Cleared of murder charges, Angel Villalona added to Giants’ to 40-man roster

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In case you didn’t notice, yesterday was the day teams set their 40-man rosters in advance of December’s Rule 5 Draft. Most of the moves are expected and usually include many guys you’ve never heard of, but occasionally a surprise is thrown our way. For instance, the Giants have added former top prospect Angel Villalona to their 40-man roster.

Villalona, who received a club-record $2.1 million signing bonus as a 16-year-old in 2006, hasn’t played professionally in over two years after being accused of killing a 25-year-old man in a Dominican Republic nightclub in September of 2009. Charges were eventually dismissed as part of a $139,000 settlement with the victim’s family, but Villalona sued the Giants for $5 million earlier this summer claiming they violated the terms of his contract following his arrest. After the two sides settled the lawsuit in September, the Giants were prepared to welcome him back in the organization.

Villalona is currently at the Giants’ complex in the Dominican working his way into baseball shape, but he isn’t completely out of the woods yet. While Giants president of baseball operations Bobby Evans told Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News that he was removed from the restricted list about a month ago, he is still awaiting a work visa to return to the United States.

The Giants apparently feel that Villalona is worth protecting, but his stock was dropping as a prospect even before the murder charges. He had an ugly 235/42 K/BB ratio over his first three professional seasons and his lack of conditioning led many to believe he was best suited as a designated hitter in the long run. He’s still only 21 years old, so we can’t call him a lost cause, but he has a long way to go before being taken seriously as a prospect again.

Mariners sign Ichiro to a minor league deal

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USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Mariners will sign Ichiro Suzuki to a minor-league deal. If he makes the roster he’ll make $750,000. At least until he retires.

I say that because it seems quite clear that the idea here, telegraphed since last season, is to activate Ichiro for the Mariners’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on March 20-21 and for hoopla surrounding it all. The Mariners and A’s will have a 28-man roster for that series, which is officially part of the regular season schedule, but it will be pared back down to 25 once games begin in the United States.

Suzuki, 45, hit .205/.255/.205 in 47 plate appearances through May 2 last season, at which point he agreed to be deactivated to join the Mariners’ front office. Many assumed Ichiro would announce his retirement later that season or during the offseason, but the Japan Series soon crystalized as an obvious way for him to offer his final farewell to both his American and his Japanese fans.

Unless of course he goes 6-10 with three doubles in that series, at which point everyone will be tempted to keep him on the roster past Japan. Which, given the Mariners’ rebuild and likely poor performance this coming season, wouldn’t exactly be hurting anyone, would it?