The Philadelphia Phillies are reportedly in agreement with free agent outfielder Michael Saunders on a contract for 2017. The deal is rumored to be for one year, with an option that may be the player’s to exercise.
There have been rumors all off-season that the Fightin’ Phils were looking to add another bat to their lineup. Just last week, club president Andy MacPhail publicly confirmed those rumors, which I explored here.
Word of a possible Saunders deal with the Phillies first broke across Twitter in the early afternoon from insider Jon Morosi.
Later in the day, information began leaking that the deal was for $9 million guaranteed in 2017. The second year option option at $11 could escalate to as much as $13 million.
If the Phillies do indeed complete this signing, what exactly will the club be gaining? In my opinion, very little of significance. In fact, a legitimate argument can be made as to whether signing Saunders improves their talent at all.
WHO IS SAUNDERS?
Saunders was the Seattle Mariners pick in the 11th round of the 2004 MLB Amateur Draft out of Tallahassee Community College in Florida.
He broke into the big leagues with Seattle in 2009. That year, Saunders hit 19 homers and 31 doubles for the M’s in the 2012 season.
Saunders production slipped in 2013 to just a dozen homers and 23 doubles. His average fell from a weak .247 to an even worse .236 mark.
He became a part-timer in Seattle in 2014, and in December of that year was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for pitcher J.A. Happ.
SAUNDERS KNEE INJURY
Saunders underwent knee surgery after suffering a torn meniscus while shagging fly balls early in spring training prior to the 2015 season. The surgery removed 60% of the meniscus in his left knee.
“Right now, I’m a baseball player, I’m not going to have any problems while I play. I’ve talked to a lot of people that had their meniscus taken out and they’re doing just fine, they feel like the exact same player that they were previously. Hopefully, knock on wood, nothing happens later in life, it it does I’ll deal with it at that point.”
SAUNDERS 2016: A TALE OF TWO HALVES
In the 2016 season overall, Saunders hit for a .253/.338/.478 slash line over 558 plate appearances. He clubbed 24 homers, but drove in just 57 RBI and scored 70 runs. The runs scored total and his lone stolen base tell you all you need to know about his non-existent speed game.
Some will highlight that Saunders was an American League all-star last year. That is indeed true, but it only tells half the tale of his 2016 season.
Through the MLB All-Star break, Saunders was hitting .298/.372/.551 with 18 of his homers, 42 of his RBI, and 49 of his runs scored.
However, after the break, Saunders hit for just a feeble .178/.282/.357 slash over 214 plate appearances. He produced just 16 total extra-base hits and 15 RBI in those final two and a half months.
PHILLIES 2017 CURRENT OUTFIELD
The Phillies now appear to be committed to a starting outfielder of Howie Kendrick in left, Odubel Herrera in center, and Saunders in right. That would leave Aaron Altherr, who turned 26 years old just two days ago, as the primary backup.
With this move, Roman Quinn, the most talented MLB-ready outfielder who the Phillies have right now aside from Herrera, would appear to be returning to AAA Lehigh Valley at age 23. He will turn 24 years old in May.
This move also likely blocks Nick Williams in the short term. Williams had a disappointing 2016 campaign. The 23-year old was likely ticketed to begin the year with the IronPigs in any event.
What will become interesting is how the Phillies choose to handle the playing time situation if Saunders and Kendrick don’t look special in spring, while Quinn and/or Williams look ready.
Saunders brings the experience gained from performing in parts of eight big league seasons. However, his production shows that he is nothing more than the Phillies once had in a player named Domonic Brown.
This is a placeholder move by the Phillies, and certainly nothing for fans to get excited about. The real excitement, as it was always going to be, will come from the development of the organizational prospects already on hand.