The Thing About Depth

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)

It's not surprising that fans of the Toronto Blue Jays felt a bit dehesrtened when they learned of the (re-)signing of Michael Saunders to a minor league deal. With the way the season has been going, the knee-jerk reaction is to wonder how this will help the Jays break this curse of reaching the .500 clip when Saunders' short tenure with the Phillies left a lot to be desired. Sure, he was a nice to have last year for the Jays. Hell, he had a pretty good first half of the season last year and was even voted in as an All-Star. But, of course, Saunders inevitably came back down to earth and played like... well, like Michael Saunders.

The problem with the aforementioned knee-jerk reaction is the assumption that Saunders was brought in with the expectation of helping the Jays break out of this funk on his own. Viewing most acquisitions with the mindset that they will, by themselves, "fix" the a team is completely misunderstanding the point of acquiring depth. Sure, there are the rare acquisitions that would allow one to have such expectations - such as the David Price and Troy Tulowitzki trades from two years ago. When you bring in players of that caliber, it's fair to expect a considerable boost in production, leading to more wins and, thus, perhaps a playoff berth. But to apply such expectations to every acquisition completely ignores the fact that not all signings are equal. We shouldn't look at a signing, in a vacuum, and say to ourselves, "OK, but how does he get us to a World Series? Oh, he can't? TERRIBLE SIGNING!" There's a bit more to it than that.

I don't think anyone is expecting Saunders to immediately come in and be the Jays' starting left-fielder in the coming days. If this were the case, the Jays wouldn't have signed him to a minor league deal. I think it's fair to say that the front office is very much aware of the struggles that Saunders experienced earlier this season and signed him to a minor league deal in Buffalo for two reasons.

First, and most obvious (the title of this says it all), it's depth. With how frequent the Blue Jays are facing injury woes, it's wise for the front office to have as much experienced talent as possible so they can at least maintain this up and down season they're facing, rather than just plummeting down altogether. With both Pearce and Carrera already experiencing a decent amount of time on the DL, it's wise to have someone ready in the (likely?) event that one of them suffers a setback or has a different complication leading to more time on the disabled list. With how fragile the Jays hopes are to reach the post season, I'm not sure it would be a good idea to bring up any of the young inexperienced talent with the expectation that they can help push the team towards their goal. Personally, I'd rather take my chances with someone that has both big league experience and a sense of familiarity with the team. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important for young talent to attain some big league experience. But for now, it should be saved until the Jays are either mathematically and realistically out of the race, and/or until rosters expand in September.

Second, Saunders may be in Buffalo in order to prove that he's capable of performing better than he had during his time in Philadelphia. While playing 61 games with the Phillies, Saunders was only able to produce a line of .205/.257/.360, with an OPS of .617, a walk rate of 6% and a strikeout rate of 24%. With that type of production, or lack thereof, no one is under the assumption that Saunders is ready to return to his All-Star form. However, perhaps the front office believes that it's not out of the question that Saunders may be in need of a change of scenery to break out of this slump, and perhaps with the motivation of returning to a familiar team will help boost his production. However, even if it doesn't and even if this is the real Michael Saunders, what did the Jays lose, really? At the end of the day, all it is is a minor league addition that didn't pan out. They are under no obligation to keep him around in Buffalo if he doesn't meet their expectations, and if that were to happen, it doesn't help or hinder the Jays. It's almost a non-issue. 

The reason I bring this up is because the amount of backlash from Jays fans surrounding this signing was really foolish. The signing, alone, wasn't enough to even post about, but the reaction was too dramatic to not address. When hopping over to and reading the comments regarding the signing (my mistake), it reminds me how irrational some opinions can be from Toronto sports fans. Viewing the signing as a means for the Jays to get World Series is just asinine. More than likely, Saunders will either remain in Buffalo or be released, barring an injury from one of the current outfielders for the Jays. Which is entirely the point of having him as depth. Thus, it's fair to view Saunders as a "just in case" piece. 

The Saunders signing isn't that dissimilar to the reported interest the Jays have in Alex Avila. While Avila's production as of late has been eye-opening compared to that of Saunders, if the Jays move beyond mere "interest" and acquire Avila from Detroit (huge "if"), it would be a move that provides depth, albeit major league depth. In the event that Martin needs additional time on the DL down the line, or is need of a break from catching duties (this would serve him well), having someone like Avila would be undeniably valuable. In 56 games with Detroit, Avila has a line of .315/.431./.586, with an OPS of 1.017 with 11 home-runs and 28 RBIs. Having that kind of production that would supplement Martin every fifth day would certainly do the Jays well in comparison to Luke Maile (no disrespect but... yeah). 

The point is, depth is never a bad thing, no matter how discouraging a signing may seem on paper. I'm willing to bet that when the Jays acquired Jason Grilli from Atlanta in May of last year, no one thought that he'd be as valuable as he was for this team, much less thought he'd largely contribute to another postseason berth. I'm not trying to draw a direct parallel towards Saunders in this regard, but having someone that can be at least serviceable if/when the Jays deal with yet another injury is both responsible and smart. Of course, we'd prefer it to be someone we can rally behind a little more, but ya get who ya get. Take it for what it is: depth. That's it. Not an impact player, not a great grab, not a game-changer, just depth.

I'm pretty sure Andrew Stoeten put it best on Twitter when responding to those that weren't fans of the deal - 

Yeah, that'll do.

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