The Value In Adding Saunders Is As Much Budgetary As It Is On-Field

Seattle Mariners center fielder Michael Saunders (55)

So… Michael Saunders.

The Jays traded J.A. Happ on Wednesday afternoon — a completely understandable move, considering his $6.7-million salary for 2015 and the existence of Aaron Sanchez and Dan Norris. In exchange they got out-of-favour Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders — a Canadian (from Victoria, BC), who in 2014 was nearly as valuable as Cabrera (1.9 WAR to Melky’s 2.4 according to FanGraphs, and 2.4 to 3.1 per Baseball-Reference) in about two-fifths the number of plate appearances (263 to 621).

Comparing WAR totals over a sample size that small isn’t a great idea, though. Digging deeper, you especially notice that Saunders benefited from a .327 BABIP last year, which is nearly 40 points higher than his career rate. If he were to regress, as expected, back from the inflated 126 wRC+ he posted, he wouldn’t look nearly as comparable to 2014 Cabrera as it maybe seems on the surface.

Looking at projections, Melky doesn’t fare as well, in a 580 PA season, as Saunders (1.7 WAR, according to Steamer, compared to 2.4), but that’s mostly because of defence — and part of what’s holding back that element of Melky’s projection is the fact that he was so poor in 2013, thanks to the tumour on his spinal column that he dealt with. The tumour year also depresses Cabrera’s projection with the bat, one assumes (though maybe the P.E.D. years help to even that out), and just assuming Saunders is going to be good for more plate appearances than he’s ever amassed in a pro season isn’t exactly easy to swallow either.

So, have the Jays upgraded in left field by moving on from Melky Cabrera — which, don’t kid yourself, they have absolutely done with this move — and going to Saunders? All things considered, probably not.

I mean, if we’re going to dump on Brett Lawrie on his way out of town largely for his trouble staying on the field, we can’t exactly ignore the issues Saunders brings.

But the bigger question is have they upgraded in the aggregate?

For now the answer is probably no, too. The defence Saunders will bring to left field will be better than Melky’s, and with a 118 wRC+ over his last 508 plate appearances against right-handers, he should be a fine enough replacement in the lineup — especially with Kevin Pillar available as a platoon partner — if he’s able to stay on the field.

More importantly, though, is the fact that Saunders still has two years of service remaining, and projects to earn just $2.9-million this year. That might be as much as $12-million less than Cabrera will end up earning this season, and in the overall will make a huge difference in savings — both in the short- and long-term.

He may be a risk, and he may not be Melky — even if the projections say he’s better! — but with Happ off the books and Saunders on, the Jays now have a shade under $118-million committed for 2015, and one less potentially very expensive position to fill. They could spend $20-million and still be about in the range of last season’s $137.2-million payroll — and they might even have more.

That means that at least a couple of bullpen arms should be in play, or maybe even another starter, or a second baseman, or some combination of those four possibilities.

If they actually use the money to obtain such things, the difference in terms of on-field value between Cabrera and a platoon of Saunders and Pillar will be fairly easily offset. If they use it.

Image via Keith Allison/Flickr

Jays Trade Happ For Maple Saunders!

Believe it!

My phone is dying and I’ve been at a bar for, like, three hours, so I might have to leave you hanging on this for a short while, but this sure is an interesting deal.

Alex Anthopoulos said he wouldn’t be comfortable moving a starter after he dealt rotation depth away in the Donaldson-Lawrie trade, but… what the hell else was he going to say?

Happ’s removal creates a spot for Aaron Sanchez, or Dan Norris, in the rotation, and saves the club the difference between his $6.7-million and Saunders’ projected arbitration salary of $2.9-million.

That will help the club address it’s newly-increased bullpen need, especially since it means Melky Cabrera and the big salary he’s commanding will not be back, either.

And that’s OK! There are red flags on Saunders, to be sure, but he’s cheap for what he provides, and he projects to be a half win better than Cabrera anyway.

Part of that comes down to Melky’s 2013 season impacting his projection maybe a little too much, but Saunders is still a really intriguing piece for a price that let’s the Jays do even more.

In the aggregate, him at $2.9-million with two years to go before free agency isn’t bad. And with Happ’s loss really being the Jays’ gain, that’s pretty alright.

At least, that’s how it seems on first blush.

Morosi: Jays Have Discussed Astros Switch-Hitting OF Dexter Fowler

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So, just as I was finishing up writing the update on the below post, speculating that this is exactly the kind of night where something Alex Anthopoulos is up to could actually come to fruition, Jon Morosi laid this one on us:

Now, that tweet alone is pretty innocuous. As Jeff Blair has noted, Shi Davidi has suggested that the Jays might have some interest in Fowler for weeks. But if something is actually happening here, it’s obviously an interesting little piece of information.

How good a fit is Fowler, though? He’s… OK.

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Jays Trade Lawrie, Others, To Oakland For Josh Donaldson!

Donaldson-KeithAllison

Something was cooking.

According to reports that are flooding in from everywhere now, the Blue Jays have traded Brett Lawrie, Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman, and Franklin Barreto to the Oakland Athletics for Josh Donaldson.

This, folks, is seriously terrific.

Put your flaccid mapleness away for a second and look at this: 7.7 and 6.4.

Those are Donaldson’s WAR totals in each of the last two years, according to the FanGraphs version of the metric. He was first and second (by 0.2) among MLB third basemen in those years, respectively. He hit 24 and 29 home runs — playing home games in Oakland. He walks and gets on base at an above average rate, and he plays tremendous defence (UZR of 15.5 in 2014, DRS of +20). He put up a 147 wRC+ in 2013, and a 129 this year.

He is a tremendous, tremendous player.

He’s also under team control for four more years. He is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, as a Super Two, having two years and 158 days of MLB service.

Brett Lawrie is under control for a year less.

Now, also going the other way is a lot of value: Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman — nice enough depth arms, and possibly better, who will certainly look good in Oakland — and Franklin Barreto, an excellent shortstop prospect (who may not stick at the position, though reports from this season have been better than previous years) and who seems certain to hit. He’s a nice replacement for Addison Russell, who the A’s lost in the Jeff Samardzija trade, but still a ways off, at just 18 years old.

It’s a lot of talent, and a lot of years of cheap control that the Jays are giving up, but that’s the price you’ll pay for the best third baseman in baseball — y’know, if you’re lucky! And while this move could entirely blow up in their faces — Brett Lawrie can still be very, very good, as could the other pieces, especially Barreto — holy fucking awesome! For the here-and-now, this is terrific.

I know, I know, the Golden Brett. And I get the trepidation that once again the Jays are using precious resources to fill a position that they already had basically set. And the concerns that Donaldson is yet another right-handed bat (albeit one that has been very good, though less spectacular against same-sided pitching). But he’s replacing a righty bat anyway, and most importantly, he represents a huge improvement over what they got last year. He is, in fact, already the kind of player that Lawrie might be, if everything comes together perfectly for him. Maybe even better, because of the power he can bring. I’d be very surprised if Lawrie could hit 29 home runs playing half his games in the Oakland Coliseum, as Donaldson did this year. Then when you factor in the health issues that have plagued the tightly-wound Lawrie, the whole thing becomes pretty damn hard not to love.

Instead of the clinging to hope that Lawrie will stay on the field long enough, and hit well enough, to become one of the best overall third basemen in the game, the Jays now employ a player of whom that is expected, and who has repeatedly shown he is capable of it. The difference isn’t all that unlike the one between sublimely talented Colby Rasmus, and the rock solid fuck machine that is Jose Bautista.

Rasmus has the talent to be anything you could dream of on the field, provided he were capable of staying healthy and out of his own way. Bautista, on the other hand, is the fully-realized dream. And if you want to switch those names for “Lawrie” and “Donaldson,” while not a perfect parallel, I’m certainly not going to stop you.

And if, for some reason, you really want to care about all the other kinds of stuff that this might be about, there are definitely ways to make it fit right into the whole “culture change” narrative the Jays have been putting out there of late, too. In fact, Shi Davidi was on Prime Time Sports on Friday evening in Toronto and he said that the manager wanted there to be more “mature adults” in the room, and that there weren’t enough.

Exit Lind, Rasmus, Gose, and now Lawrie. Enter Martin and enter Donaldson. If you’re into the concerns about the locker room, I suppose it works. Better still, they work as baseball moves. They really, really, really work as baseball moves.

Image via Keith Allison/Flickr