Posted on January 16, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
All-star outfielder Michael Saunders has a new home, and it’s with the Philadelphia Phillies. Multiple outlets are reporting that Saunders has agreed to sign a one-year deal with Philadelphia for $9 million. The deal also has an $11 million option for the 2018 season that could be worth as much as $14 million with incentives. The deal comes less than 48 hours after Saunders teased that his free agency was coming to a close, while also stating that his preference was to remain with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Saunders enjoyed a breakout season with the Blue Jays in 2016, making the All-Star Team for the first time in his career. However, Saunders saw his production drop considerably during the second half of the season, which may have caused his stock to drop in free agency this winter. Nevertheless, most considered him to be one of the best left-handed hitters on the market, and considering how rough the market has treated power hitters this winter, Saunders has signed a good deal to join the Phillies.
It’s easy to see the 30-year old Saunders and see a late bloomer, as he struggled to establish himself early in his big league career with the Seattle Mariners. Joining a deep and talented lineup in Toronto appears to have helped Saunders finally breakout, hitting a career-high 24 home runs last season. His move to the Phillies will likely make him a more prominent part of his team’s lineup, which will be a new challenge for Saunders. Of course, he’s also going to a ballpark in Philadelphia that’s notoriously friendly to left-handed hitters.
Saunders figures to be Philadelphia’s every day right fielder, with Odubel Herrera in center field and Howie Kendrick, who was acquired in a trade earlier this offseason, likely being the every day player in left field. Prior to the addition of Saunders, Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr were in line to share the duties in right field, although in recent weeks the Phillies appeared determined to add a more established hitter to their outfield.
Despite struggling the second half of last season, Saunders avoided drastic splits between right-handed and left-handed pitching, meaning the Phillies should be able to trust him to play every day. This could make it difficult for Altherr and Quinn to get regular playing time. In fact, the Phillies may be inclined to send Quinn back to the minors at the start of the season to ensure he gets regular at bats.
As for the Blue Jays, they remained in contact with Saunders during the winter, but they never appeared to make a strong push to bring him back to Toronto, even if that was the scenario Saunders would have preferred. Before word of Saunders signing with the Phillies broke, there were reports that talks were heating up between the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista, further indicating that Saunders was not going to be returning to Toronto.
Alas, Saunders and the Phillies are a good fit for one another. In a way, Saunders could be seen as a place holder for prospects like Quinn, Nick Williams, and Dylan Cozens, but he will have an important role in helping to make the Phillies as competitive as possible in 2017. Saunders also has the opportunity to step into a more prominent role with a team, as he sets out to prove that the first half of last season wasn’t a fluke.