Michael Saunders is a pretty good baseball player. That seemed like a quite unlikely statement after 2011, following three partial and mostly-unproductive seasons of Saunders with the Mariners, but it’s true. He’s good, and he’s hurt a lot, these are things that can be backed up by statistics and the most reliable data we have to determine player value and quality.
In the past three seasons Saunders has posted basically two seasons worth of plate appearances, and in that time he’s been better than average in terms of wins above replacement and offensive production, all while playing adequate defense, mostly in center field, and playing non-value defense while on the disabled list. Saunders has been a coup, a feather in the proverbial cap of the Bill Bavasi era. The Mariners organization is devoid of outfielders who can play something like average defense and handle a bat with any level of competency. Saunders, a homegrown outfielder with both of those skills is probably the best outfielder the Mariners have, and he came from the Bavasi era.
Now news has arisen that the Mariners plan on shopping Saunders. This isn’t a shock, as the team was somewhat critical of Saunders, tangentially at least, regarding his offseason conditioning and how it has impacted his in-season health, but still, it sucks. Saunders is a good player, and the Mariners need more good players, not less good players, if they’re going to stand any chance of making the playoffs next year. A team that asked for a combined 90 games of outfield play from Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, and Endy Chavez in 2014 plans on getting rid of a player who is good for about 90 games of good ball each year.
Obviously it doesn’t work that way. The Mariners can’t pick and choose when Saunders is healthy, and if they could they’d just pick healthy every day. But Saunders is good at being an outfielder, and the Mariners have Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, the unrefined athleticism of James Jones, and the (read sarcastically) wisdom and grit of the veteran Willie Bloomquist in their outfield right now. The best estimates have the Mariners needing one more outfielder, more realistically they may need two or three more. And yet, they’re trying to get rid of maybe their best one.
The Mariners are dumb, we’ve known that for some time now. They’ve gutted their stat department, at least anecdotally, and have made some very stupid moves. It’s not that the Mariners are going to try to trade Saunders, a player of underrated value, for a turd, at least not certainly. It’s that they could and they have (still missing you John Jaso). Teams trade good players for good players somewhat regularly. This normally occurs when a team is trading a position of strength for another team’s perceived strength. The key variable missing from this equation so far as the Mariners are concerned, at the risk of sounding like a pretentious moron, is the “strength” part. The Mariners don’t have a surplus of quality outfielders.
Worse yet, the Mariners have tipped their hand going into the offseason. They’re shopping Michael Saunders not because they don’t need him – because they need the hell out of him – but instead because they think he needs to do more hot yoga or something, which is something that would make most of us mad.
The Mariners could get value for Michael Saunders commensurate with his actual value. There is a better than zero-probability of that occurring. But it’s the Mariners fault, not anybody else’s, which the majority of the fan base has little faith that they’ll get anything but fleeced in exchange for their outfielder.