Orioles could make dominant setup man Koji Uehara available

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Baltimore took care of one potential free agent-to-be by signing shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $22.5 million extension, but Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun speculates that the Orioles will be shopping setup man Koji Uehara leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.

Uehara has around $1 million remaining on this year’s contract and his deal also includes a $4 million option for 2012 that vests with 55 appearances or 25 games finished. Right now he’s on pace for 70 appearances and 33 games finished, so any team that deals for Uehara would be doing so with an eye on keeping him for next season.

He didn’t draw a ton of interest as a free agent, in part because of injury concerns and in part because of a limited track record as a reliever, but Uehara has been healthy and dominant this year with a 1.88 ERA, .150 opponents’ batting average, and 58/8 K/BB ratio in 44 innings.

Combined with his work out of the bullpen last season and the 36-year-old right-hander now has a 2.35 ERA, .187 opponents’ batting average, and 113/13 K/BB ratio in 88 career innings as a reliever. If the Orioles make him available plenty of contending teams should be very interested.

Japanese Baseball to begin June 19

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Japanese League commissioner Atsushi Saito announced that Japan’s professional baseball season will open on June 19. Teams can being practice games on June 2. There will be no fans. Indeed, the league has not yet even begun to seriously discuss a plan for fans to begin attending games, though that may happen eventually.

The season will begin three months after its originally scheduled opening day of March 20. It will be 120 games long. Teams in each six-team league — the Central League and Pacific League — will play 24 games against each league opponent. There will be no interleague play and no all-star game.

The announcement came in the wake of a national state of emergency being lifted for both Tokyo and the island of Hokkaido. The rest of the country emerged from the state of emergency earlier this month. This will allow the Japanese leagues to follow leagues in South Korea and Taiwan which have been playing for several weeks.

In the United States, Major League Baseball is hoping to resume spring training in mid June before launching a shortened regular season in early July. That plan is contingent on the league and the players’ union coming to an agreement on both financial arrangements and safety protocols for a 2020 season. Negotiations on both are ongoing. Major League Baseball will, reportedly, make a formal proposal about player compensation tomorrow.