Go Team

Jeff Sullivan · December 3, 2014 at 5:57 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


42 Responses to “Go Team”

  1. TherzAlwaysHope on December 3rd, 2014 6:20 pm

    “The 6-foot-5 southpaw has a career record of 51-53 with a 4.24 ERA and a 1.387 WHIP. He went 19-20 with a 4.39 ERA in three seasons in Toronto, but pitched only 10 games in 2012 due to a broken foot and 18 games in 2013 after being hit in the head with a line drive that put him on the disabled list for three months in midseason.

    Happ started out this past season on the DL with a back issue and then pitched out of the bullpen upon his return….” –Mariners website on Happ

    By the standards applied to Saunders, Happ is an injury prone looser as well.

    Saunders batting second could be a wrecking ball in his own way. Bunt for a hit, steal a base, distract the pitcher, set up Cano or Seager for an extra base hit.

  2. _Hutch_ on December 3rd, 2014 6:26 pm

    Jeff sometimes you need an editor but times like this you make me feel feelings about baseball. Thank you.

    This may be a terribly flawed baseball organization, but it’s OUR terribly flawed baseball organization. May it run into some good luck again next year.

  3. stevemotivateir on December 3rd, 2014 6:27 pm

    Before all of you start blasting Jack for this, know that this was absolutely necessary for him to re-establish himself as a friendly GM whom other GM’s can deal with, and this will lead to amazing acquisitions of better players.

    That’s the best bullshit excuse I could come up with.

  4. Longgeorge1 on December 3rd, 2014 6:52 pm

    I suddenly have a vision of sugar plum fairies — Oh NO that’s Nelson Cruz in right —- a lot—— fuuuuuuuuug

  5. jeffs98119 on December 3rd, 2014 7:48 pm

    I for one am so grateful that Torii Hunter is no longer available.

  6. hailcom on December 3rd, 2014 8:10 pm

    Logic tempered with real emotion. Best thing I’ve read on the Saunders trade all day. Nice work, Mr. Sullivan.

  7. Longgeorge1 on December 3rd, 2014 8:15 pm

    Pitchers and catchers – 73 days

  8. djw on December 3rd, 2014 8:24 pm

    Terrible, awful, inexcusable trade. UGH

  9. Westside guy on December 3rd, 2014 8:27 pm

    I don’t really buy the “29 other teams” argument. Jack and Lloyd made it clear, immediately at the end of the season, they didn’t value Saunders. We’re still months away from spring training. If you’re a rival GM, what pressure would there be in early December to offer up anything of value for a guy his team pretty clearly doesn’t value? You’d know his price wouldn’t head anywhere but down.

  10. Edward Baker on December 3rd, 2014 8:51 pm

    Look at Happ this way. He´s not just depth for a rotation that needs depth and experienced depth, he´s the bridge between today and Danny Hultzen. Assuming that at some point in the not so distant future there is a Danny Hultzen.
    That said, I think the Torontos made out like bandits.

  11. ck on December 3rd, 2014 9:26 pm

    Sad day for those of us that like to watch Saunders play, and hoped he would be part of a M’s playoff run. Saunders can hit, hit for power, run, catch, and throw. So the guy (Jack Z ) that gave four plus years to Chone Figgins, wouldn’t want him (Condor) to play third or fourth outfielder for the M’s.

  12. cougs129 on December 3rd, 2014 9:56 pm

    I love the condor just as much as the next guy. However, he is injury prone and at a certain point you have to move on. Especially with us as close as we are this year, can you really pencil him in to right field and be super confident he’s going to give you 140 games? Sure I would’ve liked a greater return but other teams aren’t blind to his injury history. Even if you have him as a 4th outfielder, he’s an injury away from us being an injury away from james jones being an everyday player

  13. msfanmike on December 3rd, 2014 10:01 pm

    Kinda feels like this deal was already “cooked” or at least in the process of being “cooked” when Toronto inexplicably plucked Smoak off of waivers, paid him $200K and then non-tendered him. Saunders for Happ plus $200K is still not a good deal.

    Not even all that close to a good deal.

    I don’t like the trade in isolation, but there are obviously other things in play. Hopefully they pan out favorably.

  14. kinickers77 on December 3rd, 2014 10:12 pm

    Like Jeff said, we’ve got to look at the team built when all is complete, not just relatively small trades in isolation (like this one). The Ms are clearly priming themselves for more moves so let’s just wait and see before we talk about how lame they are. Maybe they will be, but maybe they won’t.

  15. Eastside Crank on December 3rd, 2014 10:23 pm

    Toronto is having a great off-season. They stole Davidson when Billy Boy threw a hissy fit and they walked off with the Mariners best outfielder because he did not fit Uncle Fester’s plans (whatever they are). The Mariners could really use 3 outfielders, since Jackson has not shown any sign that he can hit in Safeco, and Ackley would need to hit all season like he did for 2 hot months to make up for his lack of power for a left fielder. It looks like AL West GMs are blinded by their ego’s.

  16. Gormogon on December 3rd, 2014 10:44 pm

    Uncle Fester! Nice!

    I think Billy Beane comes out winning on his trade.

  17. CCW on December 3rd, 2014 11:09 pm

    Jack Z is an idiot. Between ownership and the GM, the Mariners have one of the worst 2 or 3 front offices in baseball. If anything good happens, it will because they stumble into it. What a curse to be a lifelong fan of this team.

    I still haven’t gotten over Jaso.

  18. PackBob on December 3rd, 2014 11:36 pm

    I will always like Saunders as a player wherever he goes, if for nothing else because we saw him go through his trials and tribulations to stick at the ML level. Getting injured is just another roadblock he has to navigate and I hope he does.

  19. vj on December 4th, 2014 12:44 am

    So, how does one manage to meet and hang out with an MLB player in a bar?

    (and I agree that this does not look like a good trade at all. My initial reaction was a four-letter-word)

  20. vj on December 4th, 2014 2:38 am

    Another thought:
    “It is about laundry”
    “This may be a terribly flawed baseball organization, but it’s OUR terribly flawed baseball organization.”
    My personal links to the Pacific Northwest went away almost ten years ago. Why am I still rooting for the Mariners and Seahawks? It certainly would be easier if the teams make me proud of them. The Seahawks have done rather well in this respect (safe for the period between Holmgren and Carroll) but the Mariners?

  21. Eastside Crank on December 4th, 2014 7:12 am

    That would be Donaldson. Trading a Davidson would have been a coup.

  22. MrZDevotee on December 4th, 2014 7:53 am

    I’m a fan of Michael Saunders, sure, but my reaction all along to the rumors he might be traded has been simply “meh”…

    We seem to have an inclination for getting emotionally involved with players who turn out to be more than we expected, but are still completely replaceable. Jaso, Vargas, Saunders, Morrow, etc.

    Would they be good players to keep on a team, absolutely. But these are precisely the type of players that get used in trades. Mostly replaceable, but with good value. Nobody wants the players worse than this level, and you don’t want to trade anybody better than this level of player.

  23. naviomelo on December 4th, 2014 8:10 am

    Why make the team worse? We could have fielded a pretty competitive team for about a day or so, there.

    If Lloyd is such a great manager, he needs to find ways to get value out of guys that “aren’t his type of guys”.

  24. New England Fan on December 4th, 2014 8:19 am

    I guess I’m in the minority. Saunders to me has always been the “almost” guy that people fall in love with, but for whatever reason never come through. I feel as though some of the attachment to Saunders has been been emotional rather than rational. Just like “Doyle” he seems to have been one of these guys who has been close to achieving something, but always getting hurt. So did he have promise, yes, but mostly those promises have not been kept. Was Happ the best that could be obtained for Saunders – that is the real question. He was going to be gone, but could he have been swapped for a better return? That is the real question.

  25. LongDistance on December 4th, 2014 8:20 am

    RF. Hmmmm

    Suddenly, Jeff, Ichiro coming back does actually make sense in some weird way.

  26. djw on December 4th, 2014 8:57 am

    I guess I’m in the minority. Saunders to me has always been the “almost” guy that people fall in love with, but for whatever reason never come through.

    This is bizarre. He came through with 2 WAR last year, despite his missing half the season to injury. He doesn’t have to be any less injury-prone than last year to be worth more than Happ.

  27. msfanmike on December 4th, 2014 9:25 am

    Brad Miller may end up playing a role in this OF situtation before it is said and done. He did workouts in the OF last season, but never played in a game. According to Andy Van Slyke, Miller was ready to play a corner OF position sometime late last season.

    Maybe the team looked at Saunders as being largely expendable (still hard to believe they would, but maybe they did) because they like Miller and Taylor more and want to keep them both … with Miller may potetnially providing some of that special OF/SS versatility that all teams who make weird decisions, seek.

    Miller’s best value would be as a SS, but he might not pan out to be the fulltime SS.

    Overall though, I would have felt better if the Saunders trade had simply not been made. Maybe Happ won’t pass his physical and the trade can be rescinded.

  28. SonOfZavaras on December 4th, 2014 9:40 am

    I am going to miss the Condor.

    And I’m just cringing, because I can see the guy hitting the living hell out of the ball in Rogers Centre, 25-30 HR in 2015. And the whole world is going to be going “The Mariners got WHO for this guy?!”

    But I’ve been resigned to the idea that he was going elsewhere for weeks. It’s been very clear this front office doesn’t value what he brings enough, and he’s getting pricey.

    But you know what I’m asking myself?

    What about possible in-house additions? Guys like Stefen Romero, James Jones, D.J. Peterson and- to a limited degree because he’s been an INF most of his career-Patrick Kivlehan?

    Or can Brad Miller convert to a right fielder? (I am not sold on him ever being more than ML-average at SS with the leather, but I am convinced he’s a better hitter than what we saw for much of 2014.)

    Unless he goes ape in Spring Training, Peterson would still seem to be a year away from any kind of audition, same with Kivlehan.

    But Jones did SOME things, his speed and his outfield arm DO play up at this level. If he shows an ability to make the adjustments that AL pitchers clearly made on *him*….is he just a deluxe 4th OF, or can he be more?

    From what I saw of James Jones, he CAN be more- although the onus is on him to prove it.

    I also totally realize that nothing Romero put up in his brief stints in the bigs scream that HE’S an answer- but what we saw was very SSS.

    What are the odds that we have some semblance of answers already- and all we’re truly pining for is a NAME player with a track record?

  29. SonOfZavaras on December 4th, 2014 9:45 am

    FOR PERSPECTIVE: Back in 1969, the then-Seattle Pilots traded a 26-year-old Lou Piniella to Kansas City….strictly because they didn’t *like* him.

    Piniella went on to a pretty impressive ML-career, of course. After being THIIIIS close to being labeled a Quad-A player.

    It’s amazing the stupid things you can do in baseball because of something as simple as a disagreement of natures.

  30. Westside guy on December 4th, 2014 9:54 am

    People talk about James Jones’ arm, but from what I could see it was not particularly good. He seemed to have a strong arm, but no idea where the ball was going. He is not a good defender. Speed seems to be his only tool – and, as was said about Brian Hunter, you can’t steal first base.

    Also, the problem with seeing what some of these guys *might* become is… the team HAS to be in “win now” mode. Cano is going to degrade over the next few years. Cruz will probably follow the Sexson path, and that’s if the team is lucky. And as much as we don’t want to admit it, Felix will probably start to get worse soon. Iwakuma probably won’t be around more than a couple more years. Etc… So there’s no time to wait for a player to adapt and maybe become a good outfielder at some future point in time.

  31. eponymous coward on December 4th, 2014 10:37 am

    Especially with us as close as we are this year, can you really pencil him in to right field and be super confident he’s going to give you 140 games?

    No, but you can’t be “super confident” that Nelson Cruz is going to be a good player next year either (players go into serious decline at 35-35 all the time, the ability to hit a baseball is very much a case where going from “pretty good” to “not very good” very quickly happens all the time, it’s not always a smooth decline). He could come in and tank like this power hitter we traded for a while back. And to be honest, AJax and Ackley come with some questions that impact your ability to be “super confident” in them performing at a high level in 2015 as well, if you want to be honest about it.

    Saunders is simply a better player than Happ, injury-prone or not. The remaining FA market for OFers is slim, the FA market for “meh” back end starters is pretty huge. I can’t see how this wasn’t anything other than the M’s dumping a player for a marginal return, and making the M’s biggest weakness (OF depth) worse.

  32. JasonJ on December 4th, 2014 11:18 am

    Yep. We gave up a player at a more important position who is better, cheaper, and under team control for longer than the guy we got in return because JZ and Lloyd are unprofessional and let personal feelings get in the way.

  33. PackBob on December 4th, 2014 11:37 am

    To the Mariners’ point of view, if they really thought Saunders’ injury history was a liability, then getting him off the roster lets them replace him with someone else. It’s not something they have to plan around anymore and have an extra player or two ready to fill in the hole. For the M’s it solves a problem, and they got something back they needed rather than just letting him go.

    For Saunders, this may be just what he needed, a fresh start with a team not frustrated by his situation. If he is penciled in as their regular right fielder, this could be all that Michael could ask for, the chance to prove he is an everyday player and can play a season without missing time to injury.

    Even though I don’t like Michael leaving and think he could have been a good everyday right fielder for the M’s, it may have been the best thing for Michael Saunders.

  34. djw on December 4th, 2014 11:43 am

    But Jones did SOME things, his speed and his outfield arm DO play up at this level. If he shows an ability to make the adjustments that AL pitchers clearly made on *him*….is he just a deluxe 4th OF, or can he be more?
    From what I saw of James Jones, he CAN be more- although the onus is on him to prove it.

    Huh. I’m legitimately puzzled about what you’re seeing here. In Jones I see someone whose two legitimate MLB skills, baserunning and arm, are the least valuable and already more or less fully developed so there’s little room for growth there. Even with these skills, he managed to be a full run below replacement level in less than half a season. At 26, it’s not realistic to hope for significant development in other areas. A team with playoff aspirations should demand more from a 4th OF–Jones’ ceiling is probably replacement level and there’s little guarantee he’ll achieve that.

    The remaining FA market for OFers is slim, the FA market for “meh” back end starters is pretty huge.

    This is what bugs me most about this trade.

  35. mrakbaseball on December 4th, 2014 1:02 pm

    With Bautista there, Saunders projects to be the Blue Jays’ LF.

  36. Shoeless Jose on December 4th, 2014 1:28 pm

    Watch the M’s now sign Melky Cabrerra to get another RH* bat and fill the hole in the outfield… the same guy the Jays are presumably replacing with the (far cheaper) Michael Saunders.

    *switch, actually, of course.

  37. Don Money on December 5th, 2014 12:14 am

    You put Saunders and Smoak’s numbers side by side and there isn’t much difference. Smoak played hurt a lot and while it impacted his hitting, he always exhibited above average glove work. He certainly was smooth turning DP’s. I like Saunders but he is easily replaced, maybe by Gutierrez !

  38. MKT on December 5th, 2014 12:53 am

    “You put Saunders and Smoak’s numbers side by side and there isn’t much difference.”

    Technically correct if we look only at batting; their career OPS+ numbers are both 94.

    There’s just one problem with that comparison. That’s godawful hitting for a first baseman, compared to merely bad hitting for a corner outfielder (and about average for a centerfielder).

    So when we take defense and position into account, we’ve got (according to BR) a career 5.0 WAR player in Saunders, and in about the same number of plate appearances, a career 1.0 WAR for Smoak. One of those players is at legit starter quality. The other is AAAA.

  39. Don Money on December 5th, 2014 10:10 pm

    I haven’t missed watching an Ms game for years and, while Saunders was a good outfielder, he was no Gutierrez. Smoak may have been slow on the base paths but he was top notch with his glove, saving plenty of throwing errors and great at turning two. I appreciate saber metrics but I won’t let it substitute for what I see personally.

  40. MKT on December 6th, 2014 6:34 pm

    You seem to be rating Smoak as very good at defense at first base, and Saunders as good at defense in the outfield. That actually might not be far from how BR’s WAR is rating their defense. But the fact remains that they are far apart in their hitting ability, and thus nowhere close to being comparable in ability nor value.

    *And by far apart in their hitting ability I mean that their major league stats are extremely similar to each other — and thus leagues apart given the positions that they play.

  41. Woodcutta on December 6th, 2014 7:02 pm

    @Don Money

    Are you referring to Smoak catching the ball thrown to him for the double play or throwing the ball to 2nd to start the double play? I seem to recall cringing a few times when he had to actually throw the ball.

  42. heyoka on December 19th, 2014 8:33 am

    I am not over the Bedard trade.

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