Mailbag: Joe Saunders

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(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Shaun asks: I see on MLBTR that Arizona might non-tender Joe Saunders. Do you guys like him? Would you trade anything to get him before they let him go to keep him off the market? This is all hypothetical of course! Thanks!

To answer the second question first, no I would not trade something for Saunders to keep him from hitting the market. MLBTR projects his 2012 salary at close to $9M his third time through arbitration, and that’s just not happening. Saunders isn’t good enough to give up something of value for the right to pay him that much. I’d wait until Arizona non-tenders him before even considering him for a spot on the Yankees.

Saunders had a nice year in 2008, but he’s been consistently below-average ever since. He did manage a 4.57 FIP in 203.1 IP in 2010, but that stands out compared to a 5.17 FIP in 2009 and a 4.78 FIP this season. Like Jon Garland, Saunders has managed to get the reputation of being a ground ball guy even though he doesn’t actually get a ton of ground balls (44.5% in 2011, 45.5% career). He does have the “doesn’t miss bats” part down pat though (4.58 K/9 and 6.2% swings and misses in 2011, 5.02 and 6.7% career, respectively). His walk rate is probably his best attribute (2.84 BB/9 in 2011, 2.87 career).

I think we have enough info here to say Saunders is back-end starter at best, we’re talking more than 600 IP in the generally weak AL West and NL West since he was last league average (in terms of FIP) in 2008. I worry about the inability to miss bats and the general lack of ground balls, especially moving into the AL East. I’m sure the Yankees would love to add a southpaw to the rotation to help counteract Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch, but I don’t think Saunders is a guy they can count on to consistently do that.

There is another angle worth considering here, and that’s a relief role. Saunders completely shut down lefties this season, holding them to a .212/.240/.341 batting line with 40 strikeouts and six walks in 181 plate appearances this season. His career split isn’t nearly as good, so I could just be a one-year fluke. It is worth noting that Saunders did throw his curveball less frequently in 2011 while beefing up the usage of his slider, which could certainly explain the improvement against lefties. It’s something to keep in mind, but I’d prefer to wait until he’s actually on the market before digging deeper into his validity as a reliever.

I wouldn’t have any interest in Saunders as a starting pitcher, unless he was willing to come absolutely dirt cheap (like, a million bucks or so), but he’s somewhat interesting as a lefty reliever. If there’s one thing we know about the Yankees, it’s that they place a high value on left-handed bullpen arms. I suspect that Saunders won’t have any trouble finding work as a starter this winter, maybe not at $8-9M, but I’m sure some team like the Pirates, Marlins, or Padres would be willing to guarantee him a rotation spot. I’m just not sure I see a fit for him in New York at a reasonable price.

Nova makes Baseball America's All-Rookie Team
The Day After
  • steve (different one)

    Sign him, trade him for Haren. Boom.

    • Ted Nelson

      If you throw in your top LHP prospect the way the Angels did, sure.

  • James

    Oh man, I think Saunders would be AWFUL here. No way that soft stuff plays in the AL East. His FIP-/xFIP- both ranked 83rd out of 90 qualifying starters in the majors. That’s Brad Penny territory. If you check BR’s neutralized pitching, his 2011 FIP inflates to 5.25 when neutralized to the Yankees’ environment. Only Bronson Arroyo posted a higher FIP than that.

    The LOOGY scenario is interesting, but I can’t imagine Saunders would lower himself to such a job after putting up a 3.69 ERA for a division winner. Plus he had 33 wins for the Angels in ’08-’09.

    “He just knows how to win ballgames”

    • CP

      “He just knows how to win ballgames”

      In hindsight, that comment was just a load of BS from the Diamondbacks (and they knew it) because the true centerpiece of the trade was a PTBNL. They had to say something nice, right?

      • James

        “He’s an innings-eater” works too. Because everyone wants 200 innings of bad pitching.

        • JAG

          If only that were the case. Burnett and Lackey would have jobs forever.

  • Kosmo

    What about Maholm if his option isn´t picked up ?

    • steve (different one)

      It wasn’t picked up. Think it happened last week.

  • Rey22

    You could probably talk Ron Guidry out of retirement and he’d put up better numbers than Saunders.

  • kenthadley

    How about Buehrle for a year or two?

    • Plank

      How would you get him to sign for a year or two?

    • steve (different one)

      I’d support it, but he’s been pretty outspoken about where he wants to play. Like if he can’t go to st louis or stay in chicago, he’ll just retire. Something like that. Basically, I don’t think he’d ever go to ny

      • Greg Golson

        Didn’t he say he was afraid of NY because of 9/11?

  • BK2ATL

    No thank you on Saunders. Those stats as a SP over the last few years aren’t a fluke. And in the AL West and NL West??? If he’d be willing to come here as a LOOGY, maybe we’d listen, but I think his price tag wouldn’t be worth it. One to probably pass on.

    And I do think that we should really look into another effective LOOGY, or even lefty starter (not named Wilson), until Banuelos is ready. 81 games with that short porch of ours is really something to consider. It’s too easy a target vs. RHP. At least, the lefty would theoretically make it a little more difficult.

  • BK2ATL

    This might be one to keep an eye on and chuckle. Some of Theo’s hits and misses.

  • BK2ATL

    How about Hughes for Danks? Change of scenery for both. Plus, gets us another lefty starter, if only for one year at $8 million.

    If we re-sign CC, go after Darvish, our rotation looks pretty good with CC, Nova, Danks, Darvish, Burnett/Noesi.

    Crazy thinking?

  • cranky

    Saunders as a reliever?
    Hmmm. Maybe.

    Better choice: Paul Maholm.

    Even better choice: Dontrelle Willis*

    *Look at HIS numbers vs. lefties before you scoff.