The Orioles have signed outfielder Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal, per a club announcement Monday. The 31-year-old will report to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, who begin their season Friday.
Saunders was an All-Star after a spectacular first half for the Blue Jays in 2016, but he doesn’t really have an exceptional track record, having posted a .232/.305/.397 slash line over nine major-league seasons while averaging 17 homers per 162 games. His strong 2016 campaign was enough to earn him a deal worth a guaranteed $9 million from the Phillies last year, but he posted a .205/.257/.360 slash line over 214 plate appearances with Philadelphia and was designated for assignment by mid-June. He returned to the Blue Jays organization and spent some time in Triple-A before finishing the season back in the major leagues, hitting .167/.250/.167 over 20 September plate appearances with Toronto.
Saunders began this spring by signing a minor-league deal with the Pirates but was quickly released after Pittsburgh acquired Corey Dickerson to be its everyday left fielder. He then joined the Royals as a non-roster invitee on March 1 but encountered a somewhat similar set of circumstances, as Kansas City signed Jon Jay to be an everyday outfielder on March 6. He failed to crack the Royals’ Opening Day roster after hitting .275/.356/.350 with no homers in 45 Cactus League plate appearances and received his release on March 24.
It’s not exceptionally clear as to why Saunders rejected an assignment to Triple-A from the Royals; he arguably faces a bigger uphill climb to reach the major-league level with the Orioles than he would’ve with Kansas City, as Baltimore’s current big-league outfield options include Craig Gentry, Adam Jones, Trey Mancini, Colby Rasmus, and Anthony Santander, with Mark Trumbo on the DL and Austin Hays and Joey Rickard (both 40-man roster members) plus Alex Presley stashed at Triple-A.