It's usually weird when you hear that a once highly-touted 25 year old has been designated for assignment. But don't be alarmed. The M's aren't cutting Wlad outright; they're just preparing to trade him sometime in the next several days, which is something they were already going to do anyway. There was no way Wlad was surviving the deadline as a Mariner. No way. It's been clear for a while that he doesn't have a place here, and we've heard his name linked to guys like Josh Willingham and Ian Snell. This move simply confirms what we already knew was going to happen.
Some people will complain that Wladimir Balentien has been treated unfairly, but (A) he has a .619 OPS over 434 career PA's, and (B) he hasn't. The latter is more important. Fans always fall all over themselves demanding more playing time for young players, but young players are not created equal. They have certain skillsets, and realistically it doesn't take that long to evaluate whether or not a guy is worth keeping around for the long haul. The Mariners have clearly taken a long look at Wlad and decided that, no, he's not. He hasn't shown a good eye, he hasn't shown an ability to make contact, he hasn't played great defense, and his power hasn't shown up often enough. What's there to be excited about? Even if he were to blossom into, say, a .250/.320/.460 bat, that wouldn't make him a special piece, and being that he's out of options, the M's have chosen to cut ties and move on. They could certainly end up looking bad if Wlad turns into Carlos Lee, but you have to think that the odds are in their favor on this one. This is a front office that specializes in player evaluation, and their evaluation of Wlad has not been positive. Who can blame them?
And so he'll go away in a trade that brings back another piece of more use to this organization. Remember, just because the M's are fed up doesn't mean there aren't any other teams who'd be willing to give Wlad an opportunity. He's still a 25 year old with a lot of power potential. He's both young and in possession of an overrated skillset, and that'll be enough to pique someone's interest. We'll just have to wait and see whose, and what we'll get back.
As for Michael Saunders, it's been made very clear that he's here to start. I guess this goes in the books as the first 2009 move in which the M's are looking more towards the future than the present. Not that Saunders couldn't be an upgrade over Ryan Langerhans right now, but given the overall picture, that's unlikely; it's a slight downgrade in the immediate that lets the team get a good look at a solid young player while allowing Saunders to get his feet wet. Everyone in the Mariner clubhouse thinks they're still in this. Technically, they are still in this. And this is a front office and a coaching staff that highly value the sort of experience a young guy can get playing in the Majors in a pressure situation. It's why Wakamatsu wanted Morrow to develop as a starter with Seattle instead of Tacoma. You can work on your ability in the minors, but struggling and succeeding in the bigs tells you a lot about a guy's character, and that's one of the last things the team needs to evaluate on Saunders. They know he can hit. They know he'll be able to field. Now they just need to know if he can handle the big leap, and there's only one way for them to find out.
I'm excited. I like Ryan Langerhans, and I'm thrilled to have him around, but I've made no secret of my affection for Saunders, and I can't wait to find out what he can bring to the table. This is a 22 year old average to above-average defender who's come back from injury to hit .310/.378/.544 in AAA. He's a lefty, he can hit for power, he can draw a walk, and his ability to make contact has improved significantly from where it was a year ago. There's very little superstar upside, and Saunders isn't going to get any awards or honors named after him, but 6+ years of Randy Winn-level production for cheap has a lot of value, and this weekend he'll get to begin what should be a long and underrated Major League career. That's awesome, and I wish him all the luck in the world.
This is the first of what could be a series of interesting days for the Mariners. One prospect is gone, one prospect has arrived, and we may be on the verge of landing a long-term shortstop. While it sucks that we should probably go ahead and wave goodbye to the 2009 pennant race, the fun isn't over. No; the fun is just beginning.