Joe Saunders: How Newly Acquired Hurler Boosts Baltimore Orioles Playoff Chances

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Joe Saunders: How Newly Acquired Hurler Boosts Baltimore Orioles Playoff Chances
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In December 2011, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported the Baltimore Orioles were very interested in acquiring left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

While conversations ensued in the offseason, nothing materialized.

Until now.

Sunday, Connolly reported via Twitter Arizona has agreed in principle to trade Saunders to Baltimore in exchange for Orioles' relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom and a player to be named later. The trade is pending physicals, waive of no-trade clauses, financial terms, etc.

Saunders' trade talks heated up on August 21, when Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Arizona placed Saunders on waivers.

According to Rosenthal, the Orioles expressed the most interest in acquiring Saunders.

Things really heated up Saturday when Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic reported:

It appears the Diamondbacks have found a trading partner for veteran left-hander Joe Saunders, who could be scratched from his scheduled start in Sunday's series finale.

Rosenthal confirmed McManaman's words Sunday when he reported (via Twitter) Arizona was very close to trading Saunders (though destination was unknown).

With the trade, the Orioles receive a well-established pitcher. Saunders owns a career 75-62 record with a 4.17 ERA. Saunders' best season was in 2008, when he went 17-7 with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP.

While Saunders has struggled a bit this year (6-10, 4.22 ERA) in the face of seemingly endless trade talks, this 6’3”, 210-lb hurler knows what it is like to journey deep into a pennant race. Saunders also has four playoff starts to his credit (2008/2009/2011).

For the Orioles Saunders poses a low-risk, perhaps high-reward situation. If he pitches well, Saunders has a great opportunity to re-sign with Baltimore in the offseason. If Saunders does not pitch well, the Orioles can let him walk.

While protecting budding chemistry is key, the Orioles still have a pleasant problem on its hands, a problem that may have postseason implications for this surprise team. 

The addition of Saunders further solidifies a Baltimore starting rotation that has begun to right itself the past month.

In the absence of ace Jason Hammel (who might return in early September), rookie Wei-Yin Chen has held the fort in the first slot of the rotation. The left-hander is 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA this season.

Right-hander Chris Tillman has also been impressive (6-2/3.71 ERA) since his return to the ball club.

Furthermore, in August Miguel Gonzalez is 2-1 with a 2.42 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in four starts. And in Zach Britton's last last two starts, this resurgent hurler is 2-0 with a 1.36 ERA.

With that said, here is how Baltimore's rotation might look like with Saunders come September, once Jason Hammel returns from his knee injury:

1.  Jason Hammel (right-hander)
2.  Wei-Yin Chen (left-hander)
3.  Miguel Gonzalez (right-hander)
4.  Joe Saunders (left-hander)
5.  Chris Tillman (right-hander)

A nice seesaw of right-to-left-handed hurlers, notice that Britton is not marked in this rotation. Certainly this lefty deserves to be in the conversation, especially in light of his growing confidence as a starting pitcher the past few weeks.

Also note Orioles' rookie right-hander Steve Johnson is also not listed. Perhaps letting the cat out the bag, this Baltimore native is 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA since making his major league debut on July 15.

Impressive no doubt, the purpose of showcasing Britton and Johnson is to show that Baltimore now has a very healthy combination of hurlers to join the MLB's sixth best bullpen (AKA: "the orange curtain").

This is contrary to just a couple of months ago, when the Orioles seemed to scramble day-by-day to find someone who could hold the fort.

For Arizona, trading Saunders helps the team twofold:

First, Lindstrom bolsters Arizona's bullpen. This season, the right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.72 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 34 appearances (36.1 innings pitched).

Second, this trade opens the door for left-hander Tyler Skaggs to become a regular in Arizona's starting rotation. This 21-year-old stud pitcher was impressive in his major league debut, surrendering two earned runs on three hits in 6.2 innings vs. the Miami Marlins Wednesday (per ESPN).

Per Connolly, the Orioles will also receive cash. Connolly also reported Baltimore will fill Lindstrom's void by beckoning Jake Arrieta from Norfolk.

 

James Morisette is a BR Featured Writer for the Baltimore Orioles. Follow James on Twitter for regular MLB updates.

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