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