Although he’s fresh off arguably the best offensive season of his career, 30-year-old outfielder Michael Saunders remains on the free agent market with spring training gradually approaching. Along with Toronto, where the Canada native played last season, Saunders has drawn connections to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Cleveland this offseason.
While it’s unclear whether Saunders is currently in negotiations with the Phillies, Orioles or Indians, he revealed Saturday that he is in talks with multiple teams, including the Blue Jays. Saunders also indicated that his preference is to re-sign with the Jays, via Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith (Twitter links).
“I’m waiting for the right deal for me and my family,” said Saunders. “I’m hoping to stay in Toronto and hopefully finding out soon.”
With both Saunders and Jose Bautista no longer on their roster, the Blue Jays are wanting in the corner outfield, where Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera and Melvin Upton Jr. represent their top options. Bautista is superior to Saunders, though the book could be closed on the unsigned slugger’s illustrious run up north. Even if the Jays are interested in re-signing Bautista, he’d come at a higher price than Saunders in multiple ways. Not only would Bautista cost more in dollars, but Toronto would punt the chance to secure a first-round pick in the 2017 draft by letting him walk. Because Bautista rejected the Jays’ qualifying offer at the outset of the offseason, they’ll be entitled to compensation if he leaves. On the other hand, the Jays didn’t tender Saunders a QO, though it looked as if he was playing his way to one during the first half of 2016.
Thanks to an outstanding .298/.372/.551 batting line with 16 home runs in 344 plate appearances over the season’s initial three-plus months, Saunders earned the first All-Star nod of his career. The ex-Mariner followed that with a .178/.282/.357 line and eight HRs in 214 post-All-Star break PAs, thereby damaging his appeal entering free agency. While Saunders did recover from a couple injury-ravaged years to appear in a career-high 140 games, he didn’t help his cause in the outfield, where he ranked toward the bottom of the majors in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating.
Despite his faults, Saunders would at least give the Blue Jays another experienced, offensively capable outfielder. Plus, in re-signing him, the Jays would have the option of shifting Pearce to first base – his primary position – and sending their projected starter, the unspectacular Justin Smoak, to the bench.