Former Virginia Tech pitcher Joe Saunders officially signed with the Seattle Mariners yesterday on a one-year major league deal worth $6.5 million. According to an MLB.com article, the holdup for Saunders officially signing with the Mariners was passing his physical, which he did yesterday, despite the deal being reported over the weekend. Saunders' contract will also include an option for 2014, which the site lists as a mutual option (meaning the team and Saunders would both have to agree for him to return). The Mariners also designated first baseman/outfielder Mike Carp for assignment to clear room for Saunders on the 40-man roster.
Saunders, the former 12th overall pick in 2002, had been narrowing down his choices of free agent landing spots after a whirlwind of rumors involving the Mets, Orioles, Padres, Pirates and Twins (who apparently offered Saunders a one-year contract as well). Saunders split duty between the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he had pitched since being traded there by the Angels in 2010, and the Baltimore Orioles, posting a 9-13 record and a 4.07 ERA. He pitched much better in Baltimore though, posting a 3-3 record and a 3.63 ERA in seven starts with the Orioles, and was big in the postseason for the Birds as well, going 1-0 in his two starts and allowing only 2 runs in 11 and 1/3 innings, good for an ERA of 1.59.
Saunders, a Springfield, Va. native and lifelong Orioles fan, made it clear he wanted to stay in Baltimore, but the Orioles for whatever reason, despite expressing interest publicly, failed to make him an offer. It appears that the Baltimore front office did not want to dedicate that amount of money to Saunders. They were not big spenders this offseason, as their only two major league contracts this were for a combined total of $3.5 million.
Saunders is a career 78-65 pitcher, sporting a 4.15 career ERA. In 2008 he was an All-Star, going 17-7 with a 3.41 ERA with the Angels.
The signing makes perfect sense for the Mariners who just traded starter Jason Vargas to the Angels for first baseman Kendrys Morales. It also makes sense for Seattle because Saunders owns a 6-0 record and 2.13 ERA in nine starts at Safeco Field from his time with the Angels.
While it may not give him a chance to pitch for his boyhood team or even a competitive one, the dollar value of Saunders' contract as well as the flexibility of it, and the ability to be as high as the No. 2 starter in the Mariners rotation would tend to indicate that this is a good deal for the only Hokie currently playing in the major leagues. Though he's held that distinction for some time now, chances are that won't be the case for too much longer, as several former Hokies are making their way up the minor league systems.
For everything Virginia Tech sports, including Hokie baseball coverage, make sure to keep coming back to Gobbler Country.