Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders came into spring training thinking 2016 would be a redemption year.
No longer bothered by the knee injury that limited him to just nine games last season, the Canadian felt he had something to prove. After trade rumours circulated that the Blue Jays were close to shipping the Victoria native to the Los Angeles Angels, Saunders hasn't lost that vision.
If anything, it's intensified.
"The natural emotions of me coming here last year, going through what I went through, really wanting to be a Blue Jay and then hearing my name come up in rumours last night, I want to be here," Saunders said Tuesday after working out at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. "I want to be a Blue Jay. It was a dream of mine growing up to play in Toronto and I'm here now and I want to be here to stay."
Reports on Monday night indicated that Toronto would pick up Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce in a three-team deal with the Angels, but that the trade later fell through because of medical issues.
The initial speculation was that Saunders — who injured his left knee during last year's spring training when he stepped on a sprinkler head while shagging fly balls — was the problem. Reports later indicated that it was a minor-leaguer who had also been involved in the trade.
Saunders had successful surgery last year to repair the torn meniscus, but a nagging bone bruise sidelined him for the rest of the season.
"Physically it was a struggle with my knee, clearly, but more so I felt like I had more hurdles to climb mentally and emotionally," said Saunders, who added that his knee is now "fully healed."
"It was tough to be down in Florida for three or four months, watching the guys have the success they had and just wanting to be a part of that. I think I'll be better for it, for going through something like that."
Saunders didn't see the trade rumour on Twitter — he's not active on social media — but he did receive text messages from friends in B.C. asking him what was going on.
He replied: "they're just rumours."
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins and manager John Gibbons both spoke to Saunders ahead of Tuesday's workouts.
"That's the thing about trade rumours that are unfortunate — the first thing I think about is the players," Atkins said Tuesday morning. "I immediately communicated with him and said, 'Hey is everything OK? I'm here for you. Is there anything I can do for you?' And he was fine."
Gibbons said he wasn't concerned that Saunders would be distracted by the rumours.
"He'll move past that. He's a very mature guy, I don't think that will be a problem," he said. "Nothing happened, we'll move on. We're glad we have him."
Saunders said he appreciated the conversations with both Atkins and Gibbons. Now he's just focused on the upcoming season.
"Last year was tough for me. I kind of feel like this year is kind of a redemption year," Saunders said. "I was really excited to come here last year and show what I could do and do it with my hometown team. ... I was excited last year but I feel like a kid this year.
"There's a different feel with what I learned last year — not taking anything for granted, finally being 100 per cent. I'm really looking forward to this year."