Some of us feared this was coming. After Jack Zduriencik essentially put Michael Saunders on blast for his struggles with injuries and slow recovery time, Saunders' agent fired back with a blast of his own. If you haven't read how the saga has unfolded yet, stop and do that first by clicking on those two links. It isn't pretty, and it's all a little weird to have this blowout so public. Was it all a battle to drive down perceived value before arbitration hearings? Is there really something broken between Saunders and the front office? There's something going on here that we can't understand looking in from the outside. Today, it becomes a little more clear.
The Mariners have a clear weakness in the outfield, yet they're choosing to shop around one of their best outfielders. Maybe the relationship was already fairly sour after their public battle, but the Mariners clearly haven't done a very good job at disguising that they'd prefer somebody else to be on their roster instead of him, as they're reported to be shopping him around next week, via Jerry Crasnick.
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
Often times, rumors can be pretty vague and conditional. This isn't. Expected to shop him "hard." "Ready to move on." All doubts about this relationship being fractured can safely be put to bed. It is. And now, the Mariners might kick off their offseason by trading away their best position player from arguably their worst position group.
Even though Saunders only managed to play in 78 games this year, he produced 1.9 WAR, barely below Dustin Ackley's full season of 2.1 WAR. He's about to turn 28, remains under team control for two more years, and though he isn't a very good center fielder, he certainly has the flexibility to play there in a pinch. Saunders has plenty of value to the 2015 Mariners as a 3rd or 4th outfielder, if they were to retain him.
It's easy to damn the decision to trade away Saunders, and certainly that's the knee-jerk reaction. But we don't know what the Mariners want back for him, if he'll be part of a bigger package, or if they're just looking to dump this accumulated baggage. On the surface, this seems fueled by egos and pride, but there's some validity to the front office's frustration. Saunders is adored by many here, and understandably so. He's a player who's always had more talent than he's produced, and this year he finally showed what he could possibly be, a 4-win player if he could just stay on the field, or get playing time when it was deserved.
But it's important to not fall in love too much with Saunders. He's certainly had some bad breaks, but one way or another he can safely be classified as fragile at this stage in his career. It affects how the Mariners construct their roster going forward, and simply extrapolating his 2014 1.9 WAR over a 162 game season isn't really a fair or accurate projection of Saunders' future value when he really hasn't shown a consistent ability to make it through a full season. Still, that's probably a little overblown. Saunders did appear in 84% of all possible games from 2012-2013, and he would have appeared in more than half of this year's games if he weren't benched so often down the stretch.
Saunders has gone through major ups and downs throughout his career, and when analyzing any return for Saunders, it's important not to fall in love with his career year at the plate, as it might just be that -- a career year. Was this a step forward, or was it a tease? I like to think it was the former, but the Mariners might be unconvinced -- or maybe they just don't want to bank on Saunders as a starting outfielder going into 2015. That's how guys like Endy Chavez end up playing 80 games.
I have mixed emotions about the whole thing, and that's mainly because I'm making assumptions based on the words shot forth from Jack Zduriencik's mouth, as well as his agent's. The terminology used in Crasnick's tweet implies some sort of emotional aspect to this that doesn't quite sit right. Shopped "hard" usually means urgent, like the M's might take 75 cents on the dollar to wash their hands of a messy relationship. That's what brings the most concern to this situation, is an emotional decision rather than a sound baseball one.
It will be a sad day when Saunders dons another uniform, as he's one of the longest-tenured Mariners still on the roster, a holdover from the Bavasi days. He's a fan favorite for many, and certainly one of the readers here. Hearing another set of announcers call a Saunders double into the gap with an exclamation of "Condor" feels dirty.
It's all very unsettling with a bunch of very valid concerns, but if the Mariners value Saunders properly and don't force a deal just to wash their hands, there's still a chance this could all turn out just fine. Saunders does have a decent amount of value, and while plenty of teams will try to buy low on him, that doesn't mean the Mariners have to, or will.
For now, this feels like a goodbye letter I'm not quite ready to pen.