Michael Saunders: Trade Candidate?


Things are weird between the Seattle Mariners and Michael Saunders these days. There was the whole thing with Jack Zduriencik, which was just super odd and seemingly unnecessary. The team believed in Saunders through all those years of struggles and development, then responded to his best year yet by calling him out in front of the media. Bad move.

Not like things are exactly improving, as the organization has been non-commital about his role next year. One would think he’d be a big part of the 2015 M’s, since he was the team’s best outfielder last year. He’s a good hitter and a good fielder, which means he’s one less health issue away from being a very valuable player. But now it’s an open question whether or not he’ll even be around much longer.

Tacoma News-Tribune beat writer Bob Dutton fields lots of questions on Twitter, and today he was asked if he thought Saunders would be traded. His reply: “wouldn’t bet on it not happening.” Beat writers aren’t general managers, and Dutton’s words shouldn’t be interpreted as much more than a hunch. But it’s an informed hunch, from someone closer to the team than most. And it’s a hunch that seems to go where this has seemingly been headed for a little while now.

Whether or not a Saunders trade would make sense is impossible to say with any kind of certainty. He’s presumably available because of a problem his current organization has with him, so that’s a knock. What that says about the way the Mariners value him remains to be seen. But most important is what other team’s think he’s worth, relative to what Seattle thinks he’s worth.

If the Mariners are down on Saunders while the rest of baseball is not-down on him, then there’s a good chance the guy gets moved. But if he gets moved, it should only be for fair value. The Mariners might have a lower opinion of him than the rest, but that affects how much they’re able to get in a trade. They’ve basically made as much public knowledge, and so they’re in an awkward position. They have leverage, but they used to have more leverage.

There’s rarely any point in trading a guy for less than what he’s worth, but in this case it’s easy to envision the Mariners making exactly that mistake. Not to say that’s what will happen if Saunders is traded – just that these are the ingredients for a less-than-fair swap. GMZ has made extremely good trades, extremely bad trades, and all kinds of trades that fall somewhere in the middle. He’s not the kind of swapper you can pin down easily. There’s no guarantee a Saunders trade would net a poor return.

Trading Michael Saunders means trading the team’s best outfielder, after all, and there’s really no reason for the M’s to evaluate him as anything less than that. If someone wants to offer spare parts for him, tell them no. If someone wants to offer a young, controllable piece for him, then you think about it. Same as with any other player, of course. Saunders is good, so trade him for something good, if you feel the need. If the only way to trade him is for something bad, then keep him. That simple.

But he’s the team’s best outfielder, after all, and the team doesn’t exactly have… any… other good outfielders. Dustin Ackley? Now there’s a trade candidate. The bat’s coming around, maybe, and he’s now proficient in left field while presumably remaining a strong second baseman. Trading Saunders means Ackley’s your de-facto best outfielder, and he’s not even an outfielder, really.

It would seem, then, that Saunders is the exact type of player the Mariners should not trade: he’s young, he’s good, he’s cheap, and he plays the position at which the team is easily the thinnest. There’s nothing the M’s need more than quality outfielders. That’s what Saunders is. Yet he, of all people, is the guy who’s name is dominating the rumor mill?

Trading Saunders would be goofy. Maybe he’s a Percy Harvin, where you really can’t keep him around no matter how talented he is. But there’s really no indication that this situation is anything like that, or anything at all. It went from Saunders being a player on a team to Saunders being thrown under the bus and made into a trade candidate, just like that, without any real incident to stoke it that we know of. So maybe the Mariners are pissed at him. Doesn’t make him any less important as a baseball player.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens, of course. In five months the Mariners will open their spring training camp, and Michael Saunders may or may not be there. If he’s not, let’s hope there’s a good reason and a better group of outfielders. If there’s not, we’ll all likely be left scratching our heads and wondering what went wrong.