For the nostalgic Blue Jays fan, Vol. 5: Michael Saunders
By Evan Stack5 months ago
Earlier this week, we broke down arguably the best Alex Anthopoulos trade during his time as the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, acquiring Josh Donaldson during the 2014 offseason.
Another trade, albeit under the radar, was made a few days after that one, as Toronto acquired OF Michael Saunders from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for JA Happ. From 2012-2014, Happ kept an ERA in the mid-4.00’s during his time as a Blue Jay.
While Happ hadn’t (yet) panned out north of the border, AA made the move to acquire some outfield depth. The team had just lost Melky Cabrera, and with Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar being question marks in the outfield (mainly at the plate), Saunders had a chance to prove himself with the Jays.
The Victoria, Canada native was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 11th round of the 2004 MLB draft. He debuted in 2009 with Seattle, and would go on to spend five more seasons with the Mariners until the aforementioned trade in 2014.
While showing the occasional pop in the bat, Saunders posted high strikeout numbers as well as a batting average in the low-to-mid .200s.
Starting out his time in Toronto, Saunders battled knee problems in all of 2015, as a meniscus tear in his left knee continued to linger and kept him on multiple IL stints. He only saw 36 plate appearances during the ’15 campaign, but he got healthy towards the end of the season, putting him on track to begin the ’16 year with any knee issues behind him.
Saunders made the Opening Day Roster in 2016, even getting the nod to start in left field on Opening Day. From then, Saunders became the next player on a long list of Blue Jays to establish a career year while playing on Toronto’s roster.
Saunders hit 24 home runs (tied for 3rd on the team) and 57 RBIs while slashing .253/.338/.815, all culminating to his first All-Star Game appearance. Saunders wasn’t one of the initial players sent to the Midsummer Classic; he won the “final vote”, where he would be given the nickname “Captain Canada” during fan voting by his fellow Canadiens because of his heritage.
That season, Saunders provided plenty of highlights as a part of the franchise’s second consecutive playoff appearance. On June 17, 2016, Saunders smoked three home runs and 8 RBIs against the Baltimore Orioles during a 13-3 win. At that time, he was only the 15th Blue Jay to ever reach that milestone. He also became the fourth Canadian-born baseball player to hit three home runs in a single game.
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Saunders hit a clutch game-tying home run in the 9th inning against the San Francisco Giants on May 11th – a game in which RA Dickey struck out bunting foul, and Derek Law pitched for SanFran.
Saunders also hit a no-doubt two-run home run against his former team on September 20th, part of a 10-2 trouncing of Seattle. To make this trade come full circle, JA Happ was the winning pitcher of record for Toronto in that game.
During the ALCS against the then-Cleveland Indians later that year, the Blue Jays offense struggled to find much rhythm against Cleveland’s talented pitching staff. In Game 3, Saunders hit the first Blue Jay home run of the series against Dan Otero, who subbed in for Trevor Bauer early in the game due to Bauer’s bloody finger, an injury he suffered earlier in the week in a drone incident.
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After the 2016 season, Saunders became a free agent, signing with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 61 games with the Phillies in 2017, Saunders batted .205 at the plate with only six home runs, forcing Philly to release him in June of that year. The Blue Jays brought Saunders back on a minor league deal shortly after his release, but he only appeared in 12 games with Toronto that season.
Since then, Saunders signed multiple minor league deals with a few different MLB teams – most recently the Rockies in 2019 – but did not see any major league time. He was most recently the manager for the Atlanta Braves Single-A affiliate, the Augusta Green Jackets for the 2021 season.
Writer’s note: In November of 2015, the Blue Jays acquired JA Happ in free agency once again. Happ proceeded to post a 20-win season the following year, completing the steal of a trade this turned out to be.
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