Joe Saunders: The Most 2011 Of All Non-Tenders

DENVER, CO - Starting pitcher Joe Saunders #34 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers against Carlos Gonzalez #5 of the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Joe Saunders wasn't tendered a contract by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he wasn't traded before he became a free agent. This isn't 2001.

Maybe this is an overreaction to a perfectly rational and expected roster move. Maybe this is making a trend out of a transaction.

But Joe Saunders was non-tendered by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Saunders could have won as much as $7 million in arbitration, but Arizona decided they'd rather not risk that kind of money. Before the non-tender deadline, the Diamondbacks surely reached out to all sorts of teams. The offer was this: one Joe Saunders. The requested return was based on a sliding scale. Pay what you can afford! No one took the offer.

Growing up, there was ERA and there were wins. A pitcher with a 3.69 ERA didn't always mean the same thing year after year, but it always meant something. It was a big deal for a pitcher to have an ERA under 4.00 in the '90s -- less so in the '80s. In 2011, it meant the playoffs, apparently. Here were the regular-season ERAs of the four starting pitchers in the two NLDS games played on October 5th:

Roy Oswalt: 3.69
Randy Wolf: 3.69
Joe Saunders: 3.69
Edwin Jackson: 3.79

As luck would have it, three of the four are available in the free-agent market now, and the other one just signed a lucrative contract in 2009. Perfect for comparisons. They're all different pitchers with different backgrounds, of course. Roy Oswalt was a #1 starter for a decade, and Edwin Jackson has a fastball that averages 95. Apples, oranges, and all that. I think Randy Wolf is a pomegranate. Just gives off one of those vibes.

But what will Oswalt bring? At least a couple of years, probably at $10 million or so per. Edwin Jackson? Not sure about the annual value, but you can bet that he isn't signing for a single year. He'll probably sign for something close to what Randy Wolf got two years ago, which was three years and just under $30 million.

Joe Saunders, though, was non-tendered. Thirty teams had a chance to have him for a single season. No multi-year contract, no long-term commitment. The only catch is that he'd be slightly overpaid for the 2012 season. Not egregiously overpaid. Just slightly, but there wouldn't be any hassling and competing for his services as a free agent. And thirty teams said, nah. We'll just try to sign him on our own for less if we want, and if we don't get him, no big whoop.

This is a pitcher with a career winning percentage of .570 -- just about the same as Mark Buehrle, who just received a lucrative contract from the Marlins. It's the same winning percentage as Hall-of-Famers Steve Carlton and Catfish Hunter.

I mean, my lord, it's the same winning percentage as Jack Morris.

And that sort of thing used to matter. It wasn't that long ago that GMs would look at a pitcher with a .570 career winning percentage -- one who was coming off a season with a 3.69 ERA, no less -- and jump at the chance to get him, especially for a low-risk, one-year deal. Heck, it wasn't that long ago that a GM actually said this about Joe Saunders:

We achieved by maintaining major league quality with a 2008 All-Star in Joe Saunders and a guy who quite frankly has been one of the winners in Major League Baseball. I think he trails only Roy Halladay among major leaguers in total wins. He’s won 63 percent of his games since coming to the major leagues

Now he's a guy who is probably not worth $7 million a year. He'll still get a deal and a job, of course. He will probably get a two-year deal out of this -- maybe even a three-year deal if a team is feeling frisky. But he's not going to get a lucrative contract, and teams weren't tripping over themselves to acquire him. Teams looked past the single-season ERA and career winning percentage and saw Joe Saunders for what he is: the Joe Saunders of pitchers. He's quite okay, if that's your thing.

It feels like this is progress. And, again, I'm probably reading too much into this. But it feels like Saunders would have been a hot commodity at some point. That point isn't now. The kinds of GMs who gave quotes like the fella in the blockquote up there are long gone, so there's j…

Wait, really? General manager of the Angels, you say? Maybe there's a reunion coming! Wherever Saunders goes, though, he isn't going to be a big deal. He'll be a solid mid-to-bottom-rotation guy who will eat innings and keep a team from relying on something from the bowels of AAA. He isn't going to be overrated. He'll just be rated. And that's just about right.

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