I think we established that healthy Michael Saunders is the superior player to J.A. Happ.
In the end it depends on that word “healthy.”
Because for all the shiny progress in his “rate” stats (increased power while also bringing his line-drive rate up above average), Saunders’ “counting” stats have declined each of the last two years as various injuries (and Lloyd McClendon’s doghouse) have kept him out of the lineup.
And then, at the end of the season, the frustration of the brass with Saunders bubbled over into the public domain.
Jack Zduriencik called out Saunders as a guy who didn’t seem prepared to play 162 games and then repeated basically the same comment on the radio.
Not an accident there. Guys at Z’s level don’t usually let themselves just blurt stuff out — multiple times! — when it comes to players with millions of dollars on the line.
So maybe he thought he would “light a fire” (the “tough love” that maybe is finally working with Jesus Montero) … but instead Saunders’ agent snapped back at Z on Saunders’ behalf, and soon it was pretty clear that the long-term relationship was doomed.
At that point, Zduriencik was dealing with a two-fold “discount rate.”
1) They weren’t confident (justified or not) that Saunders could stay in the lineup; and
2) They weren’t sure they could repair the relationship (since McClendon never seemed to appreciate Saunders all that much to begin with).
So Z has an asset, but he knows he might only get 75 cents on the dollar. If he keeps him. Or if he trades him.
And that’s what I think was the key to Zduriencik’s thinking: he viewed Saunders and de-valued either way.
So he cut bait.
There are some who look at Happ’s second half and see untapped potential. I don’t really see it myself. His K-rate was pretty close to his career norm, and while his walk rate went down, his HR-rate and ISO-against went up.
In fact, the charts from Brooks Baseball indicate that he wasn’t throwing more strikes, but he was getting hit harder when he did throw strikes.
If that’s the tradeoff, then I’m not sure it’s a good move.
In other words, Happ still looks like an average-solid mid-rotation guy who will eat innings and give you pretty much what you’d expect.
And I do see why Zduriencik saw the value in that.
If Z saw a bunch of untapped potential, well then it’s from scouting, because I don’t see it in the stats.