According to recent chatter, even from the front office itself, the Mariners are in pursuit of a pretty talented corner outfielder. In related news, the Mariners just traded a pretty talented corner outfielder, for a year of J.A. Happ.
This one is beyond easy to analyze. It’s almost too easy. Which player is better? Statistically, it’s Michael Saunders. Which player is younger? Michael Saunders. Which player is cheaper? Michael Saunders. Which player is under control longer? Michael Saunders. Over the next two years, Saunders will cost roughly what Happ will cost for this upcoming one year. Saunders was born late in 1986, while Happ was born late in 1982. Happ does address a team need for better starting-rotation depth. That’s been a concern we’ve all had. Problem is, now the Mariners’ outfield is Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson. As clear as it was that Saunders was on his way out, he wasn’t out until a little while ago, and he sure looked good where he was.
I offer only two bits of consolation. One is that we’ll get over this. I got over the John Jaso trade. I got over the Jose Vidro trade. I got over the Erik Bedard trade. We’ve gotten over everything, and those who haven’t are no longer with us (on a baseball blog). It is about laundry, and it is always about the team over its players, and while it’s frustrating to think deeply about that and realize that we all agree, this is sports, we’ll all shut up and keep watching the sport. You know who the Mariners have? Felix Hernandez. Who could turn their back on a team that’s paying Felix Hernandez?
Also, it was apparent to the whole world that Michael Saunders could be had. The Mariners shopped the hell out of him, dating back at least to the GM meetings. Everyone paying attention heard about what the Mariners said about Saunders at the end of the year. It was no secret that Saunders has frustrated the team in some ways. Saunders’ value wasn’t determined by how the Mariners valued him — it’s always about the market, and I guess it should be clear that Saunders didn’t have a strong market. This wasn’t a trade that came out of nowhere. If anyone out there really badly wanted Michael Saunders, they didn’t offer much. I don’t know if Happ is the absolute best the Mariners could’ve done, but this is information. This is some indication that other teams don’t like Saunders as much as some of us do.
Yet, a team just gave four years to Nick Markakis. This team just gave four years to Nelson Cruz. Saunders’ numbers have been pretty good when he’s played. There shouldn’t have been urgency here. This team actually needs two outfielders, not one. Saunders would’ve made a hell of a fourth-outfielder type, able to step in in case Dustin Ackley were to bomb or something. Saunders could’ve had a role here, but the front office wasn’t interested.
I’m coming at this with a bias. I have to be honest. I’ve always liked Michael Saunders, from the beginning. I liked him as a prospect and I liked him as a big-leaguer. Some years ago I actually hung out with him once in a bar. We got drunk and talked about hockey and he swore that the next year the Mariners would make the playoffs. So I guess it turns out Michael Saunders is a liar. Maybe that’s why the Mariners stopped liking him.
So I can’t process this completely objectively. I can’t process anything completely objectively, but this one even more so. I like Michael Saunders, and it’s more fun when the team you root for has players you like. I guess I also liked Ryan Rowland-Smith. And Munenori Kawasaki. At some point their performances no longer justified their presences. Wasn’t the case with Saunders. The stakes are different now, with the Mariners actually poised to contend, but it’s not like they just dumped some utility player or seventh reliever. Am I going crazy? Saunders did just slug .450, right?
From that perspective, I guess it’s good for Saunders that he’s headed to Toronto. He’s going to like playing in Canada, and he’s going to like having an opportunity to play every day. Loving things and letting them go, or something. Let’s pretend like the Mariners are a good friend, and Saunders was a partner. Let’s say you like Saunders, but he and your friend were just having a lot of problems. Somewhat irreconcilable problems. From a selfish standpoint, you want them to stay together, but you realize Saunders would be happier in a different relationship. I guess if we’re talking about people, you can still try to maintain some form of friendly contact. With teams and players, that’s tampering. This was a stretch from the start.
Saunders was pretty good. Still is. Got hurt some, and that’s too bad, because if it hadn’t happened that way, maybe Saunders would still be a Mariner, and maybe last year’s Mariners would’ve gotten to the playoffs. Ultimately we’ll get past this because Saunders wasn’t a star and we forgive and forget a lot of things when a sports team is winning. Happ should play a role on the team, and he’s a decent starter, and he’s a good fit for the park, as a fly-balling lefty. Shades of Jason Vargas. But. I have to dwell on this frustration now, because I know I won’t be doing so in a few days or weeks. I want to embrace the opportunity to be upset. This was something we all saw coming, in general if not in specific, and objectively I don’t know how one could twist this as anything but a downgrade for a team in Seattle trying to upgrade.
It’s the upgrade I’m really afraid of. It’s so easy to see. The Mariners traded an outfielder for a pitcher, as the Braves signed an outfielder. Rumors have linked a Mariners pitcher to a Braves outfielder, and now it’s so, so very easy to see Taijuan Walker on the move for Justin Upton. I mean, it’s happened before, hasn’t it? I don’t want that. I’d at least hope for more coming from Atlanta’s side. But I can see it happening. Go big or go home. I know that trade could happen, and I know I’d come to terms with it, too. You know who’s good? Justin Upton. And young pitchers bust all the time, and Walker needs a lot of work, and flags fly forever, and the Mariners are so close and can you imagine what the lineup would look like if-
The Mariners are mostly done building a heck of a baseball team for 2015. In some ways, they’re doing this via routes I approve of. In some ways, they’re doing this via routes I don’t like. It’s pretty easy to see how it could all come apart, because we’ve lived that reality, but what’s done is done, and what becomes done becomes done, and we’re left with a choice: support what we’re given, or opt to sit out. Go team, no matter what, I guess. I’m sure there are things the Mariners could do that would cause me to abandon them for good, but we’ve gone through some real depths together. What’s a Michael Saunders trade? What’s a Justin Upton trade? The Mariners next year could win the World Series. If nothing else, I’m sure they’ll play baseball.