Michael Saunders to Phillies: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured Columnist

Toronto Blue Jays' Michael Saunders singles against the Tampa Bay Rays during a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, in St. Petersburg, Fla.  (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Free-agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, the team announced on Thursday. 

Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball reported the news on Jan. 16. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports later reported the deal is worth $9 million with a club option worth $11 million and can be worth as much as $14 million with escalators.

On Tuesday, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reported Saunders is expected to take a physical with the Phillies in the next day or two to finalize the deal. Crasnick noted the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays were also in on the outfielder, while the Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks had interest as well.

Saunders picked a good time to become a free agent, as his 2016 season with the Blue Jays was his best season in Major League Baseball. Last year marked the first time in his career that he played at least 140 games, with the offensive result showing he warranted the additional playing time that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons afforded him. 

Michael Saunders' 2016 Stats
StatsBest Since
140 GamesEver
.253 Batting Average2014
.338 OBP2014
.478 SLGEver
32 2BEver
24 HREver
115 OPS+2014
59 WalksEver
1.3 WAR2014
Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Per Dirk Hayhurst of TSN, one of the big reasons for Saunders' 2016 breakout was a mechanical change in his swing:

Before coming to the Jays, Saunders’ hands were at a resting position above his shoulders, hovering. Now they’ve come down to the shoulders and as a result, Saunders’ swing is shorter and faster to the ball. His swing also has more trunk and less arms involved in the process. The payout is that Saunders’ power-to-plate coverage ratio has increased. He’s taking the ball out all over the park, and hitting more pitches in the strike zone, especially down and away.

Because there's a clear mechanical change to explain why he performed better in 2016 than he had at least since 2014, there's no reason to believe he can't be an above-average hitter for his new team. 

Heading into his age-30 season, Saunders was one of those under-the-radar sluggers who wasn't going to break the bank for his new team and can provide middle-of-the-order production. 

The Blue Jays helped give him an opportunity to shine because he was hitting around stars like Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion. He made himself into more than just someone who could take some of the runs batted in they set up for him by getting on base so frequently. 

Finding power is a luxury in MLB, especially in free agency, where teams will often pay top dollar for it. Saunders is a well-rounded hitter who can get on base at a solid clip and will hit 20-plus homers if he can stay on the field. He should provide some pop to a Phillies outfield that looks sorely in need with spring training not far off in the horizon.   

It all adds up to a solid addition for the Phillies in an offseason without great depth in free agency. 

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