For Royals, Three Wins Out of Four Is No Reason to Stand Pat

Clark FoslerCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 07:   Wladimir Balentien #25 of the Seattle Mariners hits a single during a Spring Training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch on March 7, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The Royals picked up a nice 11-inning win last night in Baltimore to net their second straight win and third victory in the last four games. 

The bullpen, which had been so horrible during a disasterous 1-8 homestand, had now thrown nine straight scoreless innings.  Willie Bloomquist has set career highs in both steals (17) and home runs (3).   Billy Butler continues to develop into a possible middle of the order bat and Alex Gordon is back.  

Trust the process, right?

No way.

This is still a horrible defensive team—I think if you gave Frank White the time during a broadcast, he could point out a defensive lapse on EVERY batted ball.  Despite the nine scoreless innings, the Royals might possess the must untrustworthy group of bullpen arms (excluding Joakim Soria) in the game, and something tells me that the return of Kyle Farnsworth and Doug Waechter is not exactly a cure.   

Plus, more than any other factor, this is still an anemic offense. One that features Willie Bloomquist batting second and Mark Teahen batting fourth and a designated hitter platoon of Mike Jacobs and Miguel Olivo, both of whom have 89 strikeouts and just 59 hits.

This team needs help.  More help than just waiting for Jose Guillen, Coco Crisp, and Mike Aviles to get healthy and Alex Gordon to get back in the groove.  

Given the state of the Kansas City Royals, even minor moves can make a difference and sometimes those minor moves turn into major acquisitions over time.  That brings us (at last!) to today's topic: WLADIMIR BALENTIEN.

The 25-year-old outfielder was designated for assignment by Seattle on July 25, meaning they have 10 days to try to do something with Balentien. This is a chance for the Royals to make a bargain basement deal on a power hitting outfielder. It is also a chance they had once before and neglected to do so.

On March 30, 2008, the Rangers designated outfielder Nelson Cruz for assignment (coincidentally the same day they also designated Robinson Tejeda for assignment).   Certainly the end of March is a far better time for teams to try to move players with great talent, but unrealized potential, through the process and keep them in the system than the end of July, so perhaps we can grant a small sliver of forgiveness to the Royals for not pouncing on that opportunity.  I distinctly remember at the time thinking this would be a good pickup for Kansas City and even offered up a trade for Cruz later that year in a what if you were the general manager column.

Back in March of 2008, Cruz had a 145 game major league resume that sported a batting line of .231/.282/.385 with an OPS+ of just 73.   At age 27, Cruz had logged over 200 games at the AAA level and seemed to be on the road to becoming a career AAAA player.  At that time, Nelson had a career minor league line of .291/.344/.513.   

As we know, Cruz went on to obliterate AAA in 2008 to the tune of .341/.430/.693 and got a late season callup to Texas.  All he did once back in the majors was hit .330/.421/.609, solidified himself as a 2009 regular and played in the All-Star Game this summer.

Now, back to the present.   Wladimir Balentien just turned 25 years old and has logged 130 career major league appearances.   In that time, he has hit an anemic .209/.260/.359 with an OPS+ of only 65.   His career minor league batting line is .273/.345/.526, which includes 186 games at the AAA level.

The Cruz/Balentien comparison is interesting in that both were at roughly the same stages of their careers when designated for assignment.   While Cruz was two, almost three, years older at the time of their DFA, he had also started his professional career two years later than Balentein.  They had both been up and down between the majors and AAA, although Cruz had essentially an extra half season of AAA ball on his resume.

Let's compare a touch further.  

In his first AAA experience of any note (second half of 2005), Nelson Cruz posted an OPS of .872.   Balentien's first AAA exposure was a full season in 2007 where he posted an OPS of .871. 

Cruz was back in AAA for the 2006 campaign and put up an OPS of .907 the second time around.  Balentien's second season AAA OPS was .938.   For the entire minor league careers (and keep in mind that includes Cruz's monster half season of AAA ball in 2008), Cruz has an overall OPS of .909, while Balentien's career minor league OPS is .871.

Given that Dayton Moore was willing to give up Daniel Cortes to acquire Yuniesky Betancourt, surely the two teams can reach some sort of accomodation to acquire Balentien as well.  Truthfully, is their anyone on the AAA or AA rosters that would be off-limits at this point?  Would it even take that much?

The Royals should acquire Balentien and put him in left field for every game the rest of the season.  This would push David DeJesus to centerfield, and you could then move Willie Bloomquist to second base.  Given what Jacobs and now Olivo are producing, or more accurately not producing, as designated hitters, I would put Alberto Callaspo at DH even if he is not a prototypical designated hitter type.  

Under that scenario, the Royals are better.  Perhaps they are not dramatically better and the possibility exists that they might not be improved by even one game.   What's the risk, however?   Does the organization care so much about finishing fourth instead of fifth in the AL Central that they will not allow themselves to take risks like Balentien?  

Let's hope not.