Just when he was all but forgotten, it appears that Joe Saunders is - somehow, someway - going to be an Arizona Diamondback in 2012. The southpaw has reportedly agreed with the D-backs on a one-year contract after the team non-tendered him earlier in the off-season, having found the free agent market underwhelming despite posting 3.69 ERA in 212 innings for the D-backs in 2011. Yahoo!'s Steve Henson first reported the deal on Twitter, and ESPN's Jim Bowden seemed to confirm the signing on his Twitter account as well.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman is now reporting on Twitter that Saunders will earn $6MM in 2012, a $500,000 raise on the $5.5MM Arizona paid him in 2011, and a steep cut from the $8MM or so he could have earned through arbitration. Nick Piecoro has also confirmed these details on Twitter. I think the lesson to be learned by all is never to say never with D-backs GM Kevin Towers. Having said that, I'm going to guess - ill-advised though it may be - that this is the final piece added to the club on a major-league contract for the 2012 season, with every spot on the roster seemingly accounted for.
One of the major implications of the signing is that Arizona's 2012 payroll is now approaching $80MM, a level it hasn't been at since 2003, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts (now a part of Baseball Prospectus). According to Piecoro, the D-backs ownership - spearheaded by Ken Kendrick and Derrick Hall - approved an increase in team payroll over their previous plans in order to find room for Saunders. This marks the second time in three years that Kendrick and Hall have done so for a one-year veteran free agent signing, as D-backs fans may remember them previously approving an increase in payroll during the Josh Byrnes Era in order to make room for the signing of first baseman Adam LaRoche.
Barring an injury, Saunders should fill in the fifth slot in the Arizona rotation that will also feature Ian Kennedy at the top, Daniel Hudson in the #2 slot, Trevor Cahill at #3, and Josh Collmenter just ahead of Joe - as Piecoro points out, Collmenter did start Game 3 of the NLDS ahead of Joe, so it's reasonable to expect him ahead of Joe in next year's rotation. This also means that Arizona's pitching uber-prospects, Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs, are currently penciled in to head back to the minors for 2012, joining a plethora of depth that includes the likes of Wade Miley, Charles Brewer, Patrick Corbin, and Barry Enright.
With the rotation now full and two stud prospects in line to be the first called up from the farm in the event of a rotation hole, it be interesting to see how many of these prospects are considered as relief options as the 2012 season gets underway. Miley, in particular, has been labeled as a potential power lefty reliever before, and left-handed relief is very difficult to come by - Miley would certainly offer a quality third option behind Joe Paterson and Craig Breslow, and likely is a safer bet than Mike Zagurski or Jason Lane.
And, of course, a lovely helping of crow served up courtesy of April.