For years, the question of whether Jeff Clement would stay behind the plate or move to 1B/DH has hung over his head. To his credit, he’s worked extremely hard to improve on his defensive issues, spending countless hours putting in as much work as he could. There’s no one who will ever accuse Clement of not putting in the effort to try and make himself a major league catcher.
It might be time to pull the plug, however. For all of his work, he’s still a really bad defender behind the plate. In 231 major league innings behind the plate, he’s allowed 4 passed balls, 15 wild pitches, and runners have been successful on 15 of 17 stolen base attempts. This is almost all due to the fact that he doesn’t have good footwork, so he struggles to get his body in front of balls in the dirt and he doesn’t get out of the crouch as fast as he needs to.
He’s spent years trying to improve, and he has to an extent, but at some point, you just have to say that he’s still got too far to go, and his time might be best served working on his offense. As a 1B/DH, he could take his work ethic to the batting cage or studying pitchers, rather than trying to make incremental improvements to become a passable major league defender behind the plate. Obviously, if Clement could catch, you’d want him to, because the bat would be far more valuable there. But, at some point, we’ll need to admit that “if” isn’t a realistic option, much like we don’t talk about moving Ibanez back behind the plate to increase the value of his bat.
Thanks to the depth at catcher in the organization, and the complete of lack of a major league ready first baseman, the blow to the M’s wouldn’t be as large as it might otherwise be.
Johjima is obviously here for the next few years, and even with his struggles this year, he’s not this bad. He’s probably a true talent .700 OPS guy, which makes him an okay part-time catcher, even if he’s now really overpaid for that role.
Rob Johnson, always a favorite of the organization for his work with pitchers and his attitude, is finally hitting the baseball down in Tacoma. He’s still got a long swing and he’s never going to be a good hitter, but his offense has improved to acceptable, which makes him a realistic option next year.
Then, there’s Adam Moore, a big kid with defensive question marks who can hit, even though he’s not in Clement’s company as an offensive prospect. He has more gap power than long ball power, and like every Mariner prospect, he swings at too many bad pitches, but there’s some potential there for him to be an offensive minded part-time catcher.
Future all-stars? No, but there’s several options that could be decent behind the plate.
Obviously, we’d all prefer that Clement be good enough defensively to stick behind the plate. But, at some point, we have to decide if that’s realistic. This will be a decision for the next GM, but right now, I have to say that I’m leaning towards moving him out from behind the plate. The M’s need his bat, and I’m not sure he needs the extra pressure of grinding against his naturally poor footwork slowing down his offensive development.