2017 Toronto Blue Jays Season Review: Michael Saunders

 Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders was signed to a minor league deal by the Toronto Blue Jays after he was released by the Phillies at the end of June. He batted .274 in 35 games with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons before being called up by the Blue Jays. Photo Credit: Jay Blue

Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders was signed to a minor league deal by the Toronto Blue Jays after he was released by the Phillies at the end of June. He batted .274 in 35 games with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons before being called up by the Blue Jays. Photo Credit: Jay Blue

By Jay Blue

Blue Jays from Away

Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.

Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.) went from being a solid big leaguer and an All-Star to a bubble guy awfully quickly. Acquired from the Seattle Mariners before the 2015 season, Saunders missed almost all of 2015 with a knee injury sustained in spring training but came back in a big way in 2016 with a huge first half and he ended up going to the All-Star Game. In 82 games in the first half of the season, Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 home runs and 25 doubles. But Saunders had an epic crash in the back half, hitting .178/.282/.357 with a respectable eight home runs and seven doubles in 58 games, but his low OBP (fueled by his low average) caused concern, as did his high strikeout rate (28.1%). In 2016, Saunders ranked 121st among major league hitters in average exit velocity at 89.7 mph.

2017, however, was another story for Saunders, more akin to his second half of 2016 than his gangbusters first half. Saunders signed a deal for a year at $8 million with an option for $11 (which could have reached $14 if certain criteria had been met) for a second year that had a $1 million buyout.

Saunders started the season by hitting .205/.257/.360 with nine doubles, two triples and six home runs in 61 games for the Phillies, seeing his strikeout rate actually fall to 23.8% but his average exit velocity had dropped to 85.9% and he was ranked 319th in the majors after the 2017 season.

Released by the Phillies at the end of June, the Blue Jays signed Saunders to a minor league contract and sent him to triple-A Buffalo. While he struggled for a few weeks, hitting just .120/.228/.140 for the Bisons in his first 13 games, Saunders got hot, hitting .354/.374/.542 with 10 doubles, a triple and two home runs in 22 games from July 18 to August 31 but he only walked three times and struck out 17 times in 99 plate appearances (giving him a very good strikeout rate of just above 17%).

Called up to Toronto in September, Saunders served mostly as a pinch hitter, going 3/18 with two walks and four strikeouts.

With the depth that the Blue Jays have in the outfield right now, I can't see Saunders coming back, even on a minor league deal.

Contract Status

Saunders became a free agent following the season and has yet to sign a deal.

2017 Regular Season Grades

Jay Blue: Incomplete

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Jay Blue

A lifelong Toronto Blue Jays fan, Jay Blue started blogging about the Jays when he was living in Berlin, Germany. He founded his own blog, Blue Jays from Away, to write about developments with his home town team, focusing on the Jays' minor league system. When he's not watching baseball, he is usually on the diamond umpiring or he's pursuing his research interests in the field of ethnomusicology.