With the departure of Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, and Andy Dirks through various means in the past six months, the Tigers will be searching for another outfielder or two this offseason. Ideally, one of these outfielders would be a solid defender, hit left-handed with decent power, and not cost a ton of money. Well, their wish may have been granted today.
The #mariners are expected to shop OF Michael Saunders hard at GM meetings. Both sides appear ready to move on.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 7, 2014
SB Nation's Chris Cotillo reports that the Tigers are among several teams interested in Saunders. Should the Tigers be willing to take a chance on the oft-injured outfielder?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Nicknamed "The Condor" before Chris Sale came along, Saunders was an 11th round pick by the Mariners in the 2004 draft. He sped through the minors, reaching Triple-A Tacoma in his age 21 season. Saunders made his MLB debut in 2009 as a 22 year old, hitting .221/.258/.279 in 129 plate appearances. Things did not get much better over the next couple years, but the former top 100 prospect showed some of his potential with a breakout 2012 season. He hit .247/.306/.432 with 53 extra base hits and 21 stolen bases in 507 plate appearances, but was only worth roughly 2 WAR due to some defensive shortcomings in center field. The last couple years have been tough on Saunders and the Mariners due to injury concerns, limiting him to just 731 plate appearances.
Why should we care?
Saunders ranked third among all Mariners position players with 2.4 rWAR in 2014, yet only played in 78 games. While the latter is definitely a concern, the former is highly encouraging. Had Saunders accumulated 600 plate appearances, he could have been worth nearly six wins above replacement. There were only eight outfielders in all of baseball worth 5.5 fWAR or more in 2014. Saunders hit .273/.341/.450 with eight home runs and 34 RBI in 263 plate appearances, good enough for a 126 wRC+. He only stole four bases in nine attempts, but has shown that he can be a threat on the basepaths in previous seasons. He swiped 13 bags in 18 chances in 2013, and 21 bases in 25 attempts back in 2012.
Saunders has played all three outfield positions in his career, but is probably best suited for a corner. He has put up excellent numbers in right field, accumulating +9 defensive runs saved in 758 1/3 career innings. He has put up positive numbers at a slower pace in left field, but is still considered an above average defender in either corner.
Despite it seeming like he has been around forever, Saunders is still just 27 years old. He will turn 28 before Opening Day 2015, but he still has two years of club control left and is not likely to make much more in 2015 than the $2.3 million he made last season. Saunders may cost a team under $10 million over the next two seasons while providing better production than many of the outfielders on the open market that will pull in $10 million in 2014 alone.
Why should we stay away?
The only reason why Saunders hasn't cemented his spot in the 2015 Mariners outfield is because he cannot stay on the field. He only played 78 games in 2014, and only has one season with 500 plate appearances or more under his belt. He missed time due to knee, shoulder, and abdominal injuries in 2014, with the oblique strain shelving him for nearly two months. He has injured several other body parts throughout his career, but that right shoulder has been a recurring issue.
Other than the injuries, the only real knock on Saunders would be that he can't play center field. He has done so for the majority of his career, but the numbers aren't pretty. He has been worth -25 defensive runs saved in just over 2,100 career innings, and his -9.8 UZR isn't much better. Rajai Davis, who rates as a league average center fielder in over 3,500 career innings, would be a better defensive option according to the advanced metrics.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The idea is enticing, but the potential of this deal happening is based entirely on what the Mariners are looking for in exchange for the 27 year old. There seems to be a riff between Saunders and GM Jack Zduriencik, which could lead them to deal Saunders for just about anything. However, an outfielder like Saunders -- yes, even one with his medical history -- will likely be in high demand, driving up the price of the trade. Zduriencik and Dave Dombrowski have plenty of experience with one another and the need for the Tigers is there, so I'd put their chances slightly above most others.