Toronto Blue Jays, Michael Saunders and the Qualifying Offer

 

Qualifying offer, or no, Michael Saunders is an outfield option that the Toronto Blue Jays could use moving forward.

 

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On Sunday, MLB super reporter Jon Heyman wrote about the upcoming CBA, coaching staff changes around MLB, and thoughts on this year’s potential $17.2 Million qualifying offers. The latter will be a major topic of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016-17 winter, with some no-brainers (Edwin Encarnacion) and some maybes (Jose Bautista). Heyman’s piece brings up another Jays option for 2017, though: OF Michael Saunders.

As you’ve undoubtedly heard and noticed, Michael Saunders was terrible soon after making his first-ever All-Star team in 2016, but was well deserving of the honor prior to his second-half tailspin. And to be honest, he was great in the first half, batting .298 with a .372 OBP and .478 SLG. When you take a step back and look at Saunders’ 2016 as a whole, you would certainly offer that player a qualifying offer:

 

Year Age G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG GDP HBP
2016 ★ 29 140 70 124 32 3 24 57 59 157 .253 .338 .478 14 5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/31/2016.

 

2016 was a career-year for Saunders, with highs in RBI, HR, BB and the one number that’s so important for the oft-injured outfielder – plate appearances. And in an offseason where a significant chunk of the offense is likely to walk, Saunders’ first half could be incredibly valuable for a Blue Jays lineup that could very well struggle out of the gate in 2017. However, the Jays brass has much more to think about on this topic. Baseball players are commodities, and the ShapAtkins regime has shown a propensity to acquire and hold on to prospects – which brings us to the qualifying offer question.

 

With three potential QO’s in play – which would account for $51.6 million in payroll in 2017 – offering Encarnacion, Bautista and Saunders one would truly hamstring the payroll going forward. Extending QOs to Encarnacion almost guarantees a draft pick if the Jays fail to sign any qualifying free agents. This is likely the same with Bautista, who likely wants to sign one last big contract as his career trends in a not-so-great direction. Even with the safety net of those two draft picks, it seems more likely that the Blue Jays take the safe route with Saunders and let him see free agency.

 

Of course, those prospects would be 3-5 years away from contributing at the MLB level, even in the absolute best-case scenario, and the Blue Jays would be left with an outfield of Kevin Pillar, Melvin Upton Jr, Ezequiel Carrera and Dalton Pompey, which – let’s be honest with ourselves – is poor. So while Saunders could easily test the waters of free agency, he has expressed interest in remaining a Blue Jay, and his return on a short term and at a rate less than $17.2 million just might make sense for the Jays and Saunders.

 

So what is ideal for the Blue Jays? With Encarnacion and Bautista out of town, the team is left with holes in at least one corner outfield spot and first base. While Justin Smoak could plausibly handle first base, his 2016 extension probably had more to do with insuring the departure of Encarnacion – and keeping the less-hot corner warm for incoming slugger Rowdy Tellez. But even without Saunders, there’s still a full outfield featuring two LHB and three RHB, although none of which will likely threaten Saunders’ 115 OPS+ from 2016. As well Dalton Pompey, who can provide solid defense and bat from both sides of the plate, has been largely ignored for the past two seasons.

 

The fact of the matter is that with the current in-house options, the Blue Jays are a better team with Michael Saunders in the lineup. Should they extend a qualifying offer? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean Saunders isn’t a quality option in 2017. He provides a much-needed lefty bat in a righty-heavy lineup and was one of the few Blue Jays to contribute in the ALCS. Not to mention that, as a whole, he was the Blue Jays’ second-most valuable outfielder in 2016.

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: Bliss Nogueira BlissPhoto.ca

 

 

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