According to The Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro in a recent article, Atlanta is “said” to have interest in Joe Saunders, a right-handed starter for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The blog post has little to say on why the Braves could be interested, nor what the D’Backs could be looking for aside from adding that Saunders could bring back a decent return. After dealing Saunders, the D’Backs could turn to Trevor Bauer, one of the better pitching prospects in the minors.
I hate really biting on these type of columns because what does “There is said to be interest from Atlanta…” actually mean? Is the author or his buddies sitting around wondering what teams might have a need for a starter whose prime value is his ability to take the ball every fifth day? Or do they look at what teams might have interest in Ryan Dempster and use those teams as a list of squads interested in Saunders?
Joe Saunders is owed the remainder of his $6M contract and will be a free agent for the first time this offseason. After three seasons of struggling to claim a spot in the Anaheim rotation after his debut in 2005, Saunders began a string of what is now four consecutive seasons of 31 or more starts in 2008. The D’Backs got him at the trading deadline in 2010 in the Dan Haren trade with the Angels. That deal has worked out well for the Angels, though maybe Tyler Skaggs can turn that around.
Saunders’ most similar hurler through his age 30 season, which Saunders finished last season, is Dennis Rasmussen and I think that’s the kind of career Saunders can expect. Rasmussen pitched for five different teams (six if you include two stops in San Diego) and pitched over 250 games in the majors, even though he put up an adjusted ERA+ of 94, or 6% than the adjusted league average over his career. You always wanted to replace him, but you also always knew he could take the ball when it was his turn and typically, if you give him run support, you might get wins. Guys like Russ Ortiz are a bit similar as well.
Overall, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Saunders. He will get you some innings, not many K’s, a solid walk rate, a high amount of homers allowed, and like Rasmussen, you will probably think you can do better. It’s not that Saunders is a bad hurler or anything like that, but he’s also not a good one. A 4.51 career xFIP that is pretty in line with his 4.60 career FIP. This season, his ERA is 3.48, a shade under his 3.94 FIP, but his xFIP is closer to his career mark with 4.30. That makes one think he is due for a regression.
His fastball tops off around 90 mph and he will throw it a lot. He will use his changeup to keep hitters off-balanced and adds a curve and a rarely used slider. His change is probably his best pitch.
Overall, you are looking at a 1 WAR player. Those are valuable, but the Braves have 1 WAR potential starters coming out of their rear without needing to cash in a prospect or two. Saunders has value, but his value is higher for a team who has four starters rolling and could use a fifth guy to stabilize things. That’s not where the Braves are…at least, not yet.