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REGGIE SANDERS

The list of players in baseball history who have hit 300+ home runs and stolen 300+ bases is as follows:

          Barry Bonds
          Bobby Bonds
          Andre Dawson
          Steve Finley
          Willie Mays
          Alex Rodriguez
          Reggie Sanders

That’s the entire list.  It’s quite a group of players. We have a couple of Hall of Famers, a couple of might-be Hall of Famers (depending on how voters feel about steroids in the years to come), and then we have Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders.  Perhaps the strangest aspect of the list is that five of the seven played for the Giants at some point, and three for most of their careers.  But I’d like to focus on the very undervalued – and seemingly out of place – Reggie Sanders.

Sanders BravesI don’t want to throw a pity-party for Sanders.  He doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, so I won’t advocate for that, and he was paid over $40 million in his career.  Yet I do think he was highly underrated, and a player of his caliber shouldn’t have been passed around on cheap one-year contracts to eight different teams by the end of his very impressive career.  

Simply put, Sanders was very good. He has a career 41.8 WAR from Fangraphs (currently tied with Torii Hunter) and a 36.7 WAR from Baseball Reference (sandwiched between Dave Parker and Albert Belle).  He had a career wRC+ of 115 (Justin Upton’s is currently 116), and as evidenced by his membership in the 300/300 club, he had an uncommon combination of power and speed.   He got on base at a good clip, ran very well, and was well above average at fielding for almost his entire career.

When Sanders was 30, right in his prime and playing well, the Reds traded him to the Padres. He played one good year for the Padres before again being traded, this time to the Braves, where he did not play well.  Following such a rough season, the Braves did not re-sign him.  Most of these transactions can be explained away.  But then things got a bit weird.

Sanders DBacksThe Diamondbacks decided to give him a shot, and in the end got quite a steal when they gave Reggie Sanders a one year, $1.5M contract and got a stellar 3.3 WAR season in return.  Maybe they tried to bring him back, but they apparently didn’t try hard enough, as the Giants then signed him to a another one-year contract, this time for $1.75M.  He played just as well as he had the year before, and was part of the Giants team that made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series against the Angels. But then the Giants did not bring him back for a second year either.  The Pirates swept in and signed him to a one year, $1M contract (for reference, 2002 was the same year the Yankees bought Jason Giambi for seven years, $120M).  Sanders again played well, with a wRC+ of 132, leading the team in homers and RBI.  

This stellar season earned Sanders some measure of respect, and he was rewarded by signing a 2yr/$6M contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. He continued to outplay his contract, but then the Cardinals took their turn and let him go without re-signing.  Finally, the inevitable occurred, as the Kansas City Royals stepped in with their usual doubtful decision making, overpaying for Sanders at a point when the 38 year old had finally passed his prime.

Sanders CardsThere are some reasons not to get too high on Reggie Sanders.  He never had a truly great season, and he missed tons of games to injury.  He never played more than 140 games in a season, and from his first full season to his last, he missed an average of 45 games per year.  That makes the WAR total, a cumulative metric, all the more impressive.  He was very good when he played, and was well above average for 14 years.  Yet he went to only one All-Star game, and he never won a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger.  Perhaps most glaring was the fact that he was badly underpaid compared to what other players of his caliber were earning.

Reggie Sanders doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, but I really hope he’s remembered with more admiration than he received as a player.

Written by guest blogger Thomas Kay

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