2017 Phillies Report Card: Michael Saunders

Before going into the 2016 offseason Pete Mackanin asked for the Phillies’ front office to get him a few bats to help out the young Phillies pitching staff. The two big spots of need were the two corner outfield positions. In 2016 Phillies right fielders hit .231/.291/.350 (70wRC+) and their left fielders hit .207/.278/.316 (59 wRC+). Early in the offseason the Phillies traded some spare parts for Howie Kendrick and declared him their opening day left fielder. With Yoenis Cespedes, Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, Josh Reddick, and Jose Bautista coming with large salary numbers attached, the Phillies decided to step into the second tier and sign Toronto outfielder Michael Saunders.

Saunders has been a bit of a decisive player in his career. His talent always was larger than his output, and when combined with a habit of never being healthy, it left him as a bit of an enigma. In 2016, Saunders had been an All-star based on a first half where he hit .298/.372/.551, but a second half swoon (.178/.282/.357) had dragged his value down. Even with the swoon, Saunders had posted a 117 wRC+ with the Blue Jays over 140 games, which looked to be a massive upgrade for the Phillies. Even if Saunders didn’t quite reach the heights of his 2016 season, from the 2012 to 2016 Saunders had played in 482 games and put up a 110 wRC+. The Phillies also didn’t spend big on Saunders, giving a him a 1 year contract worth $8M with a $10.5M club option with a $1M buyout. This put the Phillies total commitments at $9M for what seemed like a massive offensive upgrade in right field. Continue reading…

Michael Saunders’ Contact Issues

Corner outfield was the biggest weakness of the 2016 Phillies. To solve this problems, the Phillies brought in Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. Kendrick has been out with an injury, but Aaron Altherr has continued to provide the Phillies excellent production in left field. In 2016 Phillies right fielders hit .231/.291/.350, and Saunders, even with his second half collapse, hit .253/.338/.478, so he was supposed to be a large upgrade for the Phillies. However, even with 2 home runs in the last week, Saunders is only hitting .253/.286/.391. So when do we panic?

Not now. Saunders is still only 25 games into a season in a new league for a new team, so no one should panic anyway. Saunders also has been scorching the ball of late, so it makes sense that his ISO will climb at least above his career line of .166 from its current .138. That still doesn’t deal with the biggest problem with Saunders’ line—his on base percentage. Continue reading…

Phillies Upgrade Right Field, Sign Michael Saunders

In what will likely be the final piece added to the offensive puzzle heading into 2017, the Phillies signed Michael Saunders Monday to a one-year deal worth $9 million with an incentivized option for 2018 worth between $11-14 million. The 30-year-old Saunders, an All Star last season in his second of two with the Toronto Blue Jays, will help plug the Phillies’ right field leak that last season put up the second-fewest wins above replacement (according to Baseball-Reference) in the majors, and finished last in weighted on-base average and wRC+. The position, which was manned in 2016 by Peter Bourjos, Aaron Altherr, Jimmy Paredes, Tyler Goeddel, David Lough, Roman Quinn and Cedric Hunter also ranked in the bottom three in the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

That cadre of right fielders hit just eight home runs last year, tied for fewest in the majors. Saunders, whose main draw is his power from the left side, has matched or topped eight homers in every season that he’s played at least 78 games.

Pete Mackanin made it known at the end of 2016 that he wanted to add a professional hitter or two to the lineup. With Howie Kendrick and now Saunders strengthening their deficient corner outfield spots, Matt Klentak granted him that wish. Continue reading…

Should the Phillies Upgrade Howie Kendrick?

When the Phillies traded for Howie Kendrick in November, everyone knew what the plan was: deal him at the trade deadline for something, anything really. In a lot of ways, the deal is reminiscent of the 2015 acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies gave up very little of value to the franchise to potentially get more value back a couple months down the road. Both Hellickson and Kendrick were coming off down years at the time and had a clear place to play for the Phillies, at least for the first half of the season.

With Hellickson, it seemed entirely likely that the Phillies would be abundantly ready to move on after half a season. With Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff already in the rotation and Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, and, generously, Mark Appel all potential contributors by midseason, it was easy to envision a world in which Hellickson’s season-long presence would hold the rebuild back. Obviously, due to injuries to Eflin and Nola, that scenario didn’t materialize, but it was reasonable to assume his replacement would come internally.

With Kendrick, that scenario isn’t quite as clear. Currently, the only internal lock to be a major-league caliber starter in the outfield is Odubel Herrera. Aaron Altherr and Roman Quinn both come with some combination of injury and performance-based concerns about their long-term viability in the outfield. Even with Kendrick in the fold, both should get chances to play from the outset.

After that, they have Nick Williams set to repeat at AAA after a tumultuous season in which not only his strikeouts and plate approach remained questions, but he clashed with manager Dave Brundage over a perceived lack of hustle and saw more time on the bench than a prospect of his ilk typically does. Maybe Dusty Wathan–the new man in charge in Lehigh Valley–will be able to create an environment for Williams to thrive. Or maybe he won’t. Beyond Williams, there’s no one sniffing the majors worth banking on at this point.

That leaves a somewhat likely case where the Phillies don’t have a palatable replacement for Kendrick if and when the time comes to trade him at the deadline. He only has one more year remaining on his deal and, at 33-years old, is unlikely to play his way into being a qualifying offer candidate. That means that the Phillies won’t be able to play the game of chicken they did at the deadline with Hellickson. They’ll have to trade him for whatever they can get or keep him an get nothing. In other words, they’re going to trade him, and if two of Altherr, Quinn, Williams, and Tyler Goeddel aren’t playable major leaguers by mid-season, you’re looking at another August and September of a Jimmy Paredes type. No one wants that. Continue reading…