A look above at Wladimir Balentien, to the right, chatting with Miguel Cairo before taking some early batting practice this afternoon.
OK, I can see my attempts to spell out, in English, the short-term pressures being faced by this team and Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement are not getting through to some of you. For others, it is getting through, but for the sake of clarity, I’ll attempt to address your concerns.
Q: Let’s give Balentien and Clement more than a week before we depend on them for survival! We need them to be competent, with upside potential. For survival, we need the other 7 guys to contribute more offense than they have, and we need the defense from past years to return! — Gatorman
A: This team may not have a week or more. Lose this series and the next one, the team could be double digits back and this season could be effectively over from a playoff perspective. Agree on the seven other guys. If they were doing their jobs, Clement and Balentien would still be in Class AAA.
Q: In addition to showing patience with the kids from Tacoma, this team needs to find a way to win eight or more of the next twelve against mostly Texas. — Scott M
A: Agree with your premise, but the kids are what’s supposed to help this team try to win 8 of the next 12. One’s unlikely to happen without the other. Therein lies the quandry.
Q: That’s all very well and good, but the problem is that for all their huge team salary, these guys ARE the back-up plan. What are they going to do if these guys don’t work out? Sign a couple of stiffs released from another team? Trade their last prospect? Start Willie Bloomquist? — greyguy3
A: You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s sink or swim with these two. And they need them to swim fast to help keep a 6 1/2 game deficit from becoming 9 or 10.
Q: Balentien will do fine if given time. He’s a definite improvement in RF and will only get better at the plate.
A: Yes, understand that. Problem is, this team doesn’t have time. It’s on the verge of falling too far out of the “race” in May.
Q: It is not the rookies’ faults that the 2008 team sucks! Blame the overpaid vets, blame Bavasi, blame mac. Lets just enjoy seeing our youth develop and knock of all this “6.5 back” talk. 2010 baby! — Tallahasee Mariners Fan
A: No one said it’s the rookies’ fault. We have blamed the “overpaid vets” if you mean Wilkerson, Vidro and Johjima. By the way, three of the highest-paid vets, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez and Richie Sexson happen to be this team’s three best hitters at the moment. So, everything automatically gets better in 2010? After the team just went “all-in” for the next two seasons? A lot tougher than that, I’m afraid. If it can’t win now, there’s no guarantee the M’s will win two years from now. Youth movements take time, if that’s what you’re suggesting.
Q: If that’s the case maybe we ought ot be discussing Johjima’s craptatstic year. Joh has just 5 ribbies in over 90 abs. Baletien has 6 in just 21. This little “debate” about the kids is premature. Especially when there are glaring weaknesses that have been week all season long. — DB Cooper
A: Been there, done that all week. Countless trees and megabytes sacrificed in Johjima’s honor. Where were you while this was going on? Struggles by Johjima and others are the reason Clement and Balentien are up here now. No, the “debate” is not “premature”. There is no debate. Balentien is here and he’s staying. And it’s not premature to spell out what’s what. The team just lost five in a row. Want to wait until it loses 10 of 11 and drops nine back for me to point out the obvious? That the team needs these guys to hit ASAP? Can’t do that, sorry.
Q: What a lot of us have been calling for with the younger replacements, is that we don’t wait until the end of July to bring them up like last year. The thinking is… if we’re gonna suck, wouldn’t it be more palatable to suck with guys that have a decent chance of improving? — Stango
A: Yes, but management clearly doesn’t see it that way. They would not have spent $3 million on Brad Wilkerson if they knew they were going to “suck” this year. Conversely, they would not have eaten that money a month into the season and called up Balentien if the plan was to “play the kids” just to watch them develop through normal bumps and bruises. They called the kids up because they think they can help the team win right now. This instant.
Q: I’ll take my chances with the kids, thank you very much. Forget OPS, Wlad has produced more in HR and RBI in 5 games than Wilkerson had done the rest of the season. Clement seems a bit afraid to swing, but I imagine it won’t take him too much time to warm up. Regardless, give me the kids with the upside over the washed up vets who can only hope to produce a fraction of what they once did. — eastcoast
A: Well, he produced one more homer in the first five games, but fewer RBI until game #6 last night. I don’t put all that much stock in RBI, to be honest. They are a byproduct of the men on base in front of a hitter, something that can’t be controlled by the hitter. The point was, Balentien did hit another three-run jack last night and the team finally won a game. Needs more such outings, from him and others, real quick, to keep this 6 1/2 game gap from growing.
Q: Survival?!? That’s a strong word. This statement reinforces for me that from Bavasi to Mac this team doesn’t know how to manage their talent pool. I’d hate to see the young guys with all that potential get ‘tainted’ by the lousy lack of leadership from the everyday players. This clubhouse needs player leadership and fast. It’s really dumb to keep stepping over the white elephant in the clubhouse and put the pressure on the newbies to “fix” the problems the everyday players have created. — thatgirl
A: Agree on the leadership comment. Yes, “survival” is a strong word. But gaps of eight or more games are a strong obstacle to making the playoffs at any stage of a season and this team is dangerously close to such a gap. The newbies are here, in-part, because of the White Elephant you describe. You may think that’s “dumb” but that’s the reality. They aren’t here for a normal September audition.
Q: As I recall at least Wilkerson took a while to start picking it up but it was too slow of pace to for him to get to where the team needed him. Over the long haul of the year I think Clement and Balentien will improve faster than Vidro and Wilkerson showed to start the year. — BandwagonJumper
A: Agree on the long-term thing. Trouble is, if the short term isn’t dealt with right now, the long term — for 2008 at least — will already have been decided for this team.
Q: This is ridiculous. You can’t be a team apologist and antagonist at the same time Geoff. Pick one.
The tone of this blog flip-flops on a weekly basis. Also, we may as well drop the cheerleader attitude, relax, watch the rookies, and hope for the best next year. 2008 is dead in the water. It’s so much easier to watch the games when you look at it that way. — Mint Husky
A: I’m neither of those things. Less than a week ago, this team was 3 1/2 games out. Not optimal, but a manageable gap. Now, it is 6 1/2 games back, which is dramatically more urgent. It’s like a fire that has to be contained right now before it gets completely out of hand. Yes, it is always easier on the stress level when there’s nothing at stake. I wonder if this is why so many Seattle baseball fans seem content to always push things off for two or three years rather than taking risks and focusing on winning in the present. Somebody suggested to me yesterday that this is the case — that fans here would rather build toward some distant, rather vague concept of a future team than take a shot at winning now. Easier to avoid heartbreak that way, I suppose. Espcially if this season blows up. Your comment above makes me think there’s some truth to that. Not saying it’s wrong. But having covered the Toronto Blue Jays, now on Year Seven of a Five-Year-Plan, I can tell you the future doesn’t always work out either and that fans get tired of rebuilding real quick when the plan backfires. Even if it doesn’t backfire. Checked out Cleveland’s attendance lately?
Q: Eh I don’t think there is as much pressure on them as you state. Clement can hit… Always has. He will eventually. And belentein has some power wilkerson didn’t… He is more of a threat at the plate. All I know is that last nights game felt good! — jared
A: Of course if felt good. Balentien hit a home run and your team won. Yes, Balentien is more of a threat at the plate and the team could really use the results that come from that. (By the way jared, I liked your comment).
Q: They need to be patient with both Clement and Balentien. Witness the 400 foot out to dead center by Clement. If Murphy does not make a great catch, we are witnessing a good start to developing confidence. The opposite happens and then he faces Guardado who overmatched him. I remember A-rod and others going through this type of early struggle, but Clement is a vast improvement over an overpaid Vidro…Vidro has a role, but it is not as a DH in a power position in the AL. Balentien, though his average is low has produced more runs in 6 or 7 games than Wilkerson did in a month..end of story. — California Bob Kelly
A: Of course they need to be patient “Mad Dog”. That’s a hockey reference to your name, BTW, in case you aren’t a puck fan. They have no choice but to be patient because there is no real Plan C. But being patient in regards to his development and the team’s playoff prospects are two different things. When Balentien doubled his RBI total last night, the team won. That’s my point, the team needs him to do stuff like this to help an anemic offense in a quicker timeframe than a rookie would normally get allotted. Not his fault. Just reality.
Q: Wow. It’s only been a week and we’ve already got our first hack job on the two rookies?
It looks like you wrote this story before yesterday’s game:
Balentien 21PA, 6 RBI, .762 OPS, 109 OPS+
Wilkerson 68PA, 5 RBI, .652 OPS, 86 OPS+
…We are dealing with a small sample size. Both Vidro and Wilkerson reached 20 PAs in 5 games – less than a weeks worth of play. Those stats sure turn quickly when you’re dealing with such a small sample. One good game (like Wilkerson’s final game as a Mariner) can change the complexion of a stat like real quick. After that one game, Wilks batting average, OBP and SLG all jumped by 40 points.
How about we give the new kids as much leeway as was given to Wilkerson and Vidro before throwing them under the bus. K? — huindekmi
A: Yes, as I mentioned in the post, the quoted stats were from the first five games since the callups. Sorry if you got confused. And yes, these stats will fluctuate all over the map. Small sample size, as was also mentioned. Bottom line: neither was hitting the first five games and the M’s lost all five. Nobody was hitting for the M’s. The two young guys were added so that at least somebody would hit sooner rather than later. If this was just a development thing, these players would have come up in June or July. And because nobody on this team is hitting and the gap with the Angels is growing, this move only helps in the short term if these two guys hit right now, like Balentien did last night. And if stating that fact is your idea of a “hack job” or “throwing them under the bus”, well, let’s just hope Balentien and Clement have thicker skins. K?
Q: How about putting pressure on the FO and the underperforming veterans, rather than 2 guys who just got called up to replace a couple of said underperforming veterans? –Bill
A: Been doing it for three weeks Bill. The entire Seattle media has extensively chronicled the Wilkerson-Johjima-Vidro saga. The veterans aren’t the only ones underperforming, either. Let’s shed that notion. Think Eric O’Flaherty’s implosion, or Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez and their sub-.700 OPS (please don’t bring batting average into this discussion…both of theirs are empty). And for all the folks on this site who want to unload Richie Sexson, he’s the team’s home run leader and third-best hitter right now. For Bill, the two guys just called up to replace underperforming veterans have to do just that. Replace them. With better numbers. Very quickly, starting this homestand. Or the season risks spiraling out of control because of that very same underperformance all-around that you just mentioned.
Q: Six games as rookies is not even a small sample size — it is no sample at all. I understand Geoff’s point about fairness vs. reality, but I don’t think you can even attempt to measure impact after six games and 15 or so at-bats. And I don’t think the Mariners are.
When a 2-for-4 night jumps your average 80-100 points you should realize that it’s far too early to be basing performance off numbers. — Stranded_Mariner
A: The Mariners brought these guys in to boost their offense quickly, or else they would have waited another month on Wilkerson and Vidro. Bill Bavasi is on-record saying he brought them up because he didn’t want to be in a playoff race in September regretting that he hadn’t done something sooner. Their impact the first five games was pretty sparse and the team lost all five. Balentien made an impact last night and the team won. I don’t think it’s too early to measure such impact when the team’s playoff chances could be a figment of someone’s imagination by week’s end. But yes, you are right that when one night jumps your average 80-100 points, it’s too early to be basing performance off numbers. Nobody is really doing that here. What I’m saying is, these guys have to hit now. The more they don’t, the less they help this team keep this gap with the Angels under control. How’s that sound, better?
Q: With our huge payroll, we shouldn’t need to count on our rookies to give this team a boost. Unfortunately, the poor roster construction has put them in a higher pressure situation. Geoff, I see your point, but all the pressure should be on the veterans like Ichiro, Beltre, Sexson, Joh. These are the guys who need to step it up in the clubhouse and on the field. — eastcoast
A: Agreed. That would be the “unfair” part of this situation that I kept mentioning in the post.
Q: Geoff – You need to stop writing blogs at 3:57AM. This one makes no sense at all.
How can you not like Balentein or Clement? Wlad has shown power that indicates that it doesn’t matter that he is a right handed batter. Sure he’s going to strike out a lot but he is going to have a huge slugging percentage when by the end of the season.
I have been impressed by Clement’s approach for the most part. He has had a lot of high pitch at bats. Maybe he has been a little too patient (probably as a result of some goofy advice given to him by Mariner coaches). Clement is the last guy this team needs to worry about. — AKMarinersfan
A: And you need to start reading them before you post a reply. Nobody said I don’t like Balentien or Clement. I wrote previously that they should be called up and that it’s a good move to make. But a risky one. The point is, there is some pressure on Balentien, albeit unfair, to put up part of that end-of-season slugging percentage right now. This is like the Adam Jones callup of last August, where impact over a short timeframe will be all that matters. Last year, the M’s needed to win a bunch of games in six weeks to stay in contention and sat Jones because they worried about growing pains. This is a little different with Balentien and Clement, but until the M’s ride out this “crisis” of sorts and get that gap with the Angels down to something more manageable, then what they do day-by-day will have a huge impact on a team that needs run production right away. So, it is a short-term, as well as a long-term thing. They have to help get this team through the short term, because few others are stepping up while they “grow” into major leaguers.
Thanks for your suggestions on my posting time, but, as it is my free time I am using to keep this blog going during the mornings, I’ll have to budget it the way I see fit. Today, it was simply normal jetlag. 7 a.m. to my body New York time.
Q: Why is everyone panicking? I think like 12 out of the last 24 (either 11 or 12) playoff teams have finished the first month of the season under .500. We still have 5 months of baseball to go so everyone just give the team some time. — B. from San Diego
A: Because it will be tough to overcome a gap of eight or nine games, even with nearly five months to go. You have to keep things manageable.
That’s it for now. Off to the ballpark. Thank you for your questions/comments this morning. Let’s see if last night’s first three innings were for real, or if the final five were more indicative.