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Todd Helton ready to play what will likely be his final season

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Todd Helton is under contract for $5 million in 2013, but there was some uncertainty whether he’d come back following hip and knee surgeries. However, the 39-year-old first baseman told Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post today that he’s ready to return for what will likely be his final season in the majors.

“I am back baby,” Helton said with a laugh. “When you are 39 years old, coming off hip surgery, those things don’t really go good together when you are talking about a baseball player. There was some uncertainty and doubt after last season. But as I got into it, it only fueled my appetite to keep playing and keep getting better.”

Helton underwent season-ending surgery last August to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and then had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in November. But he was motivated to return following a meeting with new manager Walt Weiss last month and recently took batting practice with no issues. While he is projected to be the starting first baseman in 2013, the Rockies will keep an open mind with his health, which means Michael Cuddyer, Tyler Colvin and Jordan Pacheco will all be options to fill in when he needs rest.

Helton batted just .238/.343/.400 with seven home runs, 37 RBI and a .743 OPS in 69 games last season. However, he still owns a fantastic .320/.419/.545 lifetime batting line and a .964 career OPS over 16 major league seasons, all with the Rockies. He should make for an interesting Hall of Fame case, but it might be harder for him to get support that it has been for former teammate Larry Walker, who at least spent six years in Montreal and two in St. Louis.

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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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.