TORONTO -- Michael Saunders went from being nearly traded to becoming one of the most consistent performers in the Blue Jays' lineup. Now he has a chance to make an All-Star team for the first time in his career.• Cast your Esurance Final Vote for SaundersSaunders was rewarded for his
TORONTO -- Michael Saunders went from being nearly traded to becoming one of the most consistent performers in the Blue Jays' lineup. Now he has a chance to make an All-Star team for the first time in his career.
• Cast your Esurance Final Vote for Saunders
Saunders was rewarded for his strong first half by being named as one of five candidates in the American League's Final Vote. Fans will have a chance to vote either Saunders, Detroit's Ian Kinsler, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, Boston's Dustin Pedroia, or Houston's George Springer into this year's All-Star Game presented by MasterCard in San Diego on July 12.
• Donaldson, EE, Estrada tabbed as All-Stars
The 29-year-old Saunders might not have received a lot of attention outside of Canada this year, but he has been one of the top offensive performers in the league. Among AL outfielders, Saunders ranked second in extra-base hits (40) and third in OPS (.910) entering Tuesday.
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"It's a huge honor," Saunders said. "It's a dream going up, you get to watch the All-Star Game on TV and it crosses your mind at some point how cool it would be to be able to play in that game and represent the American League.
"I think we found out last year that the Blue Jays aren't just Toronto's team, they're Canada's team. Representing Canada would be a huge honor for me to play in the All-Star Game."
Saunders was nearly traded away this spring in a deal that would have seen the Blue Jays acquire fellow outfielder Jay Bruce. The deal fell apart at the last minute and that turned out to be a good thing for Toronto, which has Saunders on a bargain deal at $2.9 million.
Earlier this year, Saunders became the fourth Canadian player in Major League history to hit three home runs in a game. He joined Larry Walker, Joey Votto and Justin Morneau, and now he also has a shot to join them on the list of MLB All-Stars.
Saunders is four home runs shy of his previous career high of 19, which he had during the 2012 season for the Mariners. After missing almost all of last season following knee surgery and the ensuing deep bone bruise, Saunders has not just come all the way back but he has looked better this year than ever before.
"I knew that I would be healthy and strong coming into this year," Saunders said. "I've told everyone in this room that it was kind of a redemption year for me. Playing for the Blue Jays was a dream of mine growing up. Missing all of last year was really hard on me, more mentally and emotionally than it was physically. I really wanted to not only prove to myself, but to the organization and the fan base why they traded for me in the first place."
Fans can vote for the 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote until 4 p.m. ET on Friday. The winners, as chosen exclusively by online fan voting totals, will be announced during a Final Vote-themed telecast of "MLB Now" featuring commentary from political analyst Jeff Greenfield, live on MLB Network and MLB.com from 4-5 p.m. ET. MLB Network will provide extensive coverage across all of its studio programming during the Final Vote, including interviews with the candidates, frequent updates, heat maps indicating the cities where votes are being cast for each candidate, news on player and club campaigns and a running countdown clock leading up to the announcement.
Baseball fans have cast nearly 600 million online votes for Final Vote candidates since the program's inception in 2002. In addition to MLB.com and the official club websites, fans can use their mobile devices to cast votes at MLB.com/vote or via text message. To receive the ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. To vote for a specific player, fans can text their choice to 89269. EXAMPLE: Text "A3" to vote for AL Player 3 or "N3" to vote for NL Player 3. Message and data rates may apply. Text "STOP" to end and "HELP" for information. Mobile voting in Canada also is available and fans should text their choices to 101010.
For the fifth consecutive year, the Final Vote will include social balloting, as Twitter support for the 10 candidates over the last six hours of balloting will count toward their vote totals. From 10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET on Friday, any tweet that includes a designated player hashtag will be tabulated as part of the official vote total used to determine the winners.
On Tuesday, July 12, watch the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2016 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 87th All-Star Game, in San Diego, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Toronto has created a #VoteCaptainCanada campaign on social media to help get Saunders voted into the game.
"I'm not in the All-Star Game right now, but it's still an honor to be a part of the Final Five Vote," Saunders said. "As far as the campaign, I know that the Blue Jays will get behind me and show support, not just because I'm Canadian but ... they take great care of the players in that locker room. I know the Blue Jays will be behind me and hopefully I'll get the support of the rest of Canada."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.