Phillies History: Michael Saunders Was Almost Part of the Cliff Lee Trade

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Jul 17, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Michael Saunders (21) catches the ball for the final out against the Oakland Athletics during the ninth inning at O.co Coliseum. The Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Oakland Athletics 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 17, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Michael Saunders (21) catches the ball for the final out against the Oakland Athletics during the ninth inning at O.co Coliseum. The Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Oakland Athletics 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Phillies signed Michael Saunders to a one-year deal this offseason, but the outfielder nearly came to Philadelphia much sooner.

Former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr made both one of the best and worst trades of his tenure in December of 2009. On the same day that he acquired Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays, he sent Philadelphia’s current ace in Cliff Lee to Seattle to save money and recoup some of the prospect talent lost.

One of those prospects who could have been coming to Philly was then-23-year old outfielder Michael Saunders. He made his major-league debut with the Mariners that year, struggling in his first stint in the majors. In 129 plate appearances, he racked up 40 strikeouts while posting a measly .537 OPS. Even after that struggling start, Saunders was still ranked as Seattle’s second-best prospect later that winter.

Saunders recounted the events of that day to Ryan Lawrence of Philly Voice. He had just bought a new home in Denver and didn’t even have his cable hooked up yet. People started calling him, telling him that he was headed to Philly in the Lee trade:

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"“They said I was on the Sportscenter tracker in the trade where we were getting Cliff Lee in that three-way deal,” Saunders recalled in a phone interview with PhillyVoice on Wednesday afternoon. “So I called my agent and he had to do a little bit of digging, he made some calls, called me back and he said, ‘You know what, it’s time to to start packing your bags.’”"

Minutes later, Saunder’s agent called him back, telling him that he was staying with the Mariners.

Saunders told Lawrence, “I was a last-minute subtraction from the deal. In my eyes, I was going to Philadelphia. But it ended up not happening. And here I am seven years later putting on the red pinstripes, so I’m excited.”

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Lawrence went on to say that Saunders would have been the top prospect in the deal. Saunders and J.C. Ramirez are the only players involved in the trade that are still playing. Lee, Philipe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies have all since moved on.

It likely was better for Saunders’s career that he stayed in Philadelphia as opposed to coming to Philadelphia. He would have sat on the bench behind Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez. Philly’s then-top prospect Domonic Brown would also be nipping at Saunders’s heels.

Saunders struggled in his first few major-league seasons, but he’s turned it around since 2012. Since then, he has a .249/.325/.435 line with 63 home runs, 24 of which came last season. He became an All-Star last year after posting a .923 OPS and hitting 16 home runs in the first half of the season.

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Now Saunders is in Philadelphia for real this time, and the 30-year old intends to make the most of his time here.

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