January 19, 2017
After veteran free agent outfielder Michael Saunders passed his physical and made his contract with the Phillies official on Thursday, manager Pete Mackanin appears to have received what he wished for four months ago: the addition of two veteran hitters to a lineup in need of an upgrade.
With four weeks and one day until the team’s first full-squad workout in Clearwater, Fla., the Phils added Saunders (expected to be the team’s everyday right fielder) to complement their November trade for Howie Kendrick (expected to be the everyday left fielder) to supplement a lineup of 20-somethings still trying to establish themselves in the major leagues. It was something Mackanin talked about repeatedly in September through the press, and also privately, with general manager Matt Klentak, as the offseason neared.
“(Klentak) and I had talked all along and we’d like to promote from within,” Mackanin said. “We’d love for some of these young guys to take those spots. In the meantime it’s important to have at least one guy, I think, at least have one guy with a professional approach to show the young guys like the (Maikel) Francos and (Freddy) Galvises, even Cameron Rupp, all the younger guys, how to approach situations in games.
“You know, during the course of the season to talk to the guys, ‘What do you like to do in this situation?’ (or) ‘What are you looking for off of this guy?’ I think that can rub off a lot. We talk so much about having veteran starters to help the rotation. Likewise, it’s nice to have a veteran hitter who can share his thoughts, who’s had success, just to maybe put something in somebody’s ear.”
The Phillies first agreed to terms with the 30-year-old Saunders on Monday. Although Mackanin spoke publicly about the veteran all week, the deal did not become official until Thursday afternoon.
Saunders, who made $2.9 million with the Toronto Blue Jays last season, is guaranteed to take home $9 million from the Phillies.
According to foxsports.com, the one-year deal with the Phillies includes a $11 million club option for 2018, an option the can reach $14 million if Saunders reaches certain incentives. The contract includes a $1 million buyout if the Phillies do not exercise the ’18 club option.
A first-time All-Star in 2016, Saunders hit .253 with a .338 OBP and 24 home runs in 140 games with Toronto. Saunders’ .815 OPS was higher than any of the Phillies’ regulars last season.
Saunders’ numbers would have been even better if it weren’t for a horrid final month of the season: he hit .149 with one home run and a .230 OBP in 24 games from Sept. 2 to Oct. 2. Even with that September swoon, Saunders’ .815 OPS ranked 10th best among American League outfielders, better than the likes of Adam Jones, Adam Eaton, and Jacoby Ellsbury, among others.
In adding the left-handed hitting Saunders and the right-handed hitting Kendrick, Mackanin not only has two proven veteran hitters in 2017, but also some lineup versatility, too. He could theoretically run out a regular lineup (among the eight position players) without back-to-back left-handed or right-handed hitters.
“I'm starting to play around with it," Mackanin said. "Where am I going to hit Saunders? Where am I going to hit Franco? Do I hit (Saunders) behind to protect Franco or do I hit Kendrick behind to protect Franco? Do I protect Franco? Who do I protect? It'll all depend on the rest of the team, the guys on the bench. Their makeup will determine how I'll determine where to hit a guy in the lineup. Of course, looking at seven and eight -- do I hit Freddy eighth or Rupp eighth? That's going to be a tough one.”
But tough choices are better than not having the ability to make those choices, of course. Last season, Phillies left fielders (.615 OPS) and right fielders (.634) both ranked 30th out of 30 big league teams in OPS.
“I think it gives is a little more balance in the lineup,” Mackanin said. “(But) a good bat is a good bat, so I’m pretty pleased with that.”
To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.