Michael Saunders' knee hurting his free agent value?
Things have been awfully quiet in free agency so far for Canadian and former Blue Jay Michael Saunders.
The first half of the 2016 season couldn’t have gone much better for Michael Saunders. After missing all but nine games in 2015, the former Seattle Mariner was named to the AL All-Star team, hitting .298/.371/.551 with 16 home runs through 305 at bats.
Unfortunately, he came back down to earth in a big way in the second half, posting a slash line of .178/.282/.357 after the All-Star break, and adding just eight more home runs over 185 at bats. He finished the season with a WAR of 1.3, but ended up as a borderline platoon player by season’s end.
At mid-season, it looked as though Saunders could be a candidate for the qualifying offer, but his ice-cold second half took care of that. Currently, he’s looking for a starting role in 2017 and hasn’t had a great deal of interest, at least from what’s been reported to the media. The main (only?) team that has been linked to Saunders thus far has been the Baltimore Orioles.
#orioles have definite interest in Michael Saunders as they try to find a RF. Helps that he's a LH hitter.
— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) December 5, 2016
The Orioles are looking to add to their outfield, especially if they lose last year’s AL home run leader, Mark Trumbo, to free agency. They have reportedly made an offer to Trumbo, and rescinded it, but the same thing happened with Chris Davis last year in free agency, so the door isn’t exactly closed. However, Saunders has seemed like a Plan ‘B’ or ‘C’ for the Orioles, and would be a decent fit as a corner outfielder in Baltimore. Baltimore seems to think so too:
That said, an under-the-radar post came up on Twitter yesterday that had me raising my eyebrows for a couple reasons. Check it out:
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) December 27, 2016
If you don’t have time to give it a read, here’s the low down. The writer, Roch Kubatko, claims that he was told Saunders failed a “pre-agreement physical” with the Orioles, but also admits he could not get that tidbit confirmed. This would make some sense, as there was some smoke regarding Saunders to the Orioles earlier in the offseason, that seemed to go away as quickly as it popped up.
First of all, I’ve never heard of a “pre-agreement physical” before this report, and 5 minutes worth of searching on Google didn’t provide any answers (give me a break, I’m still turkey tired). That said, I could see it being something a club could ask for, before they get deeper into negotiations. With Saunders, the fact is he’s operating with no more than 40% of the cartilage in his left knee, after he had 60% of it removed after his spring training injury in 2015.
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The Canadian outfielder managed to stay healthy in 2016, and it would be surprising if he outright failed a physical. That said, there could be enough wear and tear on the knee to scare off the Orioles or any other club, so it’s possible this could have some merit. That said, even the writer admitted he couldn’t get it confirmed, so it’s nothing we know for certain.
If there’s any sliver of truth to the report, it could mean a couple things for Saunders’ future in the MLB. First, it confirms what we likely already knew, that the Orioles are looking for outfielders and are/have considered Saunders as an option. His fit in their lineup would make reasonable sense, and there’s plenty of reason to like his upside, as he’s still only 30 years old.
Secondly, it would appear that Saunders, like many free agent outfielders remaining on the market, may have to settle for a one-year deal.
It’s possible he could still find a multi-year pact, but the market appears to be pretty quiet for the Victoria, British Columbia native so far, which seemed unimaginable at last season’s All-Star break.
It’ll be a situation to monitor, but if Saunders does accept a one-year deal, it’s very possible the Blue Jays could look to bring him back, assuming he’s healthy. He could serve well in a platoon with Melvin Upton, bringing a decent left-handed bat to the lineup. His performance in the playoffs served as a reminder that he’s a solid hitter when he’s on, as he hit .429 over 14 at bats.
After taking a quick gander at the remaining free agent options, the Jays or Orioles could do worse than the lefty-swinging Canuck, assuming he can pass a physical.