Saunders pleasantly surprised to return for '12

Saunders pleasantly surprised to return for '12

Saunders pleasantly surprised to return for '12
PHOENIX -- When the D-backs were unable to come to an agreement with Joe Saunders prior to the deadline for offering him arbitration, it appeared that the left-hander's career in Arizona was over.

"I was doubtful at first," Saunders said of a chance to return. "The D-backs maybe didn't want to go in a different direction, but they didn't have space in the budget for me at that number."

That number was the nearly $8.5 million that Saunders was projected to make through the arbitration process. It was more than the D-backs wanted to spend on him, and negotiations on a two-year deal broke down.

Following the decision not to offer him arbitration, the D-backs went out and acquired right-hander Trevor Cahill from the A's, which seemingly left no room for Saunders in the budget.

That changed last month, though, when the D-backs decided to stretch their payroll and bring Saunders back on a one-year, $6 million deal.

The move solidified the D-backs' rotation of Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Cahill, Saunders and Josh Collmenter, and it allows the organization to take a patient course with top pitching prospects like Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer.

For Saunders, who lives not far from the team's Spring Training complex, the benefit of returning was more personal.

"That's definitely very important for me, to be around my family as much as I can," said Saunders, who will be a free agent at season's end. "So it made sense."

Saunders was 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA in 33 starts last year, and once again threw over 200 innings. The ability to rack up innings is something he takes pride in.

And while the rotation took care of business on the field, they jelled off of it as well.

"I think the camaraderie we built last year was huge," Saunders said. "The starting pitchers got along really well, and we did a lot of stuff together both on and off the field. We'll introduce Mr. Cahill to all our idiosyncrasies this year and have a lot of fun. The team chemistry last year was amazing. It just felt like, regardless of who did what, it just seemed like someone always stepped up to pick someone up.

"Looking at paper this year it's tough to say we're not better than we were last year."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.