Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik had a pretty tame off-season in terms of free agent signings. However, he did make one very nice addition, signing LHP Joe Saunders to a one-year deal worth $6.5 million with an option for 2014. Saunders adds the MLB experience that the Mariners rotation desperately needed behind ace Felix Hernandez.
The 31-year old left-hander will make his Mariners spring training debut on Sunday against the division rival Texas Rangers.
The Mariners will expect Saunders to eat a lot of innings this year, just as he has over the last five seasons of his MLB career with the Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks and briefly with the Baltimore Orioles. Saunders has thrown at least 175 innings in each of those seasons.
Saunders is expected to fill the #2 spot in the rotation, which was occupied by LHP Jason Vargas (now with the Angels) last year. Vargas was a true innings-eater, logging 216 innings with the Mariners in 2012. Replacing that many innings could be a challenge for Saunders, who has only pitched over 200 innings twice in his career.
Saunders is not overpowering, having never eclipsed 120 strikeouts in a season, but his control is where he makes his money, walking only 2.74 hitters per nine innings in his career. His average fastball velocity dipped below 90 mph for the first time in 2011, causing him to give up 50 HR’s over the last two seasons pitching at Chase Field in Arizona and Camden Yards in Baltimore, although both parks are skewed very hitter-friendly.
Saunders is definitely a flyball pitcher with a career GB/FB rate of 1.26 and moving to a more spacious home park like Safeco Field will work in his favor.
I expect Joe Saunders to have a productive season with the Mariners with numbers around 10 wins with an ERA of 4.00 and throwing around 190 innings in 2013.
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