As promised, I have returned to make a post, which I plan to do every so often. It's the weekend and I'm not completely drowning in reading for next week, so I decided to write a post. The first thing that has to be said is that since leaving Minnesota, the team has only played worse. I looked at the lineup for yesterday's game and I can only imagine that other Twins fans had the same disparaging feeling of "Oh no, not again."
Having Nick Punto, Jason Tyner, and Luis Rodriguez in a lineup together with another new mostly-singles hitter (Jose Morales - he hit doubles in Triple-A, but it's a little hard to tell if that will translate and as I write this, he just hit an RBI double) is just a reminder of how things have gone wrong this season and the apparent fact that Terry Ryan never had a backup plan and can't make any of the moves that would even slightly improve this anemic lineup. This was proven in Friday's loss as well as yesterday. Yesterday's second inning was a perfect example of the problem, as the Twins had four hits and scored only one run, on Brian Buscher's solo home run, because all their other hits were singles from Morales, Punto, and Rodriguez.
However, I don't want to just brood here, as most Twins fans are probably depressed enough as it is knowing that their team is unofficially out of the playoffs. Not going to the playoffs offers the Twins a good chance to showcase their minor league talent as well as giving ample time to the fans to consider moves for the future. It's apparent from Ron Gardenhire's recent comments that, for whatever reason, he wants to play Punto in the hopes that he can make history and it is unlikely that many of the young players the Twins need to evaluate for the future are going to get the playing time they need. With that, I want to look at the second option: future moves.
In reading notorious Twins-basher Keith Law's article on September call-ups, I was reminded of a player that the Twins should consider going after because of his likely availability in the near future. That player is the Mariners' Wladimir Balentien. Balentien is a 23-year-old right-fielder who just finished a very good season at Triple-A, hitting .291/.362/.509 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 24 doubles, 77 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases. According to Baseball Prospectus' scouting report, Balentien is described as having plus power, good defense, and decent speed and his major is strikeouts. Between Single-A and Double-A, Balentien struck out 300 times in the 2005 and 2006 seasons combined while walking 100 times, which is not a particularly great ratio. However, in his biggest strikeout season in the minors (2005, 160 K), Balentien also had his best power season, slugging .553 and knocking 25 home runs, 8 triples, and 38 doubles.
Even if strikeouts are an issue, Balentien has made some improvements, as he had a 105/54 K/BB ratio in 477 Triple-A at-bats this year. Also, his career minor-league line of .274/.344/.520 suggests he has at least decent patience at the plate, meaning that when he's striking out a lot and struggling, he's willing to take a walk. This is evidence by the 70 walks in 2006, when he hit only .230 but had a .337 OBP.
Balentien is also a stalled prospect now. He has little chance to make it in Seattle for two reasons: For one, the Safeco Field is terribly unfriendly to right-handed power hitters who have strikeout issues. Two, there is little chance Balentien will find a spot in a crowded outfield, as Ichiro and Raul Ibanez are under contract for next year, Jose Guillen has an option for 2008 and likely will get an extension, and prized prospect Adam Jones also needs a spot.
With a 4.70 staff ERA, it's pretty clear that Seattle could use some more pitching, especially considering that such a number comes despite a pitcher-friendly ballpark. What role would Balentien play since we already have Michael Cuddyer at right-field? While it's true that Balentien isn't a center fielder, he's a good defender that may even have a legitimate chance to play the position. Or he could DH. He would be, at worst, a legitimate hitter in a lineup with plenty of non-hitters who is athletic enough to be a good contributor on defense. And he probably wouldn't come at a steep price, since the Mariners have no real place for him.
Sadly, I get the feeling Terry Ryan won't make this move in the near future, even though its a smart move, considering how obvious it is that this team needs more hitting. History tells us that Ryan has some sort of allergy to hitters who strikeout a lot, despite having plenty of power and discipline. (See Cust, Jack; Hannahan, Jack, Pena, Willy Mo) I just hope that someday here soon Ryan becomes disciplined enough to realize that there are prudent moves to made and this is one to consider.