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The Promotion Conundrum

Don't forget to sign up for the LL/USSM events in Tacoma/Everett in early August.

If you've been hanging around these parts for any length of time, you've heard a lot of talk about Adam Jones. The soon-to-be 22 year old is having a breakthrough season in AAA Tacoma, and plenty of people - myself included - want to see him called up to Seattle for an everyday job in the outfield.

Here's the issue, though. There's another guy down there, too, a 23 year old outfielder who's basically doing the exact same thing but not getting nearly as much attention. A comparison:

Jones: .319/.390/.596 (righty, no platoon split)
Balentien: .322/.395/.579 (righty, no platoon split)

There's essentially no difference at all between those two lines, so why prefer one guy over the other? Seems like they'd both represent an improvement over what we're running out there now.

I actually think Balentien is the better hitter, at least in the short-term. The gap's not huge, but it's there. For one thing, he has the edge in raw power - Wlad's among the strongest hitters in minor league baseball. For another, he's had more success than Jones against better competition (numbers in April and in the 8th/9th innings, when the opposition has more talented arms on the mound). And finally, where Jones strikes out three times for every walk, Wlad's ratio is under two. These are all distinct advantages that make Balentien a little more likely to have immediate success than his younger teammate.

Offense is only part of the equation, though, and where the difference there is small, the difference in the field is much larger. Adam Jones, by all accounts, has quickly made substantial strides since becoming an outfielder to the point where he's currently a clear asset with the glove. Balentien, on the other hand, is your prototypical slugging corner guy who moves around just enough to keep the coaches off his back. He's got a strong arm, but so does Jones, being a former pitcher and all, so that's negated.

The known difference between what these guys give you in the field is almost certainly bigger than the expected difference between what they'll provide at the plate. And that's why I'd rather see Jones come up before Wlad. I'm a big proponent of the importance of team defense, especially in a huge ballpark with a contact pitching staff. Raul Ibanez has been killing us for three months by being arguably the worst defensive outfielder in the league, and the opportunity to replace him with a plus glove that can also contribute with the bat (thereby bumping Vidro from the lineup) is too appealing to pass up. Even if he didn't hit right away, the improved range in the outfield would still make it a worthwhile move.

Adam Jones, right now, would make this team better. I think the same probably goes for Wlad, but not to the same degree, because he can't offer the same kind of strong defensive upgrade (even while conceding that he can't possibly be any worse than Raul). It's difficult to observe defense having a significant impact on run prevention, but it does, and patching our biggest hole would go a long way towards making this a legitimate contender.

Would I complain if Balentien got called up and put in the lineup? No. But forced to choose, I'd rather have Jones. (And so would the pitchers.) The Mariners have the rare opportunity to make a big improvement without even going outside the organization. They need to take advantage.