Phils announce 1-year deal with Saunders

Phils announce 1-year deal with Saunders

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies got a hitter for the middle of their lineup.

The team announced Thursday it signed a one-year, $9 million contract with outfielder Michael Saunders, who made the American League All-Star team last season with the Blue Jays. The deal includes an $11 million club option, which can jump to $14 million with escalators. There is a $1 million buyout.

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Saunders, who will wear No. 5, hit .253 with 32 doubles, three triples, 24 home runs, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS last season, although he hit .178 with a .638 OPS in 214 plate appearances following the All-Star break. He told reporters in Toronto recently that he attributed his second-half struggles to fatigue. He missed much of 2015 with a meniscus tear and subsequently could not train like he had in previous offseason.

Still, the 30-year-old's .815 OPS would have been the highest on the Phillies among qualified hitters.

Saunders played mostly left field with the Blue Jays, but he is expected to be the Phillies' right fielder on Opening Day, with Howie Kendrick in left and Odubel Herrera in center. Saunders told Canada's Sportsnet last week that he preferred to stay with Toronto, but the Blue Jays were close to re-signing Jose Bautista, essentially ending Saunders' chances to remain in Toronto.

Phillies' outfield shakeup

Sources told MLB.com earlier this month that the Phillies were confident they would acquire either Saunders or free-agent outfielder Brandon Moss -- or possibly even Mets right fielder Jay Bruce -- before the beginning of Spring Training next month in Clearwater, Fla. The Phillies saw too many outfielders on the market and not enough teams for them, figuring one would ultimately fall to them.

Saunders' arrival has implications for the Phillies' other outfielders in camp. Rookie Roman Quinn had been the favorite to become the Opening Day right fielder, but he now is expected to start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he would play every day.

The Phillies remain high on Quinn, so they believe keeping him on the big league bench with limited playing opportunities would be detrimental to his development.

"I can control what I can control," Quinn said Monday. "I'm just going to go out there, give it my all and see what happens from there."

How Saunders fits with Phillies

Quinn hit .263 with four doubles, six RBIs, five stolen bases and a .373 on-base percentage in 69 plate appearances in September. The 23-year-old has tremendous speed and plays Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield, complete with a strong throwing arm. Quinn previously had been one of MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects, but he has had trouble staying healthy, which has hurt him along the way.

Quinn said he has been working this offseason in Clearwater to give himself a better chance to stay healthy.

"The only thing I'm going to do differently this year as far as trying to stay healthy is find something that I can do every day without weight resistance, something that'll maintain my strength throughout the whole season," he said. "It's pretty much getting in a good workout, something light, just to get my body loose and strengthen my body in all areas."

Aaron Altherr remains a favorite to open the season with the Phillies, but as the fourth outfielder.

"Yeah, I think it's going to be good for the young hitters," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said, referring to the offseason acquisitions of veterans Kendrick and Saunders. "It'll give us an opportunity to give the young players -- Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens -- we won't feel like we have to push them. Hopefully, they'll push us to force the issue. I think that's a great position to be in, rather than saying, 'Well, let's just take a shot at it.' Let's make sure they're ready so they stay here."

To make room for Saunders on the 40-man roster, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Saunders' fantasy impact

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Saunders was a major fantasy asset early in 2016, posting a .298/.372/.551 slash line with 16 homers before the All-Star break. But he likely fell to waivers in many leagues during the second half, as he produced a .178/.282/.357 batting line with eight home runs following the Midsummer Classic. Considering said slump and his lengthy injury history, the 30-year-old should remain on the board until the late rounds of '17 mixed-league drafts. Meanwhile, Saunders' arrival in Philadelphia may cause speedy prospect Quinn to start the upcoming season in the Minors -- and on waivers in most mixed formats.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.