In terrible and sadly unsurprising news, Michael Saunders is already injured in Toronto, as he tore his meniscus yesterday. This time, it didn't take crashing into a wall or anything that he would normally get injured doing, as Saunders simply stepped on an underground sprinkler. Boom, out until mid-July. Not only is he out for five months, but he'll have to rehab and once again go through the struggles of trying to get his rhythm back after an injury, and a torn meniscus is no joke in that regard. There's a non-zero chance Saunders doesn't end up playing at all this year, and a solid chance he won't be the player we all know he's capable of being even when he returns.
It's awful to see for a number of reasons, the first being that for the most part, Saunders has always been a darling of the Lookout Landing community as an undervalued and under-appreciated player who has quality upside, but couldn't stay on the field. Things reached a boiling point last summer when Saunders was repeatedly passed over in the lineup by Lloyd McClendon even when healthy, and boiled over when he was unceremoniously disparaged by Jack Zduriencik and given to Toronto in exchange for a year of J.A. Happ.
In my mind, and I'm sure for many others, it's far too easy to focus on upside and hope as opposed to reality. It's what the Mariners have conditioned us to believe over the past decade and more, hoping for better in the future simply because the present was bad, a reality we refused to allow ourselves to live in. Really, until 2014, the present was always an afterthought, the focus of many games was not just to win, but to see the kind of performances we could get from players in years that would matter. 2015 was that year for Michael Saunders. As a fanbase and a community, we all spent years investing in the kind of bright future we knew Saunders could have, and when he was cast aside so publicly and disrespectfully, it was infuriating. Enough to cloud logic, perhaps.
When Saunders was traded, I was standing in an Apple Store line, waiting to get my recently-shattered phone screen repaired. When they took my phone, I logged into a computer in the store and proceeded to have, what I can safely call in retrospect, was a full Twitter meltdown. Logan and I quickly bounced back and forth on how to handle it on the site, and we both agreed -- skewer the Mariners. Sure, there was the emotional side to it that I previously explained, but it was also miserable on paper, and Logan captured it well. We were mad. Really mad. For the most part, so were you. This community was so upset that for months many other articles, related or unrelated, often turned into criticism of trading Saunders. We all put in the time to see Saunders break out and be a part a playoff team, and now he was swapped for a back-end rotation pitcher with seemingly little upside. Condor was gone, and all we could see was the rose-colored future we'd painted for him. No injuries, same or better offense than 2014, finally breaking free and being the underdog who made it all the way through from Bill Bavasi to Jack Zduriencik's long road to the playoffs.
Now, this. It's too simple to say the Mariners did the right thing, or that hindsight is 20/20. This specific injury for Saunders is of a highly fluky nature, but it's undeniable that some players are more vulnerable to fluke injuries than others. Call it fragility, call it bad luck, whatever it is -- we all knew this was an unfortunate quality Michael Saunders possessed. And so did the Mariners. Baseball is a game of percentages, and the percentage that Saunders was a player who would keep getting hurt started looked higher than a guy who just had bad luck. Jack Zduriencik famously called Saunders' work ethic into question last year, musing to the world, in public, why Saunders couldn't stay healthy. The relationship was severed, and while Zduriencik's public comments did have a strangely personal nature to them, he was right, even if the way in which he aired his grievances wasn't. He saw a broken past and a future where the glue didn't stick.
The Mariners decided to value stability over upside, and given how the offseason unfolded after the trade, they made the right decision. In years past, part of the reason so many of us loved Saunders was because the players that came to replace him, guys like Endy Chavez, were so unimpressive that the highs of Saunders became even higher when viewed in comparison to the mediocrity or miserable performances that filled in. It was idealistic. The Mariners, for once, were the pragmatic ones. They bet on red while we tossed chips on various numbers across the board. Greater upside with higher risk. The wheel spun, and here we are. In 2015, the Mariners are better for it.
It's a sad reminder that for players like Michael Saunders, baseball is brutal and unfair. It's a sobering reminder that unpopular decisions by front offices can still turn out to be the right ones, no matter how hard anybody melts down in an Apple Store. The Mariners need all the luck they can get to get back to the playoffs, and this is the first stroke of it. It's just incredibly sad that it has come at the expense of our favorite rose-colored painting.