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Toronto Blue Jays: Saunders vs. Bruce in retrospect

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Apr 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Michael Saunders (21) hits an RBI single during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Michael Saunders (21) hits an RBI single during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /
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It was during a relatively quiet evening on February 22nd of this year when it seemed inevitable that Michael Saunders was about to be traded in a three-way deal involving the Reds and the Angels – one that would have brought the mercurial Jay Bruce to the Toronto Blue Jays.

The general consensus at the time was that most Toronto fans would welcome the hard-hitting right fielder with open arms – a player selected in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft year with serious major league power capable of producing 30+ home run seasons. Although known for his maddening tendency to strike out an average of 150 times a year along with an underwhelming career .249/.319/.468 slash line, many fans were thrilled at the prospect of adding another bona fide bopper to the Jays already formidable lineup.

Saunders, who had previously suffered the indignation of losing nearly the entire 2015 baseball season to a torn meniscus when he accidentally stepped on a water sprinkler head during spring training, was primed and ready for baseball redemption. It’s important to note that sprinkler heads can be enormously dangerous – here is a list of some additional myths concerning sprinkler safety for the uninitiated.

With his career .239/.310/.401 offensive numbers almost mirroring Bruce, and given their obvious similarities (both are 29 years old and play the outfield), there isn’t much separating these two big leaguers at first glance. Both are slow as molasses and can’t run the bases efficiently. Their defensive shortcomings are generally tolerated by their respective teams, as the Jays learned first-hand earlier this season.

Bruce is now considered a legitimate trading chip for the cellar dwelling Reds anxious on rebuilding an absolutely disastrous pitching staff which currently sports an unearthly 5.50 ERA &1.56 WHIP. Their bullpen in particular is climbing to an historic level of failure – and we can all agree that Steve Delabar truly deserves better.

Both players are clearly enjoying fine seasons which begs the question:  Who would have won the trade?

Going into action last night, Michael Saunders is leading his team in hitting with a .311 batting average, 11 homers and 23 RBI in 56 games, and the Jays have pencilled him in as their starting every day left fielder. He’s responded with a 1.9 fWAR and surprised everyone with excellent gap power (17 doubles) and a svelte .386 on-base percentage. He’s also hovered around the Top 15 in MLB OPS for the season and staked his claim as the most consistent (and versatile) Blue Jays hitter during the first two months of this season.

Jay Bruce is hitting .271 with 14 homers and 44 RBI in 58 games. He is his team’s bona fide clean-up hitter and provides legitimate power – currently ranking 4th in RBI, 5th in slugging, and 7th in home runs over at the senior circuit. It’s an impressive year on the surface and one perfectly timed for his team to acquire maximum value on a diminishing asset that, for all his exploits, has somehow managed a paltry -0.1 WAR. 

Next: Will Colabello return to open arms from the Blue Jays?

Bruce is a homegrown prodigy who became a local fan hero while Saunders was an 11th round longshot Seattle pick that never quite lived up to his potential as a Canadian success story...until this year.

Should Toronto fans lament missing out on the Bruce sweepstakes? Amidst the swirling rumours and double-talk which followed from both front offices, it’s abundantly clear that the Jays were better off with the status quo, and in a challenging season when the vaunted Jays bats have stumbled early and find themselves ranked in the middle of the pack offensively, one can only wonder where they’d be without Michael Saunders. Just ask Mark Shapiro.

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