Seattle Mariners

Mariners trade Michael Saunders to Toronto for pitcher J.A. Happ

SEATTLE — Say goodbye to the Condor.

Outfielder Michael Saunders’ 11-year career with the Mariners came to a quiet end Wednesday in a trade that sent him to Toronto for veteran left-handed starter J.A. Happ.

“It was a deal we felt we had to do to acquire a veteran starting pitcher,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “It comes down to that. It’s pretty simple.”

The announcement came shortly after the Mariners confirmed their new deal with third baseman Kyle Seager for $100 million over seven years in a news conference at Safeco Field.

The Mariners also scheduled a news conference for Thursday morning presumably to announce the signing of free-agent Nelson Cruz to a four-year deal for $58 million.

In-between, there was the deal that dispatched Saunders, a left-handed hitter, to Toronto, where he is expected to be the Blue Jays’ starting left fielder after six often promising if inconsistent seasons with the Mariners.

In Happ, the Mariners acquired a 32-year-old lefty who bolsters their rotation, perhaps, to the point where they can now trade a pitcher in order to acquire the next item on their list: a right-handed-hitter outfielder.

“We’re engaging in a lot of discussions,” Zduriencik admitted. “We have some ideas and some thoughts on some things that could happen. Where they end up, you don’t know. We do have interesting dialogue going on.”

Happ was 11-11 with a 4.22 ERA last season for the Blue Jays in 30 games, including 26 starts. He is 51-53 with a 4.24 ERA over eight seasons with Philadelphia, Houston and Toronto.

The switch to Safeco Field provides him, for the first time in his career, with a home ballpark that isn’t considered a hitters’ paradise.

“That’s what they say,” Happ agreed. “I’m hoping that’s the case for sure, definitely. I feel I’ve been pitching in some (difficult) parks to pitch in at times. I definitely welcome this change. I think it will be good.”

Happ is signed for next season at $6.7 million after the Blue Jays exercised a club option in his contract. Barring an extension, he will then become a free agent.

After missing much of 2012 and 2013 because of major injuries, Happ opened last season on the disabled list because of a sore back. He made three relief appearances after returning in mid-April before rejoining the rotation.

Happ then labored through an inconsistent first half before compiling a 3.56 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break.

“I think it was getting into a routine,” he said. “At first, I missed two weeks, and then I came back in the bullpen for a week or two. Then, (I was) just trying to get back in that routine.

“I’m a big routine guy. Get my work in in-between and just stay on schedule. I think it was just the fact I was able to get in that routine.”

Saunders, 28, batted a career-high .273 last season but battled a series of injuries that limited him to 78 games. He was the club’s 11th-round pick in 2004.

Zduriencik dismissed any suggestion the trade stemmed from any friction between Saunders and the organization.

“I just think we were in a position where we needed to add a starting pitcher,” Zduriencik said. “We ended up, because of this trade, satisfied (this was) exactly what we were looking for.

Saunders reached the big leagues in 2009 and batted .231 with a .301 on-base percentage and a .384 slugging percentage in 553 games over six big-league seasons.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com

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