Lost in the hysteria of the Nick Markakis signing was this little nugget that seemingly sets the Braves up for another move. The Seattle Mariners traded outfielder Michael Saunders to the Toronto Blue Jays for starting pitcher J.A. Happ.
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 3, 2014
In 2014, Saunders hit .273/.341/.450 in 78 games for Seattle. The 28-year old hit eight homers, and missed time with an inflamed joint in his shoulder and a strained oblique. When healthy, he’s a guy with 20/20 potential – he homered 19 times and stole 21 bases in 139 games in 2012. Toronto will still have Saunders under team control for two more years.
Toronto’s outfield has been in a state of flux this winter thanks to both Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus hitting the free agent market. With prospect Dalton Pompey likely to take over for Rasmus in center, Saunders will fill Cabrera’s spot in left and will probably end the hopes and dreams of the Jays re-signing Cabrera.
Happ is more of an established commodity. The 32-year old pitched 158 innings for the Jays in 2014, notching a 4.22 ERA, striking out 133, and walking 51. He’s a free agent after 2015, a season in which he’ll make $6.7 million.
So, how does this set up a trade for the Braves? Well, Seattle still needs offense, and they just traded one of their projected starting outfielders. So either the team is going to roll the dice with Jesus Montero at DH (which has worked out so well in the past) and play Nelson Cruz in a corner (which would be a godsend for GIF makers), or they’re going to be in the market for another corner outfielder in the trade market. Seattle and Atlanta talked about Justin Upton (and Evan Gattis, to an extent) earlier this offseason, and the Mariners aren’t on Upton’s no-trade list anymore.
When you also consider that the Braves would want young pitching in a possible return for Upton, the acquisition of Happ makes more sense. He can easily fill a rotation spot that was initially earmarked for James Paxton or Taijuan Walker, either of whom the Braves would covet in an Upton trade. Needless to say, the pieces line up.