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.