After missing all but 9 games in 2015 after a knee injury in spring training, Michael Saunders showed the Blue Jays why they traded for him, becoming a 2016 All-Star.
It was hard to know what to expect from Michael Saunders in 2016. The Blue Jays traded J.A. Happ for Saunders before the 2015 season began only to watch Saunders go down with an injury before the season started, effectively ending his campaign. He did manage to play in nine games after having knee surgery, but he was unable to recover and had to sit out the remainder of last year.
As mentioned, Saunders was a huge asset for the Blue Jays in the first half of the season. There was even a point when people began discussing if he would get a better contract than Jose Bautista in free agency.
Before the All-Star break, Saunders was hitting .298/.372/.551 with 16 home runs and 42 RBI in 82 games and 305 at bats. He was voted into the All-Star game by the fans, making his first appearance in the mid-season classic.
The lefty-swinging Canadian brought some balance to a right-handed heavy lineup, and also contributed 25 doubles before the break. At a salary of 2.9 million, the Blue Jays were getting an absolute steal, even if his defence was adequate at best.
Then came the second half. Saunders’ season took a turn for the worst almost immediately after the All-Star game. He finished the season with a batting line of .253/.338/.457, 24 home runs, 57 RBI and 32 doubles.
Those aren’t bad numbers when examined through the scope of a whole season, but let’s take a look at the second half.
2nd half : 185 ABs= .178/.282/.357, 8 HR, 15 RBI, 7 doubles.
The 30 year old regressed so much that the Blue Jays went out and acquired Melvin Upton to give them some extra outfield depth. Upton provided a big upgrade on defence, but also brought the right-handed half a platoon. By the time the playoffs arrived, Ezequiel Carrera had earned a starting spot in the outfield, relegating Saunders to a platoon split at DH.
It’s hard to say what next season holds for Michael Saunders, but it seems unlikely that future will continue in Toronto. The Canadian has expressed a desire to return to the Blue Jays, and it’s entirely possible the club will consider bringing his left-handed bat back to the lineup.
At the All-Star break, it appeared that Saunders would be a shoo-in for the qualifying offer once a free agent. Now that it’s been set at 17.2 million for next season (assuming the QO doesn’t get removed in the CBA talks), it is highly unlikely the Blue Jays would be willing to pay that much to retain him.
With the Blue Jays having to make decisions on Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista, Brett Cecil and others, it’s likely the Canadian has played his last home game north of the border. He has set himself up nicely in free agency though, especially after missing all of 2015, and then setting career highs in home runs, doubles and RBI, despite his second half struggles.
If he can find greater consistency in 2017, there’s a good chance that somebody is about to get a bargain on Saunders… just don’t expect it to be the Blue Jays.