Michael Saunders isn’t one of the flashier names in this year’s free agent class, but that doesn’t mean that he will not be an important contributor to a competitive team in 2017.
Saunders is coming off of the best year of his career. The 29 year old outfielder cooled off a bit in the second half, but he socked 24 home runs and hit .253 en route to his first All Star game as a member of the Blue Jays.
Saunders, a former Mariners 11th round pick, can handle both corner outfield spots and did a lot to dispel the notion that he struggles mightily against left handed pitching over the last 8 months: in 2016 he put up a .927 OPS and 8 homers against lefties.
That said, he’s a .235 lifetime hitter, who has never had more that 57 RBIs in a season and had never hit more than 19 homers before 2016. He is no longer a stolen base threat (he stole 21 in 2012), and has never produced more than 2.4 WAR in a season. He also missed most of 2014 and nearly all of 2015 with injuries.
So what are you getting if you sign Michael Saunders this winter? Well, you’re getting a chance – a chance at some serious outfield power numbers (via both homers and doubles), a halfway decent OBP, and a pretty consistent everyday player for the lower half of your lineup at likely a pretty decent price.
Of course, I’m speculating on how much it would take to sign Saunders but given his lack of established track record and the fact that he’s not the caliber of player that Josh Reddick. Still, I think something in the neighborhood of roughly half of the AAV that Reddick received is in the right ball park. Reddick got about $13 million a year so I’m thinking 3 years, $20 million for Michael Saunders this winter.
The question, then, is where would he be a value for $20M? There’s lots of conjecture about Michael fitting in well back in Toronto, or in Baltimore as a replacement for Mark Trumbo’s bat, or even in Seattle to help push their offense over the line.
Those guesses are uninspired, though. He’s already played for both Seattle and Toronto, so I think he’s going somewhere new. Saunders fits best in San Francisco and Philadelphia. Hear me out:
San Francisco Giants:
The Giants badly need offense and they might not have the money to go get it.
San Fran’s offense has always been a bit of a struggle, despite Buster Posey in the middle of it all. Hunter Pence hasn’t stayed healthy and Brandon Belt and Joe Panik haven’t been all that consistent.
Ideally, the Giants would love to go shopping for a superstar to play left field, where they currently have a pretty big hole. However, after a $200 million shopping spree last winter netted them Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija but no back-end bullpen help to speak of, the Giants may be forced to spend the majority of their resources into relief pitching.
That means a guy like Saunders, who won’t break the bank but could give the Giants 20ish homers and 35ish doubles out of the 5 or 6 spot in the order might just be the right fit.
Ok, admittedly this one is a little outside the box, but I think the Phillies might just be the ‘mystery team’ du jour in the Saunders Sweepstakes.
Sure, Philly isn’t exactly close to contention, but Saunders isn’t exactly old at 29 and if Philadelphia wants to overpay just a little for a veteran outfielder, this arrangement could make everybody happy.
The Phils have some disposable income: they are no longer saddled with the contracts of Ryan Howard or Carlos Ruiz and have recently shed other mega deals such as Jonathon Papelbon’s, Chase Utley’s, Jimmy Rollins’, and Cole Hamels‘ over the last few years.
At the same time, they need some outfield help. Odubel Herrera is great but Cody Ashe, Roman Quinn, and Aaron Altherr all struggled in their limited time last season. The Phillies do not have a corner outfielder currently qualified to start at a corner outfield spot every day for a major league team. Their minor league prospects who tore it up this year could use some seasoning in a normal ballpark.
With Saunders, they could continue to develop their young talent without completely destabilizing their entire lineup, or breaking the bank. Saunders would be a middle of the order bat that could help mentor some of the up and comers.
What’s more, if he plays well, or even if he doesn’t, Saunders would be a valuable trade chip this summer or next summer that could help net the Phillies a decent prospect haul.
Aside from Jeremy Hellickson and his $17.2 million one-year deal, Pat Neshek is the highest paid Philly and he’s only making $6.5 million this season. This team has the financial room to take a little risk that could really pay off.