By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
2:00 AM AKST, January 29, 2013
My guess is I am averaging about five questions a day for the past two weeks on the Orioles' pursuit of left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders. Pretty incredible considering when the Orioles dealt reliever Matt Lindstrom to Arizona for Saunders last August, the move was met with collective yawns across Baltimore.
The veteran and Northern Virginia native must have made quite an impression in his month-plus time with the Orioles (I guess that’s what happens when you shut down the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees in the playoffs), because interest in Saunders’ re-signing seemingly remains high around here. It was a pretty common topic at Orioles FanFest.
The sense was that Saunders would make a decision last week -- that was Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette’s prediction. It didn’t happen. And now, with two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Saunders still hasn’t announced a landing spot.
Saunders is not the nervous type, so he and his people are obviously waiting for the right deal to come along. Still, I’d be surprised if this doesn’t get resolved this week. Saunders’ name resurfaced in Minnesota on Monday with a report that the Twins were waiting to hear back from Saunders’ agent, but would like to sign him for a one-year deal.
If Saunders signs a one-year contract, it’s with the Orioles or it’s for an eyebrow-raising amount of money. That’s my feeling anyway. Saunders hasn’t been shy about his interest in returning to Baltimore, but he has been seeking a multiyear deal.
Here’s what I know for sure -- at least heading into Monday: Both sides still want a marriage and are hopeful it will happen, but both have a pretty clear idea of what it will take, and neither side has blinked yet.
I also get the sense that the Orioles’ agreement (pending physical) with right-hander Jair Jurrjens doesn’t stop them from pursuing Saunders. Jurrjens can be sent to the minors if there is no room in the Orioles’ rotation for him.
A couple different industry sources -- and, admittedly, none directly involved with the negotiations -- have told me that Saunders has a two-year offer on the table. The speculation is that it is worth roughly $15 million or so, and isn’t from the Orioles.
Saunders made $6 million last year with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Orioles, so a deal for $7 or $8 million per year for a 31-year-old free agent who was 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA last year doesn’t seem out of whack given the market this winter.
That said, my sense is that two years for $15 million may be too rich for the Orioles’ liking. They’d likely be much more comfortable with one year and an option for a second.
Understandably, Saunders’ side has been looking for more security (especially considering a guy like Jeremy Guthrie, for instance, got a three-year deal from the Kansas City Royals this winter, and he is older with career numbers that aren’t as good).
I know Saunders’ people were originally seeking a four-year deal and dropped it to three. Don’t know if it has dipped lower now.
I’ve heard several teams mentioned in connection with Saunders in the past few months. There was some interest from one of his old teams, the Los Angeles Angels, early on, but that died after they signed Joe Blanton.
The Twins, New York Mets and the Seattle Mariners also have been connected. The most intriguing one is the Mariners, who traded veteran lefty, Jason Vargas, earlier this winter.
In his career, Saunders is 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA in nine career starts at Safeco Field. Granted, that’s against an often shaky Seattle offense, and this year the stadium’s fences are being moved in. But I’m sure those numbers aren’t lost on Mariners’ management.
So it will be interesting to see where Saunders lands. And, at this point, when he lands.
Should be soon.