It's already the second day of 2014, and the Baltimore Orioles still have questions in their starting rotation without a veteran guy who can eat some innings to help save some ware and tear on the bullpen. Should the Orioles be looking at the possibility of reuniting with LHP Joe Saunders.
Baltimore does not like to spend a lot of money, that should not surprise many of you, and they also do not like to give free agent pitchers a contract longer than three years. With that in mind, the Orioles also need a veteran guy, that can eat some innings and has a track record of decent success.
Joe Saunders fits that bill perfectly, and is not getting much attention this offseason, and for good reason. Saunders is coming off of the worst season in his career in 2013, which was even more of a surprise since he was pitching for the Seattle Mariners and their ballpark is well known as a pitcher friendly park. Saunders posted 11-16 record with a 5.26 ERA and a 1.601 WHIP in 2013, with both his ERA and WHIP being career lows in seasons in which he made at least five appearances.
Then why would the Orioles want to sign him? When it comes to a veteran in the big leagues, you have earned the right to have one bad season, and if you look at his track record over nine big league seasons, there is certainly some intrigue to going after him.
Saunders, who is still just 32 years old, has tossed at least 174 or more innings in each of the last six seasons, which is something this Baltimore starting rotation needs. He has a career ERA of 4.30 which shows that last season is more of an anomaly than the expected, and his career WHIP of 1.401 is also much lower than what 2013 showed.
We are not completely dismissing Saunders' 2013 season, and in fact, it helps the Orioles as the Mariners declined the option they had on Saunders for 2014 making him a free agent, and coming off of such a poor season brings his price down, which is always attractive to Baltimore. You also have to look at other factors when evaluating his 2013 season. First, he was not pitching for a team that was very good, and although that is not an excuse for him, it still bares mentioning. There were only eight teams in baseball to average fewer runs per game than the Mariners in 2013, and it doesn't matter who you are, when you are a starting pitcher and you know your offense is not likely to score many runs, you try to be perfect every time on the mound and that can hurt you in the big leagues.
We touched on this earlier, but it is one of the most important aspects when you consider what Saunders could bring this rotation, he eats up innings, while still bringing solid consistent performances. Saunders has averaged over six innings per start throughout his career, and has posted at least 28 starts in each of the last six seasons, thus showing that he remains healthy.
Let's not forget that he is also left handed, which would help balance out the rotation as Wei-Yin Chen is the only left hander in the rotation as of right now.
When Baltimore acquired him in 2012, he made seven starts with the Birds and posted a 3-3 record with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.276 WHIP. He also went 1-0 in two postseason starts for the Orioles in '12 and allowed just one earned run in each of his two starts, which included a victory on the road against the Rangers in a do or die game and out-dueled Yu Darvish in that game.
Saunders is not the ace the team is looking for, but he would be a quality veteran who can eat some innings and most importantly for the Orioles, would come on the cheap. We touched on Brian Matusz last week and his argument to be in the rotation, but as we mentioned in that article (click here to view it), Matusz should only be considered with the current roster without an addition of a veteran arm like Saunders. Be honest, would you feel more confident with Saunders or Matusz taking the mound every fifth day?
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