Casey at the Bat | Endy Out, Step It Up Wlad...Or Else

Casey McLain@caseymclain34Senior Analyst IJune 21, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 29:  Wladimir Balentien #25 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Chicago White Sox during the game on April 29, 2009 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

When Endy Chavez and Yuniesky Betancourt collided in shallow left field, I had one reaction: “Endy’s career is over.”

Then, when he was rolling over on the grass holding his knee, I felt bad for prophesying the eventual end to his career. He’s a slap-hitting, speed-oriented outfielder, and serious knee injury is the equivalent to a motorcycle with a flat tire.

The injury is unfortunate, but it may ultimately lead to the Mariners having a more potent offense. Wladimir Balentien has significantly more power-potential than Chavez, and while he doesn’t have the range in left field that Chavez has, he’s far from a statue in the outfield.

Balentien hasn’t ever had a full-time opportunity this long as a major leaguer, but appears to be the heir apparent in left field.

He’s been assured the left field spot by Don Wakamatsu, but that may not be long lived.

If Balentien isn’t able to produce offensively, or becomes a defensive liability, the Mariners have a couple of potential replacements for him.

I’m a big believer in development via competition, and either way, Balentien or another player, this has potential to be a positive for the Mariners.

As part of the J.J. Putz trade, the Mariners acquired Mike Carp. There has been a groundswell of support to bring the overlooked first baseman to the big league club. He’s here now as a result of injuries and a rough streak of family issues for Mariners position players, but could be here to stay.

Though Carp has played 465 minor league games at first base, he’s also played 56 in left field. He isn’t an ideal option defensively, but if his bat makes up for his legs in the outfield, he could be on Balentien’s heels.

Carp is left-handed and walks a lot, which may make him a strong candidate to take over in left.

Like Carp, Michael Saunders is left-handed and walks. He’s one of the Mariners top prospects and hits for about as much power as Carp. He’s an outfielder by trade, so theoretically he’d be less of a liability than Carp.

The Mariners have shown reluctance to bring Saunders up, but his major league chances may improve greatly if Carp and Balentien struggle.

If Balentien, Carp, and Saunders aren’t options for whatever reason, the Mariners may look to trade for a left fielder, and could get creative at that point.

On Friday, I detailed some of the potential trade targets the Mariners may go after, using their surplus of left-handed starters as bait. The best player named was Carl Crawford. However, there are a few new, interesting names that could pop up on radars.

Lance Berkman hasn’t played outfield in two season, but at one time the hefty lefty played all three outfield positions. Injuries and weight issues have jettisoned him to first base, but in the right circumstance, he may patrol the outfield grass again.

Berkman is hitting .241/.378/.487 this year, and while those numbers aren’t among his most impressive, he’d have the second-highest OPS on the Mariners.

Astros owner Drayton McLane has become notorious for thinking that his team remains in contention for too long. The Astros could use help in their starting rotation, and may gladly trade Berkman for Jarrod Washburn and a middling prospect in order to relieve their budget.

The Twins have received inconsistent starts from most of their starting rotation all year. Francisco Liriano has struggled continuing his return from Tommy John surgery, and the rest of the youngsters, apart from Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey, have been inconsistent.

As much as it seems the team has tried to replace Michael Cuddyer, no matter where he’s played (six positions, not including DH). At one time he was the team’s full-time third baseman, and has played a ton of right field.

He’s hitting .275/.355/.509 this year with a .864 OPS. A guy who hits, walks, and can play all over the diamond would be an absolute coup, and give the Mariners a ton of flexibility going forward.

In Friday’s column, I mentioned Hideki Matsui, an aging Japanese slugger from the Yankees. But the Yankees may have another outfielder that the Mariners may be interested in.

Nick Swisher has never lived up to the billing he received in Moneyball, but he’d add much needed pop and plate discipline to the Mariners lineup. Despite his continued mediocre batting average, his .886 OPS would be second on the Mariners, in large part due to his 46 walks, which would lead the Mariners by a long shot.

I wish Endy Chavez a speedy recovery and hopefully a continued career. However, I’ve never been a proponent of his production, and actually think that his injury will help the Mariners offense.

Happy Father’s Day to my own dad, and all of the other Dads out there.