Saunders, 31, was traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks in August 2012 in exchange for reliever Matt Lindstrom.
Since joining the Orioles, Saunders has compiled a 3-3 record with a 3.63 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in seven regular-season starts.
The Virginia native also went 1-0 with an impressive 1.59 ERA in two postseason starts for the Orioles. One of these starts included a stout 5.2 inning outing in Baltimore’s 5-1 victory over the Texas Rangers in the 2012 AL Wild Card Game.
In his seven year career, Saunders is 78-65 with a 4.15 ERA and 1.34 WHIP.
With just over one month left before spring training, the Orioles have yet to sign Saunders, even though Saunders has expressed interest in returning to Charm City, per Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun.
According to Orioles beat writer Eduardo A. Encina (also of the Baltimore Sun), a major sticking point in negotiations involves the length of the contract Saunders and his agent are requesting—three years.
This issue has fostered an increasingly sharp debate between Orioles fans regarding why Birds brass is reluctant to pull the trigger on a midterm contract for Saunders.
Fans that support the Orioles' signing of Saunders to a contract of this length cite three reasons.
First, Saunders is a cool-headed all-star that will solidify a rotation that is unsettled beyond Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. Second, Saunders boasts healthy playoff experience that the Orioles could benefit from. Third, Saunders has a solid ability to mentor younger pitchers on the Orioles, especially the lefties.
But a second camp of fans argue signing Saunders to a three-year deal is way too long, if not risky.
Fans in this camp think the Orioles potentially have several hidden gems that will be fighting for spots in the Orioles rotation this spring.
And despite Saunders’ upside, giving this southern gent such a contract may prove too expensive in the long run, especially if Saunders does not perform to the level of the big sum of money his contract may entail.
For these fans, a one-year deal for Saunders may suffice. Should Saunders pitch well, then the Orioles may consider long-term options.
So if you were a leader in the Orioles front office, what would you do? Would you take a gamble on Saunders, even if this gamble may not work out? Would you sign Saunders to a one- or two-year deal, perhaps as a stepping stone to something bigger downstream?
What deal would you give Joe Saunders?
Or would you do what a third camp proposes: let Saunders walk altogether?
These are tough questions to answer, especially when one considers the highly competitive nature of the AL East in 2013.
But if the Orioles play their cards right, and a little luck falls this team’s way, landing Saunders at the right time and price may benefit this franchise for years to come.
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