michael saunders

 * LF Michael Saunders (Victoria, BC) wasn’t the first to go down due to a drainage system buried in the outfield … the same happened to Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle. ….

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Letters of Intent

By Andrew Hendriks
Of the many perils outfielders face during a baseball season – walls, stands and each other to name a few – irrigation systems, and the effect they have on their immediate surroundings, often prove to be the most treacherous.

We’ve seen them claim the health of many, most famously a young Oklahoma switch hitter who, playing in Game 2 of the 1951 World Series against the New York Giants, chased after a fly ball only to veer to the right after being called off by Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper who was patrolling centre field at the time.

The sudden change in direction caused Mickey Mantle to trip over an exposed drainage pipe in the Yankee Stadium outfield, severely damaging his right knee and rendering him unable to take the field for the remainder of the series.

Playing in his 10th and final Fall Classic, DiMaggio hit .261 while Mantle watched from the sidelines.

Although the Bombers won the series, the Mick would (arguably) never be the same again as this injury, among others, would plague the remainder of his hall of fame career.

On Tuesday, the Blue Jays Michael Saunders became the latest victim of a irrigation intimidation.

Shagging fly balls on a practice diamond at the Bobby Mattick training facility in Dunedin, Saunders, who was in camp two days prior to the required reporting date for Jays’ position players, stepped on a soft patch of turf surrounding one of the fields sprinklers, which was buried under the grass in center field.

Like Mantle, the Victoria, B.C. native felt a pop in his left knee, knowing immediately that, while simply trying to impress his new organization, he had inadvertently stepped in to dire straits.

Medical examinations later indicated that the 28 year-old outfielder, who was acquired by the Jays in exchange for J.A. Happ during a one-for-one trade with the Seattle Mariners earlier this off-season, had torn the meniscus in his left knee, and would be out of the Toronto lineup until after the All Star Game this July.

Setting a recovery time of nearly five months, or half the regular season depending on how you look at it, the Jays’ appear to be taking this injury with caution as, in the past, other athletes have come back from a torn meniscus in a fraction of the time.

Athletes like the Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose, who, despite succumbing to the same injury earlier this week, is rumored to be able to return to the Bulls prior to the start of the NBA postseason in late May.

In the meantime, Toronto will have to find a viable replacement for their starting left fielder, and following the departure of Anthony Gose, Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera, a suitable stop-gap may prove to be difficult to come by seeing as the Jays’ depth has been depleted since the end of the 2014 season.

When asked about his next course of action, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos pointed to internal options within the clubs minor league system.

Of the names mentioned, including Ezequiel Carrera, Andy Dirks, Chris Dickerson and Caleb Gindl, a pair of names emerged Thursday as potential options who appear to have a fast track on the competition this spring.

Despite combining for only a handful of games played in the outfield during their respective careers, both Danny Valencia and Chris Colabello are said to be the front runners for Saunders interim replacement, and will get a decent look this spring.

With all due respect to the position, there are other areas on a diamond that are harder to fill than left field. That said, with spring training merely getting started, there are also worse times for an injury like this to occur.

With a plethora of exhibition games on tap for the Blue Jays in the coming weeks, there is plenty of time for club officials to experiment and find a suitable option… be it internally or otherwise.

Should Toronto entertain the idea of exploring the trade market between now and Opening Night on April sixth, perhaps trading from a position of strength would provide the club with a solution.

When Toronto inked Russell Martin to a five-year, $82M deal in November, Dioner Navarro lost his starting job and (seemingly) became expendable, quickly turning into one of the Jays’ most marketable bargaining chips.

Having hit .274 in 139 games during the 2014 season, the switch hitting catcher was said to have been available all winter, however, he wouldn’t be cheap and would have to be flipped for something the Jays’ were in need of.

A deal was never struck and Navarro, who has been rather vocal in his desire to continue as an everyday catcher, remains with Toronto.

With Saunders now shelved until July, perhaps the Jays are best to hold on to Navarro as, if penciled in to Toronto’s starting lineup as the designated hitter for the time being, the 31-year-old Venezuelan who slugged 12 home runs in 2014, represents an option for some left handed pop should Justin Smoak fail to break camp with the MLB club this April.

With a month remaining before opening night, the Jays are far from desperate and can refrain from kicking tires for the time being.

      -Follow Andrew Hendriks on Twitter (@77hendriks)