Saunders, 31, will report to Triple-A Norfolk. He can earn $1.5 million guaranteed if he reaches the majors.
The Orioles negotiated with Saunders’ agent at the 2016 Winter Meetings and kept him on their board this spring while searching for another left-handed hitting outfielder. They already traded for Jaycob Brugman and later signed Colby Rasmus and Alex Presley to minor league deals.
Rasmus broke camp with the team and likely will be in right field tonight against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Presley couldn’t find a better offer late in camp, didn’t exercise his opt-out clause and was reassigned. Brugman was outrighted after clearing waivers.
Saunders made the 2016 American League All-Star team with the Blue Jays and batted .253/.338/.478 with a career-high 32 doubles and 24 home runs in 140 games. But he hit a combined .202/.256/.344 last year in 73 games with the Phillies and Blue Jays and was released twice this year.
The Pirates granted Saunders’ request for a release on Feb. 23 after they signed outfielder Corey Dickerson and the Royals let him go on March 24.
The Orioles’ interest in Saunders extends to his career slash line of .310/.379/.750 (26-for-84) with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs in 23 games at Camden Yards. I’ll provide the usual reminder that the numbers came against Orioles pitching and should be taken with a grain of salt, but nonetheless, he clearly likes to hit in the ballpark.
Saunders leads all active players with a 1.129 OPS at Camden Yards (minimum 20 games).
“Michael Saunders is a proven hitter who plays the outfield and can fill in at first base and designated hitter,” executive vice president Dan Duquette wrote in a text message. “His hitting record at Camden Yards is also interesting.”
Saunders, a career .232/.305./397 hitter in nine major league seasons with the Mariners, Blue Jays and Phillies, plays all three outfield positions. He hasn’t been used at first base in the majors or minors, but the Orioles obviously see it as a possibility.