The Toronto Blue Jays have some uncertainty surrounding the make-up of their roster, but one area that won’t cause much concern is the potential productivity of their offence.
The club brought back the majority of its offensive starters from last season. However, there is one notable difference as Ben Revere, last year’s everyday left fielder after the trade deadline, was shipped to the Washington Nationals in a deal earlier this year for reliever Drew Storen.
The trade cleared the path for veteran outfielder Michael Saunders to take over on an everyday basis, a notable development considering the 29-year-old Victoria B.C., native appeared in only nine games for the Blue Jays in 2015 after suffering a significant knee injury while tripping on a sprinkler early in spring training last February.
Saunders, who has dealt with various injuries throughout his MLB career, admitted it was tough on him mentally to watch the Blue Jays’ success throughout the year while he was rehabbing, but is certain his knee is fully recovered entering the 2016 campaign.
“Yeah it feels great,” Saunders told Joey Vendetta on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Friday afternoon. “I feel like a kid again and I’m really excited to have no symptoms with my knee. I’m really excited for this upcoming year.”
“I couldn’t be happier with where my knee is at today.”
Saunders, who hit .194/.306/.194 with three RBI, five walks, and 10 strikeouts in 36 plate appearances in limited action last season, is uncertain where the team plans to utilize him in the batting order if he beats out Dalton Pompey in spring training for the left field job. And if manager John Gibbons wants to use him in a leadoff role, it will not impact his mindset.
“No matter where I’m playing, I’m just happy to be playing,” Saunders said. “This lineup, one through nine, it’s dangerous. There’s not much of a hole in this lineup. No matter where I hit, my approach will stay the same.
“Ultimately, ‘leadoff guys’ (only) lead off the game once. You’re just there to hit. Basically, you think you’ll get more fastballs hitting lead-off, but once you’re in the league long enough, they get the book on you.”
Otherwise, Saunders is optimistic about the Blue Jays’ outlook entering the season and believes the front office improved the roster over the off-season.
“To be honest, I think it might be a better (pitching) staff than we had last year,” he said. “With offence we have, you just need to keep us in a game….(J.A.) Happ made some adjustments and had a great second half last year. We re-signed (Marco) Estrada. He had an incredible season. If he can do anything close to that, it’ll be fantastic. We got (Marcus) Stroman for a full year and we know what (R.A.) Dickey is. The fifth spot is up for grabs and we got some great arms for that. We’re looking at five-to-six runs a game on average and our back-end of our bullpen got stronger with Storen. It’ll be a pleasant surprise for Blue Jays fans.”
Saunders, who now lives in Colorado throughout the off-season, grew up a big fan of the Blue Jays and said he was blown away with how much buzz there was last season in his hometown.
“I was born in Victoria, the complete other side of the country. My buddies told me that you wouldn’t believe how many Blue Jays hats there were (last year) and it was the talk of the city. It’s Canada’s team. You can really feel the excitement. We’re building off that. As fans, they must be so excited.”