The Sox Stove: 2015 Edition, Part 3 - Michael Saunders

The first two parts of this offseason series have focused on free agency - but that's not the only way to improve a roster.  Last winter we saw two major White Sox trades. One worked out gloriously (Adam Eaton!), and one had a very disappointing initial return (Matt Davidson is still young, but 2014 was a huge step backward).  Perhaps the White Sox can take advantage of another dysfunctional organization this offseason.

I have said before that I really liked the process behind both the Addison Reed-for-Matt Davidson swap as well as the Santiago-for-Eaton trade.  They were trading assets which, for them, were fungible - relievers and back-end starters, guys they've had no trouble developing in recent history - for players that they were having a really hard time generating internally.  Developing position players generally, and 3B and CF in particular, has been a huge area of weakness for a long time.*  Even better, in trading with Arizona, Rick Hahn was dealing with a front office that appeared to have completely gone off the deep end in terms of evaluation, and like the Bill Bavasi Mariners in the past, organizations like the Kirk Gibson Era Diamondbacks can be a great opportunity to snatch up talent at discount prices.

*It's kind of scary to think of how long it has been since Crede and Rowand came up. 

Despite the Mariners' success this past season, all is not necessarily well in Seattle.  They have had severe flux at the executive level, as well as tuned out ownership.  So yes, they drove a truck of money up to Robinson Cano's house, Felix and Iwakuma kept doing their thing, and they made some nice little value pickups like Chris Young and Roenis Elias, but there is still reason for concern.

After initial whistleblowing by former manager Eric Wedge and a former assistant GM over a year ago, Jonathan Bernhardt updated the ongoing dysfunction in the Mariners front office a few months ago. (Warning: Some colorful language in that link if that is the type of thing that bothers you.)  Apparently Jack Z and Co. have not backed off of their erratic stance on player conditioning in the wake of Jesus Montero and Nick Franklin, and have now - oddly - made Michael Saunders the subject of their ire and are now actively trying to trade him

I always find it really weird when a front office makes it publicly known that they are displeased with a player - so much so that they want to deal him. I'm not sure how you negotiate with other teams after you've done that. "We only want your finest prospects." "I thought you couldn't wait to get rid of this guy. We'll give you a reliever in Low A." "...But he's our starting CF!" "Whom you hate." "Er...." "The reliever has a cool name." "Sold!"

Saunders is a very good athlete who actually has put it together for the past three years, hitting .248/.320/.423 over that span.  Depending on what you think about SafeCo's park adjustments that's actually good for a 111 OPS+. The real knock on Saunders is that he has been a bit brittle, playing only ~130-140 games in 2012 and 2013, and missing more than half of last year to various injuries. This is what has prompted the Mariners to question his conditioning and work ethic and start shopping him - again, an odd accusation from an organization that does nothing with regard to offseason conditioning programs.

Again, Saunders is a very good athlete, capable of playing a solid CF or plus in the corners, and who went 34/43 on SB attempts in his healthier 2012-2013 campaigns. Maybe he could be in better shape, but there are reasons for injuries beyond how much time you spend doing sprints or jogging. I'm pretty sure that Derrick Rose and Calvin Johnson keep themselves in shape, but that hasn't stopped them from sustaining random leg injuries either. 

But perhaps the White Sox can take advantage of the Mariners' foolishness. Saunders was always considered a raw, tools-based guy - but he has demonstrated a willingness to take a pitch, and last year he posted a .273/.341/.450 line. He's probably Seattle's 3rd-best position player after Cano and Seager.* Entering his age 28 season, Saunders still has two years of team control left before he hits free agency, and could be anywhere from a solid to plus regular in the outfield - a position of need for the White Sox.  Even better, he also serves as Adam Eaton insurance as he is able to cover CF competently, adds another lefty bat to the lineup, and there is still some upside there.

*Seriously, what are you doing, Seattle? I know you have Austin Jackson now, but are you seriously pushing your chips in on Dustin Ackley - Starting Left Fielder?

What's more, Saunders' name surfaced in White Sox-Mariners trade rumors last year - and even better, possibly for Dayan Viciedo in return. The Mariners have certainly shown a willingness to acquire guys with Viciedo's profile in the past - big power, low patience, and completely overmatched defensively. 

Granted, Viciedo's stock has fallen even further since that time, but in these situations where a front office is publicly tearing down what otherwise looks to be a really valuable asset, you never know what can happen. After all, the Diamondbacks traded Justin Upton for one year of Martin Prado. It's absolutely something the White Sox should inquire about and once again I'm getting my hopes up too much.  Let's say the White Sox trade for Michael Saunders without moving any major league pieces other than Viciedo, and let's say they sign Brandon McCarthy. Add a few mid-level relievers and all of a sudden that talk of competing in 2015 doesn't sound too far-fetched.

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