Casey at the Bat | M's Deadline Dilemma Part 4: Another Bavasi Fall Guy

Casey McLainSenior Analyst IJuly 26, 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)

Wladimir Balentien has been designated for assignment (DFA), and the Mariners have decided that they’ll allow Michael Saunders learn to hit at the big league level at the expense of their once-promising prospect in Balentien.

And the while the Mariners blogosphere rejoiced, I’m more skeptical.

Balentien was unfairly given the pressure of being the “remaining hope,” as the team traded Adam Jones to Baltimore in exchange for Erik Bedard. The former teammates were considered good hitting prospects, though Jones possessed better defensive potential and a full set of potential tools he’s presently displaying at an All Star caliber in Baltimore.

In DFAing Balentien, the Mariners have imposed a 10 day deadline to trade the outfielder. They were probably dead-set on trading him, and it won’t be an issue, as the MLB trade deadline is five days away.

But I think they DFAed the wrong guy.

When Endy Chavez went down with an injury, Wladimir Balentien was anointed the every day starter. I wrote a column stating that it was time for Balentien to realize his potential, or leave. Little did I know that he’d be given six games to do that.

Balentien is something of a defensive liability, and would have to prove his worth with his bat, in all likelihood.

In the six games that Balentien started after Chavez’s injury he went 6-23 with two home runs and a walk. That’s good for a .261/.292/.522 clip. The small sample size, though damaging to the credibility of the numbers, was not Balentien’s fault.

Two days after Balentien’s final game as the team’s “every day starter,” the team traded for Ryan Langerhans.

Langerhans has been generally productive, though a recent slump may indicate why he was relegated to the minors in Washington, but Langerhans is ultimately not the player who pushed Balentien out the door.

The team has just regained the need for a fifth starter, as off days and the All Star break allowed them to pitch four starters on full rest since the break. The Mariners DFAed Roy Corcoran, a mediocre bullpen arm to make room for Ryan Rowland-Smith.

But neither Rowland-Smith nor Roy Corcoran is to blame either.

The Mariners called up Michael Saunders, their top big-league ready prospect to the bigs, but Saunders isn’t to blame for Balentien’s departure either.

Rather the team let Balentien go in exchange for an older hitter in the middle of a massive regression. A hitter who will fill in for the team’s best power hitter this season, Russell Branyan, and Ken Griffey Jr. when the duo sits against lefties.

The Mariners recently brought Chris Shelton to the big leagues. Like Balentien, Shelton’s career splits defy conventional wisdom, a right-handed hitter who hits better against right-handed pitching during his career than he does against lefties.

The Mariners seem prepared to allow Branyan to take nearly all of the at bats at first base, regardless of the handedness of the pitcher the Mariners are facing, at least for as long as he’s a Mariner.

The problem is that Griffey has also done his job to defy conventional wisdom. He’s hit .241/.369/.630 against lefties, including six of his 10 home runs, compared to just .203/.315/.310 against righties, all in just over a quarter the amount of plate appearances.

And while Shelton’s career .255/.348/.389 line against lefties are only eclipsed by Russell Branyan’s career lefty split numbers in slugging, this year Branyan’s been far better against lefties than Shelton’s .184/.273/.245 2008 splits against lefties in 57 plate appearances for the Rangers last season.

And besides, don't they already have that guy in Mike Sweeney?

This move smacks of house cleaning. It smacks of remodeling. And while those are typically positive terms when spoken about a team coming off a last place, 100-loss season, this isn’t simply vacuuming, dusting, and updating a few outdated appliances.

This is like organizational genocide, singling out every prospect once-touted by former Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi, and eliminating them. But contrary to local belief, Bavasi was not Fidel Castro, just bad at his job.

Is youth occasionally overvalued? Sure.

Is potential occasionally damning? Probably.

Is pride occasionally overwhelming? Absolutely.

I’ve been a very vocal proponent of Jack Zduriencik in his brief time in Seattle. A few weeks ago, I essentially devoted my undying trust in the Mariners general manager. But in this case, I think Z was dead wrong.

I’ve been a quiet proponent for the Mariners conceding defeat in 2009. They weren’t supposed to be good, and the team would be doing the fans a disservice by making a play for instant, minimal gratification.

A first round playoff exit isn’t worth as much as the prospects that could be gained by ditching a few extra parts.

But I don’t think that the white flag should have been waived with a 25-year-old power-hitter with potential as the proverbial emblem.

Maybe Balentien will net Ian Snell, or join the rest of his “Mariners Lite” teammates in
Kansas City or Cleveland.

But maybe, somewhere, Ramon Santiago’s distant relative is crouched, prepared to impart his non-contributions on the Mariners as the team has cut any leverage they had out from under themselves.

Balentien is the unfortunate product of Bavasi’s prospect mismanagement. He wasn’t a big-league-caliber hitter when he was originally called up, and struggled to adjust to major league breaking balls.

If that doesn’t sound like what the team did to Michael Saunders simultaneous to Balentien’s designation, regardless of results, then I don’t know what does.

Ultimately, Balentien isn’t a part of the team’s future plans, but pushing him out by way of Chris Shelton is a lateral move at best, and potentially a downgrade.