Though the 2014 Mariners’ offense suffered from a number of deficiencies that ultimately proved too much for the pitching to overcome, outfield depth consistently stood out as the most glaring flaw.
Franklin Gutierrez‘s decision to take a year-long hiatus left the M’s down a bat right from the outset (though the decision to count on the oft-injured veteran was questionable at best). The subsequent April demotion of young center fielder Abraham Almonte continued to deplete outfield talent at the major league level, and though numerous in-house attempts were made to rectify the problem, nothing resulting in any long-term success. But perhaps the biggest blow to the roster in this area was Michael Saunders‘ inability to stay on the field, and Lloyd McClendon seems tired of it.
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According to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, when asked about Saunders’ future with the club, Seattle’s manager, fresh off a brilliant first season at the helm, blamed his player at least in part for the slew of injuries: “Some are freak injuries. Some are things that just happened. But some of these things need to be handled from a maintenance standpoint…where he’s able to compete through the course of the season.”
Jack Zduriencik largely echoed these sentiments, calling Saunders’ 230 at-bats in 2014 “pretty challenging”, perhaps because they remind him and the rest of the front office of Gutierrez, who has exceeded 100 games on the field just twice since being acquired from Cleveland prior to the 2009 campaign.
Not surprisingly, Michael McCann, Saunders’ agent, fired back at management, criticizing them for airing these grievances for all to see and forcing Zduriencik to backtrack with a few clarifying statements. And he certainly has reason to do so. Many of his client’s ailments, most notably the sprained AC joint that derailed much of 2013, have been, as McCann dubbed them, “effort injuries”, suggesting that overexertion on the field, not a lack of preparation off it, is the underlying cause.
The M’s frustration is of course understood, as Saunders has been one of the few left-handed-hitting Mariners to handle southpaws with anything remotely resembling success, but their public relations error may cost them an asset who is more valuable to them than most other organizations.
With all of this bad blood suddenly surrounding “The Condor”, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, speculation of an impending move away from the Mariners will likely heat up until either a deal for 2015 is reached or the situation boils over and Saunders indeed finds himself in another uniform come Spring Training.
McClendon’s and Zduriencik’s comments on Saunders rang with impatience…
McCann certainly will not back down, as the right fielder will almost certainly become his biggest client once his arbitration case is settled. And the M’s front office, due to the aforementioned outfield depth issue, may have to give in to the player in some way unless they can sign a high-quality outfielder in free agency this winter.
So while this newfound Michael Saunders saga is far from its breaking point, the eventual result of McClendon’s and Zduriencik’s choice words may have profound consequences, with the worst-case scenario being that management has to search this winter for Saunders’ replacement.
For while I am all for giving up on a lost cause like Franklin Gutierrez, pushing the eject button this early in Michael Saunders’ MLB career seems premature, and if done it may, like so many other front office decisions of the past decade, come back to haunt the team in the years to come.