Unlike most of the players in this free agent target series of posts, we already know the Cleveland Indians have at offered a one-year contract to outfielder Michael Saunders earlier this offseason. That came as one of many one-year deals the Indians were slinging around the Winter Meetings, though nothing came of any of them.
Saunders, 30, is still a free agent and coming off an above-average season for the Toronto Blue Jays. His offense has always hovered around 100 wRC+, including his last four full seasons in the majors, in which he had a wRC+ of 100 or more. Last season he slashed .253/.338/.478 with a career-high 24 home runs. But those numbers don’t tell the whole truth.
After a hot start to 2016, including a .311/.370/581 slash in April, Saunders nosedived Mike Napoli style in the second half of the season. His pre-All Star break and post-All Star break numbers are startling in their contrast.
Saunders’s struggles look eerily similar to those of Tyler Naquin — but rotated 90 degrees. Where Naquin could not hit anything in the upper part of the strikezone in the second half of 2016, Saunders had trouble with anything and everything on the outside edge after the All-Star break.
Compared to his ability to hit with power over the entire plate between April and July:
There was an element of luck in the first half with an inflated BABIP, as well. The Indians cannot count on 2016 first-half Michael Saunders lasting over an entire season.
Saunders’s defensive numbers took a huge hit last season, his range in right field being especially bad. Part of that could be due to recovery from a bizarre knee injury suffered last season when he tore ligaments in his left knee after stepping on a sprinkler. No, seriously. The Indians’ primary need in the outfield is center field, a position where Saunders has logged 2162 innings his career. But again, advanced numbers did not love his defense there, either. And that was before his fight with an inanimate object.
In general, there is not a lot of upside in Michael Saunders. You know what you are going to get, for the most part, and you will hope to stumbled into a hot couple of months. Steamer projects Saunders to slash .244/.330/.421 with 14 home runs next season. That’s an offensive upgrade over Abraham Almonte, at least, if that’s what the Indians are shooting for with a potential outfield addition. On a one-year deal while the farm develops, maybe that’s just enough.
This wouldn’t fee like a typical Indians signing, though. In recent years they prefer to "dumpster dive," or find value players who might bounce back next season. That’s not what Saunders is. You could argue he is the opposite. Instead of being a cheap option with something fixable, Saunders is a cheap option because he’s not a top-flight player.