Prior to the year, before, during, and after the whole Bedard trade ordeal, there were countless discussions over who was more ready to make a contribution in the Major Leagues - Adam Jones or Wladimir Balentien. With the M's in need of an everyday right fielder, the idea was to try and figure out whether or not trading Jones would do harm to a team being built to win in the immediate future. If Jones was more ready, then trading him would be bad, because we'd be left without a suitable replacement. If Wlad was more ready, then dealing Jones would be okay (at least, in the short term), because we wouldn't be losing anything for 2008.
Well, we don't need to re-spark old conversations. The things we talked about in December and January no longer mean anything in the present. But what has become blindingly obvious is that '08 Wladimir Balentien just wasn't ready for the big time.
It would be easy to look at his .196/.247/.338 batting line and conclude "well duh". In fact I could probably end this post right now and still get the message across. But it's worth going more in depth, just to get an idea of how much trouble Wlad has had adjusting to the highest level of competition in the world.
Thus far in his ~half season of Major League playing time, Wlad:
- hasn't hit line drives
- hasn't made much contact on balls in the zone
- hasn't made much contact on balls out of the zone
- hasn't hit for much power
- hasn't shown a very good eye
- hasn't hit fastballs very well
- hasn't hit sliders
- hasn't hit changeups
- hasn't hit curveballs
- hasn't hit miscellaneous other pitches
- hasn't played good defense
Aside from getting a Major League paycheck and winning that one game in extras, Wlad hasn't really had anything to celebrate in his time with Seattle. It's been an out-and-out struggle since the day he arrived, and if he's beginning to get more comfortable, it's not showing itself anywhere in the results. He's just been a bad player. There's no other way around it. Despite a mammoth line in AAA, the Major League edition of Wladimir Balentien has been a really, really bad player.
Some of this isn't surprising. Wlad's never made great contact. He's never had a perfect eye. He's never played terrific defense. His flaws have been well documented for as long as he's been in the system, and while he's taken some big steps forward over the years, his basic profile has remained pretty steady. He's supposed to be a power-hitting outfielder who strikes out and plays enough defense to get by. The sort of guy you can expect to have difficulty with offspeed stuff when he first sets foot in the big leagues.
That I'm okay with. The same profile has worked for a million different players over the years, to varying degrees. I just wish that Wlad would start to show some more of his strengths rather than putting on display an endless stream of weaknesses. The whole strikeout thing only works if you draw some walks and hit the ball out of the yard, but Wlad hasn't done either of those things close to often enough to make up for his drawbacks. Hence the .196 batting average and .585 OPS.
If there's good news, it's that shit happens, and Wlad couldn't have chosen a better time to struggle through his transition phase. He's been bad, but the team's been bad, so nobody really cares as long as he's learning. The fact that he's looked like a big bag of stupid so far doesn't mean he'll be a shitty player going forward, and it in no way invalidates our evaluation of his ceiling. It just means he has a lot to work on before he gets there. Which - well, which I think all of us expected, even if we didn't anticipate his growing pains being quite this severe.
It's easy to be discouraged by Wlad's lack of progress. His time with the Mariners is just another thing that's gone wrong in this bubonic season of terror. But it's important to remember that, as bad as he's been, he still has more raw talent than the majority of the organization, and while God knows he hasn't flashed enough of it, lots of players took their time to start hitting, from Adam Jones to Alex Rodriguez. A bad three months as a rookie doesn't make a guy a bust. It makes him a project. In Wlad's case, a project with strong upside.
Try not to lose hope. While at this point it looks like we kept the wrong outfielder, Wlad nevertheless could and should be a solid everyday bat some distance down the road. It just appears as if that distance may be a little longer than we imagined before. But you know what? That's okay. Because when your team's committed to being a pile of crap for a few years, there's no sense in being impatient. Wlad, feel free to take all the time you need. Just as long as you're hitting by the next time we're relevant, I suppose that's good enough for me.