On its face, this seems like a bad trade. To begin with, this completely unsettles the Mariners outfield. Saunders is a plus defender in left and right, and could fill in as a center fielder. Saunders finished the year with a respectable .273/.341/.450 slash and an OPS+ of 128. He’s widely viewed as a toolsy player, with some power and speed and a good throwing arm.
Of course, the knock on Saunders is he can’t stay on the field. 78 games in 2014 followed 132 games in 2013, when he was rendered ineffective by a shoulder injury. The season ended with bad blood between GM Jack Zdurencik and Saunders’ agent over whether the outfielder was doing enough in the offseason to stay on the field. It seemed a trade was writ months ago.
Moving past the poor employee relations, and that Saunders was likely to be traded, was this a good deal? Happ is an interesting addition to the team. But it seems unlikely that he has a shot at breaking into a rotation featuring Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and Roenis Elias. At age 32 if Happ hasn’t become more than he is, he’s unlikely to be much more than last year’s 93 ERA+. It seems like a lot to give for what they got in return.
More likely, this is a precursor of another move. The M’s need an outfielder, and they’ll be dealing for one. The only available free agent is Melky Cabrera and perhaps they’re considering hiring the Melk Man. Or perhaps the outfield move includes a trade that involves Taijuan Walker and they’ll need that extra arm. Make no mistake, the team was going to have to acquire some pitching depth in any case, but this does seem an odd way to get it, when there are so many second and third tier arms available on the market.
I liked Michael Saunders. He was the Mariners best outfielder. His crime seemed to be that he was injured in the line of duty and that he was left handed. If he was traded for Happ as a prelude to trading away Mariners pitching, this doesn’t really inspire me. Happ is not as good as Walker or Roenis. If Happ is merely pitching depth then hopefully Zdurencik has a hard time looking himself in the mirror.
Lots of interesting views of this trade:
Logan Davis at Lookout Landing offers this perspective.
The incomparable Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs offers a different view.