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Opinion: Michael Saunders is the right fit for the Phillies

Photo by Keith Allison

Photo by Keith Allison

Michael Saunders created weighted runs in 2016, per Fangraphs. Out of 54 qualified outfielders, he landed 22nd on the list.

Michael Saunders scored a baserunning number of -0.9 in 2016. Out of 54 qualified outfielders, he landed 38th on the list.

Michael Saunders was worth 1.4 wins above replacement in 2016. Out of 54 qualified outfielders, he landed 40th on the list.

Michael Saunders is somewhere in that range between the 22th and 40th best outfielders in baseball. Let’s call it No. 31. Under that same Fangraphs database, Odubel Herrera would land somewhere around No. 18.

Sure this is one very unscientific reading, but by signing Michael Saunders today, the Phillies upgraded their outfield by grabbing a guy right smack in the middle of the fray. He can play well. He can play lousy. He can have huge nights. He can have bad nights.

And on a one-year, $9 million deal with a 2018 club option that would at most cost the rebuilding Phillies an additional $14 million, he’s exactly what the team needs.

First, Saunders isn’t Mike Trout, the best outfielder in baseball, if you were playing along. But Trout isn’t coming to Philadelphia this season (and that’s literal, since the Phils are traveling to Anaheim to play the Angels in August). As bad as the Angels may be in 2017, they don’t necessarily want to trade the best baseball player of his generation. Moreover, the Phillies don’t necessarily want to surrender half its farm for one player, especially when contention isn’t right here, right now.

Second, Saunders isn’t Andrew McCutchen or Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce. He doesn’t cost the Phillies much except cash, of which the team has plenty. The Phils haven’t traded one notable prospect since the rebuild began, which in itself shows superb discipline, and they weren’t about to do it for an aging outfielder on a rental deal who won’t move the dial much at all.

And look, Saunders won’t move the dial much at all, either. But he’s an improvement from Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel, Cedric Hunter, David Lough and Jimmy Paredes. Much like last season on the mound, when we were through with Chad Billingsley and Kevin Correia, we’re now through with retreads in the outfield. If Saunders gets hurt – which he is wont to do – then Aaron Altherr steps in. Or Roman Quinn steps in. Or Goeddel, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens or Andrew Pullin can step in. The prospects are about ready to play everyday in the majors. This move just patches up the final couple steps on the bridge before we let the prospects run wild.

So third, Saunders isn’t Jose Bautista. He’s not the sexy free-agent signing that could bring a couple more butts to the seats. But Bautista would’ve also cost the Phillies a draft pick, and it’s likely he would’ve wanted two guaranteed years (like he’s about to get with Toronto). That means the outfield prospects aren’t dealing with a bridge but a roadblock.

Michael Saunders isn’t a likely breakout candidate who’ll make a National League all-star team (his all-star appearance last year was thanks to the Final Vote). He also isn’t a likely flame-out candidate who’s hitting .163 in July and earning healthy boos every time he hits the plate at Citizens Bank Park.

He’s a decent hitter (.257/.337/.457 last three seasons) with extra-base-hit power (.177 ISO in 2014, .224 ISO in 2016). He strikes out more than he should (28.1% in 2016). He’s a left-hander who hit lefties well last year (.275/.358/.569) but had a bad final two months (.186/.267/.338). He’s a below-average defender (-1.7 dWAR in 2016), but he can slide into any outfield position in a pinch. He can run, but he won’t steal a ton of bags (only 1 in 2016, but in an extremely conservative Toronto offense).

Basically, Michael Saunders is an average ballplayer. Above-average offense. Below-average defense. He’s a relatively sure thing who bridges the gap between retread and prospect.

And at this price? He’s the perfect fit.

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