October 11, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Joe Saunders (48) is removed from the game during the sixth inning of game four of the ALDS against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Former Oriole Saunders heads to Seattle

I’m guessing that last year the Baltimore Orioles spent so much extra time in Seattle (with an 18-inning and then an 11-inning game) that Joe Saunders decided then and there that he liked the place. Saunders, who said he would have liked to return to Baltimore, reportedly signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Mariners (worth reportedly between $5-$7 million). The deal is not official as of yet (pending a physical), and it might include a vesting option for 2014 as well.

Throughout the off season there appeared to be a mutual interest with the Orioles and Saunders, however Saunders appeared stuck on the fact that he wanted a three-year deal while the Orioles (along with several other would-be suitors) appeared to only be willing to give a two-year deal. That’s why I’m scratching my head as to why Saunders would go to Seattle. I believe that the Mariners have improved their team year-over-year, but it’s doubtful that they’re looking to contend in 2013 with Oakland, Anaheim, and Texas in their division. That aside, it does seem a bit contradictory for Saunders to “take his talents” to the Pacific NW after saying through the media that he would have liked to return to Baltimore. The Mariners do train in Arizona, which is where Saunders makes his off season home, although Baltimore is only about 50 miles or so from Saunders’ hometown of Springfield, VA.

The Orioles of course obtained Saunders last August 26th in a waiver-trade that sent Matt Lindstrom to the Arizona Diamondbacks. My personal opinion was that he pitched better than his 3-3 record with the Orioles indicated (3.63 ERA). He’ll best be remembered for his short time in Baltimore as the first Oriole pitcher to start and then win a post season game in 15 years. Saunders was the winning pitcher in the Orioles’ wild card game victory in Texas last year. Nevertheless pending a physical, Saunders will now be headed to Seattle for 2013.

Courtesy of Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Of course now we can start talking about whether or not the Orioles made a mistake in not making a stronger push for Saunders. I think most fans wouldn’t have minded having him back. Furthermore if a one-year deal for $5 million (give or take) was all it would have taken to get him…that might make me scratch my head just a bit. However the Orioles also have a lot of pitching depth, just as they did going into last season. Furthermore with the recent (and apparent) signing of Jair Jurrjens – which for the record has yet to be formally announced – the O’s have also probably upgraded their rotation just a bit. Even if Jurrjens doesn’t make the team out of spring training for some reason, that would mean that someone out-performed him and thus earned his way into the rotation.

For the group that wants to say the Orioles didn’t want to spend the money to get Saunders, you might be right for all I know. However I would doubt that the franchise would balk on spending $5 million on a guy that they really felt they had to have. I suspect that there are other aspects involved in Saunders’ decision, such as the aforementioned fact that the Mariners train in Arizona. That might sound like a petty thing for some people, and they might be right. However keep in mind that playing for a team that trains in Arizona allows Saunders an extra month of living in his own home (as opposed to living in hotels and/or a makeshift home in Seattle). Safeco Field has undergone some renovations that will make it more hitter-friendly for 2013, but it still remains a pitchers-park. To a guy like Saunders who’s a solid veteran but was and never will be a superstar, that also makes a difference.

I suppose we can file this under the “it is what it is” category. I hope that most Oriole fans will wish Saunders well, because as I said above he’s the answer to an important trivia question in that he was the first pitcher to win a playoff game in 15 years. Here’s one other thing; I think that Saunders is hedging his bets a little with the one-year contract. While there’s supposedly a vesting option for 2014, that type of deal makes Saunders very easily traded in July or even August (as he was last year). So if Seattle is out of contention, Saunders would probably be a prime candidate to be on his way to a contender. Ultimately, all of this is nothing more than the business of baseball.

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