the entire interview, as Wedge talks about other things, too, including Jesus Montero: “We think he’s going to be able to catch.”

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Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Associated Press
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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.