There was a time (albeit a brief one) when it looked like Michael Saunders might be a member of the Toronto Blue Jays beyond 2016. That time is no longer.
To the surprise of virtually no one, Jon Heyman reported the Blue Jays are likely not to extend a qualifying offer to Michael Saunders, which would immediately render him a free agent. There is no official word from the team as of yet, but the decision feels inevitable.
Not extending a qualifying offer doesn’t mean Michael Saunders won’t re-sign with the Blue Jays, but in this scenario, the Jays would be wise to move on from Michael Saunders.
It’s no insult to Saunders himself. Statistically speaking, he had an okay 2016 campaign. One year removed from meniscus surgery, Michael Saunders posted some of the best numbers of his career.
If someone told me at the start of 201 that Saunders would hit 24 home runs and slug .478, I would be pleasantly surprised. But then they’d come with the caveat that he’d strike out 157 times and post one of the most dramatic first and second half splits in franchise history.
After all that, it makes it a little easier to walk away from Michael Saunders and let him test the free agent waters on his own.
Looking back even to July of this year, it’s incredible to think that Michael Saunders was positioning himself to fetch a multi-year contract on the free agent market. Maybe not from the Blue Jays, but with the numbers he was putting up, somebody was surely going to pay Saunders.
Now? I’m not so sure.
With his ice cold second half in the rear-view mirror and those numbers fresh in the mind of many prospective buyers, I’m not sure how many clubs would be willing to take the chance on Michael Saunders on a multi-year deal.
Even at the lowest dollar amount, I can’t foresee a situation where Michael Saunders would come back to the Blue Jays. And that’s probably okay. Aside from being left-handed, he fit the exact prototype of player that the Jays had about 5 or 6 of in the lineup this year.
Diversifying and bringing in some more well-rounded hitters should be the focus of Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro this offseason. And while the power potential of Saunders’ bat is tempting, his all-or-nothing approach makes him an easy target for opposing pitchers.
The decision not to bring back Michael Saunders is likely the first move in what should be a complete facelift to the Blue Jays’ batting order. Instead of several swing-happy, pull-heavy hitters, the Jays need to employ a few more high-contact hitters.
If that’s the model the Blue Jays are going for, Michael Saunders simply does not fit that mold anymore; and to a certain degree, so does Jose Bautista and maybe even Edwin Encarnacion as well.
Add to the fact that the qualifying offer for Michael Saunders would be $17.2 million dollars, and that’s a total non-starter for the Blue Jays. If the club extended it to Michael Saunders, he would surely take it in a heartbeat, but that’s hardly the amount of money the Blue Jays want to allocate to this player.
Even if the Blue Jays let all their free agent outfielders walk and don’t sign anybody else to replace them, I still like the prospect of either Melvin Upton Jr. or Ezequiel Carrera to replace Michael Saunders; if anything, just for the fact that they’d come much, much cheaper and an upgrade on defense.
Interestingly enough, Upton could actually surpass Saunders’ power numbers if given an everyday spot in the lineup. Mind you, Upton very well may set a new franchise strikeout record, but at a measly salary of $1 million dollars for 2016, I’d take that caveat in a heartbeat.
Michael Saunders had a tremendous first half of 2016 and was well on his way to landing a qualifying offer, if not more from the Blue Jays. But the second half iteration of Saunders made it impossible for the Blue Jays to entertain the idea of bringing him back.
Michael Saunders is left-handed, but the Blue Jays need to bring more balance to their lineup by getting younger, more agile and less strikeout-prone. If that’s the case, Saunders simply doesn’t fit that template anymore.