Michael Saunders Rumors

Mariners, Blue Jays Swap Michael Saunders, J.A. Happ

The Mariners have officially acquired lefty J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Michael Saunders, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com first reported on Twitter. Both teams have been aggressive in adding talent early in the offseason, and this move seems to set up additional action for each.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros

In Happ, 32, Seattle has added a left-handed starter who just threw 158 innings of 4.22 ERA ball, striking out 7.6 and walking 2.9 batters per nine. That makes him a reasonably useful pitcher, though he’ll play for $6.7MM this year before hitting free agency. But Happ has never returned to the production he flashed back in 2009, when he notched a 2.93 ERA over 166 frames (while carrying a less-encouraging 4.33 FIP).

Saunders, meanwhile, is a 28-year-old outfielder who brings plenty of talent with him to Toronto and fills a need for the Jays. He has had three straight above-average offensive seasons, including a .273/.341/.450 slash over 263 plate appearances in an injury-limited 2014 campaign. Though advanced metrics have not always been in love with his defensive work, particularly in center, he posted solid numbers last year and is generally viewed as a good fielder. Projected to earn $2.9MM in arbitration, Saunders comes with an additional season of non-guaranteed control as well.

Though the Jays are left without a sturdy rotation option, the team does have young arms to fill in with upside to spare. And Saunders makes an excellent fit for a club that has an opening in the corner outfield and is relying on youngsters in center. Even better, the nearly $3MM in cost savings will open up more flexibility as the club looks to build out its pen and address other areas of need.

The move certainly makes sense of last night’s non-tender decisions. With Saunders in the fold, the Jays seem unlikely to continue pursuing Melky Cabrera. Indeed, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that to be the case on Twitter. The club’s extra payroll space will also create opportunities to add back to the team’s big league rotation.

It is somewhat more difficult to understand the logic from the Mariners’ perspective. Though Saunders and the team squabbled earlier in the offseason, and he was part of a generally lefty-heavy lineup, the fact remains that he is a valuable young contributor. While Happ will add some stability to the rotation, that was not exactly a pressing area of need, and one cannot help but wonder whether a slightly more substantial return might have been possible.

Of course, if another move for an outfielder is in the works, then the moving pieces could begin to line up. And GM Jack Zduriencik gave the impression to reporters, including Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times (Twitter link) that he intends to do just that.


West Notes: Kantrovitz, Tomas, Saunders, Correia, Sandoval

Filling the opening left by the departing Farhan Zaidi, now-former Cardinals scouting director Dan Kantrovitz will return to the Athletics as an assistant general manager, Jane Lee of MLB.com reports on Twitter. Kantrovitz recently gave an interesting interview with David Laurila of Fangraphs, explaining his approach in St. Louis of viewing the draft as “a mechanism to save money.” He will now reportedly slot in alongside David Forst as one of GM Billy Beane’s top lieutenants.

More from out west:

  • The Diamondbacks have “legit” interest in Yasmany Tomas, a league executive tells ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link). They are one of about a handful of clubs currently chasing the Cuban slugger. The Mariners, meanwhile, are nibbling around the edges at the moment, per Crasnick, but do not appear to be one of the core teams in pursuit. You can check out yesterday’s updates on Tomas here.
  • The Rangers have mild interest in Seattle’s Michael Saunders, Crasnick tweets. Texas has at least checked in on his availability while ticking through the team’s options in the outfield.
  • While his market still seems to be shaping up, starter Kevin Correia has drawn the attention of several teams, including the Rockies, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (via Twitter). Berardino notes that Correia has pitched well over his career at Coors Field. Despite his largely underwhelming numbers, the 34-year-old righty will appeal to many clubs as a durable innings-eater.
  • Pablo Sandoval (and new teammate-to-be Hanley Ramirez) will leave the NL West for Boston, but his former division made every effort to keep him. The Giants‘ offer to Pablo Sandoval included a sixth-year option, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports on Twitter. Combined with prior reports indicating that San Francisco stood at five years and $95MM, with a willingness to bring that figure up, it appears that Sandoval preferred Boston on very similar financial terms (though it is worth noting that full details have not emerged).
  • The Padres, meanwhile, were willing to go past five years for Sandoval, according to a report from Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The report appears to indicate that the additional length included at least one more guaranteed year, though it may have delivered a lower overall AAV. GM A.J. Preller said that the team felt it had made a “respectful offer” and was comfortable with the outcome. “[Y]ou have to be prepared that, at the end of the day, he has other options he may take,” said Preller. “We took a good run, and now we have to move on to other options.”

Mitch Moreland, Michael Saunders Change Agencies

Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland has changed agencies and is now represented by Bob Garber of RMG Baseball, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports (on Twitter). Additionally, Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders has joined Meister Sports Management, according to a tweet from agent Brandon Meister.

Moreland, 29, is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he batted .246/.297/.347 with a pair of homers in 184 plate appearances. Moreland underwent season-ending ankle surgery in June, adding his name to a long list of Rangers players that sustained a season-ending injury this year. Formerly represented by BBI Sports Group, he’s a career .252/.316/.430 hitter that has fared considerably better against righties (.777 OPS) than righties (.636 OPS) in his career. Moreland earned $2.65MM last offseason in his first bout with arbitration and will be eligible twice more before he can become a free agent.

Saunders, who turned 28 on Wednesday, has seen his name pop up in trade rumors recently, in part due to some comments made by Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon. Former agent Michael McCann expressed displeasure on his client’s behalf, feeling that the comments called into question Saunders’ work ethic and offseason preparation. Though the Mariners have tried to smooth things over, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported that he was likely to be shopped at the GM Meetings last week. Saunders has battled injuries but posted a nice .248/.320/.423 while playing in the pitcher-friendly Safeco Field over the past three seasons. He, too, is arbitration eligible twice more before reaching free agency.

Moreland will join the agency of former Astros ace Roy Oswalt, who has since signed on to work alongside Garber at RMG (as Buster Olney reported at the time of Oswalt’s official retirement). RMG also represents C.J. Wilson, J.D. Martinez and Tyler Chatwood, among others. Saunders, meanwhile, will join an agency that represents big leaguers Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek, Ben Revere and Casey McGehee, among others.

Both changes are reflected in MLBTR’s Agency Database, which contains info on more than 2,000 Major League and Minor League players. If you notice any errors or omissions within the database, please let us know via email: mlbtrdatabase@gmail.com.



Mariners Expected To Shop Michael Saunders Next Week

The Mariners are expected to shop outfielder Michael Saunders at next week’s GM Meetings, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link).

Saunders and the organization have had a recent falling out based on some comments that GM Jack Zduriencik made at season’s end. As chronicled by Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Zduriencik made comments suggesting that Saunders needs to reassess his offseason workout/maintenance habits in order to be better prepared to play over the course of a full 162-game season. Saunders declined to comment on the words from Zduriencik, but agent Michael McCann expressed both surprise, disappointment and frustration at the comments, feeling that they called Saunders’ work ethic into question.

Zduriencik later attempted to clarify, telling Divish that the comment was a general statement that could be applied to any player and wasn’t intended as an attack on Saunders’ drive or work ethic, but the situation does appear to have fractured the relationship between the two sides. Crasnick notes that both the team and player seem ready to move on.

Injuries have definitely been a problem for Saunders, who has averaged just 116 games and 428 plate appearances over the past three seasons as he’s battled shoulder and oblique injuries. However, there’s no denying that he’s a productive bat when healthy. Formerly ranked by Baseball America as the No. 30 prospect in the game, Saunders has batted a healthy .248/.320/.423 with 39 homers and 38 steals over those three injury-prone seasons. Context-neutral stats such as OPS+ and wRC+ (which adjust for his pitcher-friendly home ballpark) suggest that he’s been nine to 11 percent better than a league-average hitter in that time. His 2014, in particular, was impressive. In 78 games, Saunders hit .273/.341/.450 — good for a 126 wRC+ and a 128 OPS+.

Saunders is capable of playing all three outfield spots, though defensive metrics are down on his work as a center fielder. However, Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved both agree that his work in the outfield corners is well above average.

I speculated in my Mariners Offseason Outlook that Saunders would likely be shopped, listing the Reds, Mets, White Sox, Giants and Phillies as a few teams that might have interest in the highly talented but injury-prone Saunders. I’d think the Blue Jays, Twins and Orioles are also among teams that could make sense, though all of these suggestions are purely speculative for the time being.


West Links: Saunders, Gregorius, Lovullo, Tomas

In a lengthy and interesting piece, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times looks at the potentially fractured relationship between the Mariners and Michael Saunders following some comments made by GM Jack Zduriencik at an end-of-season press conference. Asked at the time what he felt about Saunders’ future with the team, Zduriencik said, “…It’s up to Michael. … He was playing well, got hurt, came back, got sick, came back again and did some nice things. But I think what Michael has to do and has to answer this to himself, is ‘how do I prepare myself to play as many games through the course of 162 that I can possibly play without being setback by injury.’ … some of these things need to be handled from a maintenance standpoint where he put himself in a position where he’s able to compete through the course of the season.”

Divish spoke to Saunders himself, who declined to comment on the situation. Saunders’ agent, Michael McCann, said it was both “shocking” and “very disappointing.” Said McCann: “These comments don’t reflect Michael Saunders’ work habits. They imply that that he’s lackadaisical.” Part of the trouble, Divish writes, is that Saunders had never before had his work ethic or preparation questioned by the Mariners, and to have that done in a public forum was hurtful. Zduriencik clarified that the comments he made could be applied to any player, and he was adamant to Divish that the organization is not planning on moving on from Saunders. However, he has previously identified corner outfield as a potential area to add some offense. Divish speculates on an offseason trade, though he also notes that even if Saunders is pushed to the role of fourth outfielder, his low salary (he should earn less than $3MM via arbitration) would be an acceptable price for that role, especially given his upside. Over the past three seasons, the former top prospect has batted .248/.320/.423 with 39 homers and 38 steals. I should note that Divish’s entire piece is well worth the read, as this brief write-up doesn’t capture nearly all of the quotes and information he compiled.

Here’s more from baseball’s Western divisions…

  • The Diamondbacks should give strong consideration to moving one of their young shortstops if it can bolster the rotation, writes the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro. The Snakes finished the season with Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed all on the roster, but no room to play all three of them with Aaron Hill being owed $24MM through 2016 and prospects Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury both looking like third base options in the near future. (Lamb already received a taste of the Majors in 2014.) The team seems to view Owings as the best of the bunch, given his greater offensive ceiling, but both Gregorius and Ahmed have value to other clubs. Piecoro spoke to rival executives about each shortstop, with one stating that while Gregorius might not bring back “a Matt Harvey or a Jacob deGrom,” he could be worth someone such as Rafael Montero of the Mets. Another evaluator told Piecoro that his club actually prefers Ahmed to Gregorius, so both could seemingly have good trade value.
  • Though he’s been a popular managerial candidate this year, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo will not be interviewed by the D’Backs for their own managerial vacancy, reports Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). Lovullo interviewed with the Astros prior to their hiring of A.J. Hinch, he’s already interviewed with the Rangers and will reportedly interview with the Twins as well.
  • Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler tells Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune that they have “definitely expanded our international focus under [new GM] A.J. [Preller].” Lin examines whether or not that could mean a legitimate run at Yasmany Tomas, though as he notes, that would be an unprecedented move for the Friars. In fact, last season’s signing of Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5MM contract was the largest free agent expenditure in franchise history, Lin points out. The largest contract in franchise history, he adds, is Jake Peavy‘s old three-year, $52MM deal. Tomas could cost double that amount, but the Padres have just $40.5MM committed to next year’s payroll, and the $90MM Opening Day figure from 2014 could rise, ownership has said.
  • After losing hitting coach John Mallee to the Cubs, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow spoke highly about Mallee’s work to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich points out that Mallee deserves some credit for the success of Jose Altuve and Chris Carter in 2014, although skeptics could also point to the strikeout problems some of the other team’s young hitters had. Luhnow said he hopes to have a finalized coaching staff in place by month’s end, and as Drellich notes, only pitching coach Brent Strom is a guarantee to return at this point.

Players Avoiding Arbitration: Wednesday

Click here for background on the upcoming arbitration schedule and how MLBTR will be covering it. You can also check in on our Arbitration Tracker and look at MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz's arbitration projections. We'll use this post to keep tabs on players avoiding arbitration today:

  • Josh Outman, who avoided arbitration with the Indians last night, will earn a $1.25MM salary in 2014, the Associated Press reports (via ESPN).
  • The Rockies have avoided arbitration with lefty Franklin Morales, reports Thomas Harding of MLB.com (via Twitter). Morales was recently picked up from the Red Sox in exchange for Jonathan Herrera, and was projected to earn $1.8MM by Swartz. His salary comes in just below that mark at $1.7125MM, according to a tweet from the Denver Post's Troy Renck. 
  • Burke Badenhop has settled on a one-year deal with the Red Sox, the club announced in a press release. The right-handed reliever, who was acquired from the Brewers back in November, came with a projected $2.2MM price tag and will in fact earn $2.15MM, according to a tweet from WEEI.com's Alex Speier. Badenhop's last two seasons have been uncannily similar. In both 2012 and 2013, Bandenhop threw 62 1/3 innings, registered 42 strikeouts (6.1 K/9) against 12 walks (1.7 BB/9), and surrendered six home runs. He allowed just one less hit (62) last year than in 2012, though his ERA rose from 3.03 to 3.47 due to a drop in his strand rate.
  • The Mets have reached agreement with infielder Ruben Tejada on a 2014 contract, the club announced on Twitter. He will earn a $1.1MM salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility, tweets Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, which is in line with his $1MM projection. Tejada struggled to a .202/.259/.260 mark in 227 plate appearances last year, but is still only 24 years old. He will have three more years of arb eligibility since he qualified as a Super Two player.
  • The Rangers have reached agreement on a one-year deal to avoid arbitration with southpaw Neal Cotts, the club announced via press release. The deal will pay Cotts $2.2MM, tweets Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Cotts will earn $700K over Swartz's projection.
  • Outfielder Michael Saunders has reached agreement with the Mariners on a deal to avoid arbitration, reports Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times (via Twitter). The 27-year-old will earn $2.3MM (plus incentives) in his first arb-eligible season, Divish tweets, which comes in just above the $2MM projection from Swartz.

Super Two Cutoff To Be 2.139

Players with at least two years and 139 days of service time will be eligible for the potentially lucrative arbitration process this offseason, according to the Associated Press (via FOXNews.com). The top 22% of players with between two and three years of MLB service qualify for arbitration under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement.

Nationals reliever Drew Storen, Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, Mets catcher Josh Thole, Rays outfielder Sam Fuld, Rockies outfielder Tyler Colvin and Diamondbacks third baseman Chris Johnson are all eligible. 

Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders missed the cutoff by one day. Others, including Justin Smoak, Danny Valencia, Michael Brantley, Jordan Schafer, Giancarlo Stanton, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel HudsonDan RunzlerAndrew Cashner, Alex Burnett, Esmil Rogers and Alexi Ogando, came close to super two status without reaching the threshold.

Jonathan Lucroy, whose contract includes escalators related to super two status, will fall three days short of arbitration eligibility. The difference will cost him $2MM, as I explained last month.

Super two status entitles certain players to four years of arbitration eligibility, rather than the usual three. As a result, players who earn the super two designation generally earn more than their peers. The cutoff would have been two years and 144 days under baseball’s previous collective bargaining agreement, according to the AP. In previous years the top 17% of players with between two and three years of MLB service qualified. The players and owners agreed to a new system last fall.


What’s Next For The Mariners?

The Mariners cashed in their biggest chip yesterday, dealing Cliff Lee to the Rangers for Justin Smoak and three prospects. With the team currently 34-52 and 16 games back in the division, it's reasonable to expect GM Jack Zduriencik to continue making moves geared more towards contending in 2011 than righting the ship in 2010.

Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times points out that with Smoak set to man first on an every day basis, the Mariners now have three players (Milton Bradley, Russell Branyan, and Michael Saunders) for two roster spots (left field, designated hitter). Bradley's sore knee buys them some time, and Saunders could also be optioned to Triple-A, but flipping Branyan to a contender looking for some pop is very possible.

Saunders was almost sent to Philadelphia in last winter's Lee deal before the Phillies' requested Tyson Gillies instead, and Baker says the Zduriencik regime "hasn't exactly been in love" with holdover prospects from the Bill Bavasi era. Saunders could again find himself on the chopping block.

Backup first baseman Casey Kotchman could go at any time, though it's tough to believe there will be much trade interest in his .208/.292/.344 batting line, regardless of how good his defense is. The same could be said of the currently injured Mike Sweeney, though he was hitting a tolerable .263/.327/.475 before his back flared up.

Jose Lopez is very much available, but Baker doesn't think either Brandon League or David Aardsma will be dealt. Both are under team control for the next two seasons, so the Mariners aren't feeling pressure to move them immediately.

The Lee trade basically represented the white flag, but the Mariners don't have much left to trade away beyond Lopez, some relievers, and possibly Branyan. More than anything, they need to start getting better production out of Chone Figgins (.235/.334/.277) and Bradley (.211/.295/.368) while Jason Vargas (3.09 ERA) and Doug Fister (also a 3.09 ERA) continue to establish themselves as viable starters behind Felix Hernandez.


Odds & Ends: Santana, Red Sox, Lee, Saunders

Thursday night linkage..


The Mariners’ DH Options

Seattle's lineup has struggled through April, managing just a .241/.314/.349 team line entering Monday's game with Kansas City and hitting an AL-low nine home runs.  While Chone Figgins and Jose Lopez have gotten off to slow starts, the designated hitter spot has been a particular trouble spot.  There has been little production from the veteran platoon of Ken Griffey Jr. (.519 OPS) and Mike Sweeney (.349 OPS).

Larry LaRue of The Tacoma News Tribune points out, however, that while the Mariners could release Sweeney (due to make just $650K in 2010) or bench Griffey (releasing a franchise icon like the Kid is probably not an option for the M's), there aren't any obvious options to fill their shoes in the lineup.  Milton Bradley could see some time at DH since his injury history makes him an unlikely candidate to spend a full year playing in the field, but as LaRue notes, moving Bradley then just leaves a hole in Seattle's outfield.

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is certainly not adverse to making big moves to help his club, but LaRue thinks it will be until at least June before the M's can "find a team willing to admit it's given up on 2010" and talk trade.  The June deadline seems like a bit of a stretch given that teams will always be looking to shed a big bat with a big contract if the offer is right, though LaRue doesn't think Seattle has the pitching prospects to net such a player.

One name that LaRue doesn't mention is Michael Saunders.  The outfielder hit just .221/.258/.279 in 129 major league plate appearances last season, but he posted a .922 OPS in 282 plate appearances at Triple-A Tacoma in 2009.  Saunders was sent to the minors during spring training since the Mariners wanted him to play every day, and has just a .385 OPS thus far for Tacoma.  Should Saunders turn things around at the plate and earn a call-up, though, his good glove should provide defensive value in left field in Seattle and provide cover to move Bradley to DH. 

Another minor league option is first baseman Mike Carp.  LaRue dismissed him due to his low average at Tacoma thus far, but Carp is still slugging .484 for the Rainiers and has put up good on-base and power numbers in his last two minor league campaigns (not to mention a .878 OPS in a 65 PA cup of coffee with Seattle last year).

And, of course, Griffey and Sweeney could still turn things around given that there's a lot of baseball left to be played this season.  While the DH spot may be a problem for the M's in the short-term, things haven't quite reached Jose Vidro-esque critical mass.