Joe Saunders returns to Diamondbacks

January, 18, 2012
1/18/12
6:20
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Joe Saunders made $5.5 million in 2011 and had a pretty good year with the Diamondbacks: 12-13, 3.69 ERA, 212 innings pitched. Those are nice numbers for pitching in a hitter's park and Saunders certainly expected a bigger paycheck as a result.

The Diamondbacks didn't necessarily agree. Saunders have would received about $8 to $9 million via arbitration, so Arizona instead non-tendered him, making him a free agent. Saunders still expected a big pay day. He didn't get it. According to reports, he turned down a two-year, $12 million offer from the Diamondbacks, which was later pulled off the table.

In the end, there wasn't much of a demand for Saunders or at least a demand for Saunders at his asking price, and he ended up returning to Arizona on a one-year, $6 million deal.

Score one for management. Right?

Saunders' peripheral numbers don't suggest a pitcher who can maintain an ERA under 4.00: He allowed 29 home runs and averaged just 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Among 93 qualified starting pitchers, only three (Jeff Francis, Carl Pavano and Brad Penny) had a lower strikeout rate. Saunders' FIP -- fielding independent pitching ERA -- was 4.78, indicating that he was likely helped a great deal by his defense, namely the terrific outfield trio of Chris Young, Justin Upton and Gerardo Parra. Saunders' batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .271, 20th among starting pitchers. Even with those three guys returning (although Jason Kubel will get a lot of the time in left field), that figure would be difficult to repeat.

So it all indicates that Saunders will be hard-pressed to repeat that 3.69 ERA. However, I don't necessarily think it was a bad signing for Arizona. For an additional $6 million, the D-backs suddenly have excellent rotation depth:

1. Ian Kennedy
2. Daniel Hudson
3. Trevor Cahill
4. Joe Saunders
5. Josh Collmenter
6. Wade Miley
7. Trevor Bauer

Remember, this team won 94 games in 2011 despite giving 31 total starts to Zach Duke, Barry Enright, Armando Galarraga, Jason Marquis and Micah Owings. Those five guys combined for a 9-13 record, 163 innings and a 6.07 ERA in those 31 starts.

Even if Collmenter falters after his surprising rookie season, Arizona has Bauer, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, and Miley in Triple-A; in fact, if there's anything questionable about the Saunders signing, it's that you could argue that Miley and/or Bauer are both rotation ready.

Which begs the question: Arizona will spend $13.5 million in 2012 for Kubel and Saunders; money wisely spent? That's a lot of cash for two players who may provide only marginal benefits above what the club already had. But they will serve to make Arizona's roster much deeper than a season ago, enough that Arizona should enter 2012 as the favorite in the NL West.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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