Michael Saunders on track to return early next week

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Greg Johns of MLB.com reports that Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders is scheduled to spend the weekend on a minor league rehab assignment at Triple-A Tacoma before returning to Seattle’s active 25-man roster at some point early next week.

Saunders has been on the 15-day disabled list since suffering a right shoulder sprain when he crashed into the outfield wall at Safeco Field on April 11. He is eligible to be activated Friday but the M’s want him to get some tune-up at-bats in the minor leagues.

“Saunders definitely is headed in the right direction,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “I think he needs to play for a couple days [in the minors]. … We’ve definitely missed him. He’s a big part of this club.”

Saunders will play center field when he returns because Franklin Gutierrez is injured yet again.

The 26-year-old native of Canada was batting .286 with an .833 OPS, one home run, and five RBI and three stolen bases in 34 plate appearances before the sholder sprain. He had 19 homers and 21 steals in 2012.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.