Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 1/18/12

After an offseason of three-year contract demands and reported interest from every team in need of a pitcher, Joe Saunders wound up re-signing with the Diamondbacks yesterday, taking a one-year contract worth $6 million. He’ll presumably step into the rotation alongside Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill, and Josh Collmenter while Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, and others bide their time in the minors. The contract itself is appropriate for Saunders — 116 FIP- in 97 starts and 601.1 IP over the last three years — from the team’s perspective, but the player ended up making a pretty egregious error.

After pitching to a 3.69 ERA and 4.78 FIP in 212 innings for the Diamondbacks last year, Saunders was poised to earn approximately $8.7 million his third time and final time through arbitration according to projections by our own Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors. That salary was a dealbreaker for the D’Backs, though they had interest in retaining the southpaw at a more reasonable price. Here’s Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic with the details…

They didn’t want to pay Saunders what he’d make in arbitration – around $8.5 million — but they were willing to bring him back on a multiyear deal. On the first day of the [winter meetings], the Diamondbacks made an offer: two years, $12 million.

Saunders’ camp saw it as too low. They countered: three years, $27 million.

“The Diamondbacks never countered back,” Saunders said. “The tender deadline was approaching and we pretty much asked them to counter with something back, give us something else we can think about, really, and they wouldn’t do it.”

“I was projected to make between $8.5 million and $9 million, so we took that and then figured that the next two are my free agent years and put them at $9 million,” Saunders said. “I thought $27 (million) was reasonable.”

It’s worth noting that everything Piecoro explained happened prior to the Cahill trade, so the team’s rotation picture hadn’t come into focus just yet. Perhaps if they’d made the trade sooner, the two-year offer would have never been made.

Anyway, Saunders goes on to explain that he later informed the team that a two-year deal would work, but by then the offer was off the table and Arizona was set to cut him loose. Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this month that the left-hander had received multi-year offers on the open market, and that the three-year deal he coveted was still possible. Saunders passed on those offers, and is now back with the D’Backs for half the contract they originally offered to him. If that’s not bad enough, Buster Olney said yesterday (Insider req’d) that Arizona re-signed only after thinking they had a deal in place with Bartolo Colon before he signed with the Athletics.

Now it’s easy to sit here and say that Saunders and his representatives at Legacy Sports Group either overestimated his value or completely misread the market, but that’s not entirely the case. GM Kevin Towers told Piecoro yesterday that the lefty had offers in the two-year, $12 million range on the open market, but they were from clubs on the East Coast. Saunders grew up in Virginia but now makes his home out west, so he took what amounts to a hometown discount to remain in Arizona. “This is where his home is, where wants to be,” said the GM.

It’s a good life when a guaranteed $6 million can be considered a mistake, but Saunders had a chance to lock himself into a payday twice that size from the very team he ended up rejoining. The second and third tier free agent pitching options have had a rough winter because so many of the clubs in need of pitching went big by trading for young, cost-controlled arms (Reds, Yankees, Nationals, and even the D’Backs). Saunders is a useful player but not a difference maker, and he hung himself out to dry a bit by not jumping on those two guaranteed years when offered, a mistake Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, and Bruce Chen didn’t make.

Click here to submit your Fan Projection for Saunders.

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