Giants expect Brandon Belt back around the Fourth of July

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Giants first baseman Brandon Belt is targeting July 4 to return from thumb surgery that has sidelined him since mid-May, according to Nate Stuhlbarg of CSNBayArea.com.

Stuhlbarg reports that Belt has no issues gripping a bat to hit, but gripping a baseball to make throws from first base is still giving him problems. Despite that he could be cleared to begin a minor-league rehab assignment later this week.

He was initially expected to miss around six weeks, but a July 4 return would mean missing a total of eight weeks. Belt hit .264 with nine homers and an .820 OPS in 35 games before the injury, showing more power than usual while providing what has become his standard overall production.

In his absence Michael Morse shifted from the outfield to first base and has hit .330 with five homers and a .931 OPS in 29 starts there. Morse will move back to left field when Belt returns, likely pushing Tyler Colvin and Gregor Blanco to the bench while giving San Francisco’s lineup a nice boost.

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release¬†after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan adds that Saunders will make $1.5 million upon reaching the majors, with a potential $500,000 in bonuses.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.