Keri: Blue Jays’ Michael Saunders has shot at four-year deal

MLB writer Jonah Keri discusses what he believes a declining Jose Bautista could get on the open market, and says Michael Saunders’ stock in free agency is more compelling and hard to predict.

Continued speculation about the futures of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista has overshadowed another prominent pending free agent.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports suggested earlier this month that Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders could be a more attractive option than Bautista on the open market, who has struggled defensively this season and is currently recovering from a toe injury on the disabled list.

In a guest appearance on The Jeff Blair Show on Friday, MLB analyst Jonah Keri of CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated offered his stance on Saunders’ potential to land a long-term deal in free agency.

“(Saunders) doesn’t turn 30 until November but, man, the injury bug year after year has been a problem,” Keri said on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “(But) in this (upcoming free agent) market where (outfielder) Josh Reddick is probably the cream of the crop, it could be a four-year deal (for Saunders). It could be a really big contract.”

Saunders has rebuilt his value quickly after missing the majority of last season with a knee injury. The Canadian outfielder is hitting .304/.381/.586 with 15 home runs and 32 RBI in 65 games. He ranks fourth among AL hitters in OPS and ranks among the league leaders in homers.

Keri agrees with Rosenthal’s suggestion that Bautista’s free agent value has taken a hit. In fact, landing a five-year deal was unrealistic for the Blue Jays slugger to begin with – even in a weak free agent class.

“My opinion hasn’t changed that much,” Keri said. “Even last year, he was a below-average fielder. He is a DH, so that’s No. 1. No. 2, he’s 36 so his bat speed will slow down. He’s never been a wonderful baserunner by any means.

“There was all this talk about a five-year contract but that was never going to happen. Bautista and his agent can play on the emotional side on Toronto and the organization all they want, but they need to win ball games. These are hard decisions”

Bautista is hitting .230/.360/.455 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI in 65 games this season.