Tim Hudson aiming to return from back surgery by May 1

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Tim Hudson is recovered enough from November back surgery that he could be cleared to throw off a mound later this week and the veteran right-hander told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution that his targeted return date is May 1 “at the latest.”

O’Brien describes Hudson as “upbeat and optimistic,” but any plans for his return to the rotation are a little premature until he begins throwing again at full speed and starts building back his arm strength. Barring a setback he’ll likely spend most of April pitching in the minors.

Hudson will make $9 million in the final season of a three-year, $28 million deal that includes a $9 million option or $1 million buyout for 2013. At age 36 getting healthy is vital to Hudson’s career, but last season he was the Braves’ best starter and one of the best right-handers in the league with a 3.22 ERA and 158/56 K/BB ratio in 215 innings.

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?