The right move at the wrong time: Looking back on the Phillies’ Michael Saunders Signing

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This past offseason, the Phillies signed free agent outfielder Michael Saunders to a one year, $8 million deal with a club option for $11 million in 2018. Now, Saunders won’t even make it out of the first year of his contract, as he’s been designated for assignment by the club. Saunders played in just 61 games with the Phillies this season, hitting .205 with 6 homeruns and 20 RBI’s. He also took on a lowly .257 on base percentage.

So now that Saunders is off the 25-man roster, I think it’s an appropriate time to look back on the short tenure of Saunders at Citizens Bank Park.

First, let me confess something: it stinks to see Saunders’ season go the way it did. I was really pulling for him to turn it around. After the start he had to the 2016 season, I had hoped he could bring a spark to the offense for the short term. But, it simply didn’t work out that way. Regardless of his lack of success here in Philadelphia, I’d like to explain why the signing five months ago should still be considered a good move for the club.

At the time of the signing, the Phillies were in need of a power bat to roam the outfield. After using a combination of Peter Bourjos, Aaron Altherr, Tyler Goedell,Jimmy Parades, Cedric Hunter and the rest of the island of misfit toys, the Phillies decided they wanted to have one consistent bat in the lineup on an every day basis. The options were twofold. They could have spent a boatload of money to get a big name guy, or they could have signed a veteran and hoped he panned out. Yoenis Cespedes, of course, highlighted the free agent pool of outfielders, but he got $110M dollars over four years from the Mets. I don’t think the Phillies were looking to spend that kind of money. Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond each got big deals as well from the Cardinals and Rockies, respectively. I admittedly was a little perturbed when the team didn’t make a run at Desmond, but we can let bygones be bygones.

Outside of those three big money getters, there really were slim pickings. It likely came down to one of five players: Saunders, Jon Jay, Carlos Gomez, Rajai Davis and Colby Rasmus. Davis got $6 million from the A’s. Jay received $8 million from the Cubs. Gomez got $12 million from the Rangers and Rasmus picked up $5 million from the Rays. Out of those five players, which one, logically, made the most sense for the Phillies?

Gomez cost the most, and he was coming off a season in which he only played 33 games. The year before that, he played 85. For nearly $12 million, the risk didn’t justify the reward for the Phillies. It would have been too much of a gamble.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Phillies were looking for a power bat to drive some runs in this year. Rajai Davis doesn’t quite fit that mold. While he was productive last season, leading the league in stolen bases, a guy who’s career high in homeruns is 12 and RBI’s is 52 isn’t the right candidate for the job.

The same can be said for Jon Jay. While he’s always found a way to get on base (career .289 average, .355 OBP) and I’m a big believer in getting on base, it wasn’t the right fit for the Phillies at the time. He was the guy I wanted above all other free agent outfielders, but when you can draw an offer to be an every day starter from the reigning World Series Champions, why would you pick the Phillies instead? It would have been great, but Jay wasn’t ever going to consider coming here unless the front office offered him the keys to the city.

Colby Rasmus has always fascinated me. He’s a guy that could hit .300 one year, come back the next year and hit .200 and then follow that up with another .300 season. He’s a guy with power and a rocket for an arm, but if you catch him on one of those down years, he looks like he doesn’t want to be on the field. So far, the Rays have gotten head screwed on straight Rasmus, as he’s hitting .281 with 9 long balls through 60 games.

With all of that being said, Phillie fans have to realize that Saunders was the right move. He was a strong armed, power hitting right fielder that could solidify the offense for two years until the next generation of talent was ready. It just didn’t work out the way we all wanted it to.

The rest of the league will now have ten days from Monday to put in a claim for the outfielder. If a team takes a bite on him, they’ll be obligated to pay him the remainder of his 2017 salary. That team can send him down to the minors or they can immediately place Saunders on the 25-man roster. If no team claims Saunders, the Phillies have a few options. They could send him down to Lehigh Valley. However, beause Saunders has more than three years of MLB experience, he has the option to reject the outright to AAA and instead, be released to free agency. The Phillies also have the option to just outright release Saunders. Since they likely won’t want to pay a guy to sit on his couch, I’d suspect the Phillies will hope that Saunders will take the assignment to AAA. Don’t count on it though. Michael Saunders time in the organization is likely done.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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