At what price do you want Joe Saunders?
Today, ESPN.com's Jim Bowden wrote on Twitter the Red Sox, Reds and Tigers were three teams pursuing pitcher Joe Saunders, who was recently non-tendered by the Arizona Diamondbacks. (It had also been said the Diamondbacks would like to re-sign the 30-year-old left-hander, though it sounds like that is not a real possibility.)
Like with many free agents, the question with Saunders isn't so much, "Do you want him or not?" It's more along the lines of, at what price do you want him and what price do you avoid him? For the Diamondbacks, the price to avoid him was the likely arbitration-set figure of $7 million plus for 2012.
Saunders seems like a prototypical back-of-the-rotation starter. In 2011 with the Diamondbacks, he looked even better than that, as he pitched 212 innings of 3.69 ERA ball. However, if you look deeper you find it to be a bit of a mirage. His strikeouts per nine innings were at record-low numbers (4.58), his strand-rate an unsustainable and career high 77.7%, his BABIP a low .271 and his xFIP 4.38. One thing you can say about him: At least he doesn't walk many batters (2.84 / 9 IP in 2011).
In 2011, his quality-start percentage was 61% -- the second highest it has been in his career. Normally Saunders' figure falls in the 40s. So thinking in terms of quality starts, he'd probably fall somewhere between Penny's 2011 (41%) and Porcello's (61%). Again, acceptable back-of-the-rotation arm.
For his career, Saunders has a 4.16 ERA and 4.58 xFIP. Looking over the trend of the recent seasons, and taking note the less-successful ones were all played in the American League, it seems reasonable to expect Saunders is a lot closer to being a true 4.40 ERA pitcher than a 3.69 one. The always-optimistic Bill James Online projections put him at 4.20 ERA / 4.58 FIP.
He could fit the Tigers needs. But at what cost? If you can pay him like the 5th starter he'll be, great. If he'd like to be paid better than that, I think you have to walk.
Saunders might actually find that being non-tendered was a good thing for his wallet. With several teams said to be interested -- like I mentioned in the first paragraph, the Red Sox among them -- he will almost certainly sign a contract worth more than $7 million total. It would not be outlandish to expect his agent to be looking for a two- or three-year deal worth in the $12 to $18 million range (depending on years).
However, his value is probably less. I suppose I could accept the Tigers signing him for a one-year deal worth $6 to $7 million. But if he wants more than that, I think looking for a lower cost alternative knowing you have several interesting young pitchers in hand would be a better move for Detroit.
So I ask you: At what price is Saunders a good deal for Detroit?