* Over the fence is out? Not when Michael Saunders (Victoria, BC) is tracking down drives. No wonder he is nicknamed The Condor. The Jays also signed 1B Justin Smoak and added back-up OF Ezequiel Carrera…..
By Bob Elliott
Michael Saunders was voted MVP of the Phoenix pool in the World Baseball Classic in March of 2013.
Experienced evaluators forecast a 30-30 season from the Seattle Mariners outfielder after he had five homers and six steals in less than 1/6 (23 games) of the 2013 season.
Injuries saw Saunders fall out of favor with both manager Lloyd McClendon and general manager Jack Zduriencik making him available.
After months of phone calls the Jays dealt from surplus to acquire Saunders as their every day left fielder dealing lefty J.A. Happ to the M’s Wednesday night.
The chain reaction means …
That right-hander Aaron Sanchez can contend for a starting spot behind R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman … with either Marco Estrada or Daniel Norris as the sixth man when needed.
And that the Melky Cabrera era is over. Talk last month was that the Jays had offered three years at $39 million, but Cabrera was looking for $50 million. The Jays denied those numbers at the GMs meetings.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Saunders, 28, hit .273 in 78 games with eight homers and 34 RBIs with a .791 OPS. Happ, 32, was 11-11 with a 4.22 in 26 starts for the Jays. Happ will earn $6.7 Million US next season, while Saunders, a Victoria, B.C. native, could earn roughly $3 million in salary arbitration.
“(Saunders) can play all three outfield spots, steal a base and we think his power will play better (at the Rogers Centre vs. spacious Safeco Field),” said Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, The Jays and the Mariners talked Saunders in September and again at the GMs meetings in November.
“We looked at alternatives for left field that made sense and were not optimistic. Either the asking price was too high or the years were too much. We felt (Saunders) improves our outfield as a whole. He’s our every day left fielder.”
Saunders hit .248 with 39 homers, 38 steals and a .643 OPS his three previous seasons with Seattle. Shoulder and oblique injuries limited playing time to an average of 116 games and 428 plate appearances over that time span.
Smoak-in:Justin Smoak, claimed on waivers by the Jays from Seattle Oct. 28 and non-tendered a contract before Tuesday’s deadline, was signed Wednesday.
The first baseman had a $3.65 million contract, agreed to a one-year deal for $1 million and passed his physical in Florida. He’ll compete for the majority of the playing time at first with Edwin Encarnacion serving most of the time as the DH — if Smoak hits.
Smoak, who turns 28 on Friday, batted .202 with seven homers, driving in 30 runs for Seattle with a .614 OPS in 80 games in 2014. He averaged 17 homers and 51 RBIs with a .700 OPS in 122 games a year prior to that.
“He has to compete, we think there’s upside there,” Anthopoulos said of Smoak. “There are two-years where he had 19-20 home runs in Seattle. He’s 6-foot-4, with a massive wingspan, is durable enough to play first every day. He doesn’t have a whole lot of range, but has very good hands. It’s going to help guys like (Josh)Donaldson and (Jose) Reyes with their throws.
“This gets Encarnacion off his feet a little more. We’re still going to try to upgrade at first. It’s most likely going to be that kind of a guy: low salary, some upside.”
Speed help: The Jays signed free-agent outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, 27, on a minor league deal with an invite to big-league camp. Carrera hit .261 in 2014 in 45 games with the Detroit Tigers with two RBIs. He was 7-for-8 stealing bases and 25-for-32 in parts of four seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies and the Tigers.
Tip of the Cap: Colorado Rockies Justin Morneau was named the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s winner of the Tip O’Neill award. The New Westminster, B.C. first baseman came back from post-concussion syndrome to win the National League batting title hitting .319 with 17 homers, 82 RBIs and an .860 OPS.
More honors:Jose Bautista was the unanimous choice for the Neil MacCarl award as Player of the Year in voting by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America and other selected voters, as outgoing reliever Casey Janssen won the John Cerutti award. Bautista captured all 13 first-place votes, with Edwin Encarnacion (29 points) second, and Cabrera (18) third.
Buehrle was selected as pitcher of the year in a close vote over Dickey with six first-place votes and 27 points, while Dickey had five first-place votes and 25 points. Marcus Stroman was next with two first-place votes and 19 points. Brett Cecil had four points and Drew Hutchison three.
Stroman was unanimously named Rookie of the Year with Sanchez (26) second and Dalton Pompey (nine) third.
Cabrera was named the Most Improved with eight first place votes (28), while Happ (four first-place votes, 24). Next was Todd Redmond (10), Navarro (five), Hutchison (three), Dickey (two), Dustin McGowan (two) and Buehrle (two).
Lineups, get your lineups: Possible opening day Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium _ 1. SS Reyes, 2. C Martin, 3. RF Bautista, 4. DH Encarnacion, 5. 3B Donaldson, 6. LF Saunders, 7. 1B Smoak, 8. 2B Maicer Izturis, 9. Dalton Pompey.