The Orioles had their focus on Joe Saunders since he was on the free-agent market this offseason, and the club had been discussing the possibility of acquiring the left-hander in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the past few weeks. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette — always eager to add pitching depth — coveted Saunders’ experience and the prospect of him helping the Orioles against some of the American League’s lefty-laden lineups.
On Sunday, the Orioles acquired the 31-year-old Saunders, along with cash considerations, for right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom and a player to be named after the season. Right-hander Jake Arrieta was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to fill Lindstrom’s bullpen role.
The acquisition of Saunders adds a veteran left-handed arm and bolsters the Orioles’ pitching depth. The club will place Saunders in their starting rotation — but could also use him out of the bullpen — as right-hander Jason Hammel, who had emerged as the team’s ace, continues to recover from right-knee surgery.
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“We’ve liked Joe Saunders for quite a while,” Duquette said. “We’ve had some discussions. He’s a local kid. He’s pitched in the American League. He’s pitched in the playoffs. He’s pitched in a tough ballpark in Arizona. And we just like his experience. I think complements our starting rotation which has three rookies.
“I just think the left-handed addition to our starting rotation and the capability to get more innings at a high level was better for the team at this stage of the season.”
The move also marks Duquette’s continuing effort to improve the club’s roster for the playoff push with 36 games left.
“I like our ballclub’s chances,” Duquette said. “There’s an old saying that if you’re going in the right direction, keep walking. So the addition of Joe Saunders gives us a good chance to keep walking in the right direction. I think it gives us better balance against the left-handed lineups we are going to be facing.”
Speaking with reporters in Arizona on Sunday morning, Saunders — who grew up as an Orioles fan in nearby Springfield, Va., and attended Virginia Tech — said he was looking forward to joining his new team.
“I was excited to get traded to a contending team,” Saunders said. “They’re in the hunt right now so it’s going to be exciting. My family is from there so it’s going to be a trip home for me.”
Even though he said he doesn’t know Orioles manager Buck Showalter, Saunders called him “a smart manager.” Saunders does, however, have some Orioles connections. Saunders played with Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds in Arizona and worked out in the offseason with shortstop J.J. Hardy.
The 31-year-old Saunders was 6-10 with a 4.22 ERA for the Diamondbacks this season. He is 75-62 with a 4.17 ERA over eight major league seasons. Saunders was an all-star in 2008, winning a career-high 17 games for the Angels. He also won 16 games for the Angels in 2009.
Saunders has held left-handed batters to a .207 batting average this season and a .245 mark for his career. But he allowed at least 25 homers in each of the past four seasons and has allowed 17 in 130 innings this season.
Saunders will likely make his Orioles debut either Wednesday or Thursday against the Chicago White Sox.
“He will start for us at some point when we talk to him and figure where it best fits for him and us,” Showalter said. “We’ll see. This came together pretty quickly. There’s a lot of competition. There were a lot of clubs interested in him.”
Lindstrom, acquired in February along with Hammel in the trade that sent Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies, was 1-0 with a 2.72 ERA in 34 relief appearances.
“Yeah, [I’m] surprised but also kind of excited,” Lindstrom said Sunday. “A little bittersweet because the team here is doing so well and I really enjoyed being around my teammates, the guys in the clubhouse. I enjoyed competing with them but I’m looking forward to moving on to the next chapter in my career.”
Lindstrom served as one of several right-handed late-inning relief arms, but landed on the disabled list for roughly six weeks with a torn tendon in his right middle finger. He had recorded 10 straight scoreless outings before allowing two earned runs Friday. He had become expendable because of the number of right-handers in the Orioles’ bullpen.
“Matt did a good job for us here,” Showalter said. “It was a tough conversation. I feel good that he’s going to a place that’s kind of in the same situation as we’re in. ... He should feel real good that he was coveted enough to give us something that we feel helps us with the depth we need to compete.”
Saunders, who was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks this offseason, became a free agent and resigned with Arizona for a one-year, $6 million deal, is a free agent at the end of the season.
“And who knows?” Duquette said. “Joe Saunders is a local kid. Maybe he’s with us beyond this year. That’s something we can certainly take a look at. But this is something that strengthens us now.”
The player that the Orioles will send to the Diamondbacks won’t be decided until the end of the season and is expected to be a low-level minor leaguer.