The Clement Problem

Dave · March 24, 2009 at 9:32 am · Filed Under Mariners 

So, we need to talk about Jeff Clement. The chatter continues to grow louder that the Mariners may hand Rob Johnson the back-up catcher position, which would give Clement a ticket to Tacoma. With Griffey in the fold at DH, the only way for Clement to get regular playing time is to spend significant time behind the plate, and even with a new coaching staff in place ready to be impressed, Clement hasn’t opened many eyes so far. With Johjima returning from the WBC, the team is going to have to figure out which young catcher they want to keep getting work in Cactus League games, so this decision could happen sooner than later.

From my point of view, the team has three reasonable options with regards to Clement.

1. Put him on the 25 man roster, give him ~60% of the playing time behind the plate for the season, and make a decision once and for all on whether he can handle the defensive responsibilities of being a big league catcher while also developing into the kind of hitter he has the potential to be.

2. Put an end to his days at catcher, tell him that his hard work to improve behind the plate is appreciated but is now holding back his offensive development, and turn him into a first baseman. He’d go to Tacama and work on learning a new position and focus on his offensive game.

3. Trade him to a team that thinks higher of him than they do for a piece that fits into the organizational puzzle a bit better than he does.

I’d go with Option A, personally, but I’m okay with any of these three (well, the last one obviously depends on what you get back). I think it’s worth finding out if Clement can stick as a major league catcher, and this is the kind of season that’s made for experiments. If it works, great, you’ve got a big asset. If it doesn’t, you didn’t torpedo a season in which you’re expecting to win the division, and now you can make better informed decisions going forward.

But if the team is already convinced that he’s just not a major league catcher, or that he’s at least not good enough to keep Adam Moore from taking his job next year, then the team has to figure out if they would rather force him into a positional move he doesn’t want to make in order to keep his bat in the organization or if they’re better off shopping him to a team like Boston who might be willing to part with some interesting pieces to get him. I’d bet on Clement ending up at 1B/DH eventually, regardless of what organization he’s in, but he’s made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in moving right now, and trying to force that position switch on him at this stage could get ugly.

There is a fourth option, of course, but it’s one I hope the team avoids. That would be just sending Clement back to Tacoma to split time behind the plate with Moore. Having him crush Triple-A pitching again won’t do his offensive development any good, they won’t figure out if he’s going to be able to catch well enough in the majors if he’s splitting time in Triple-A, and there’s a real chance that he could nuke his trade value if he struggles after being sent back to the PCL. Like it or not, a bad year from Clement in Tacoma makes him start to look like the new Jeremy Reed, and all of the sudden, a potentially valuable asset is a spare part that you’re using as a trade throw-in.

I think the club should find out just what they have in him by letting him sink or swim in the majors this year. But if they’re not going to, turn him into a first baseman or trade him. We’ve dragged on the “we’re not sure about Clement” stuff long enough. It’s time to make a call – either he’s worth giving a shot to or he’s not. Let’s not put this off any longer.


76 Responses to “The Clement Problem”

  1. eponymous coward on March 24th, 2009 3:51 pm

    I’m all for option A since he’s not Piazza bad at the plate

    I dunno, man, Clement looks pretty bad out there- plus Piazza was legitimately one of the best hitters in baseball. Clement, well, is never going to be that (his stats aren’t close to Piazza’s at comparable ages).

    Assuming that Clement was traded before the start of the season, what kind of value does he realistically have? Is he worth a major league player or a upper-tier prospect?

    If you figure Clement’s not a C, he’s probably in the Lyle Overbay range of 1B/DH’s- can play some ball and contribute to your team, especially while he’s under team control, but not going to any All-Star games unless he has a fluke year. Overbay’s been involved in trades, but you’re not going to get immense talent back.

    My take on Clement is at this point, if the defense isn’t taking (and it doesn’t appear to be), you’re talking about a player who has had two knee surgeries by age 24, trying to play a position that a) eats knees and b) has the worst aging curve for any position in MLB, even when you can stay in a lineup regularly in your 20’s and don’t get injured, which, well, doesn’t describe Jeff Clement. The odds that his long-term future is at C approach nil (and if I can see this, I’m pretty sure any competent GM or scout can figure this one out), and my concern is keeping him at C is risking turning him into Doyle Mk II, another one of those players where you go, “Gosh, he could have had a nice career if he could have stayed healthy for longer than 5 minutes at a time”.

    So basically, I think you go for option 2 or option 3 at this point… the problem being that now you have Carp AND Clement in Tacoma needing time at 1B (I’d probably have them split time between 1B and DH, I guess).

  2. slescotts on March 24th, 2009 4:10 pm

    Eponymous Coward,


  3. ppl on March 24th, 2009 4:26 pm

    up until now, I had projected a Clement/Johjima platoon. And I think that the M’s current postion is best suited for that. But, if the choice is Clement to Tacoma or trade I wouldn’t be adverse to a deal, hopefully for a decent return, and this probably isn’t the optimum time to get that.
    If he is a chip to unload Washburn, that opens up a wound from last year. The position right now that needs an upgrade the most is Shortstop, is there anyone available right now that are worth trading him for? I don’t think so. Prospect for prospect deals don’t happen much, but sure if there is an SS prospect blocked by a star, who could be had and is MLB ready, I am all for it, but it isn’t going to happen. Reed, Choo and Clement all have two big things in common, left-handed bats and far better plate discipline than the norm in this organization in recent years. Reed got ample opportunity to show whether or not he could play, Clement has not yet. Like Choo who got a really brief audition and then was dealt for basically a temporary fix. I guess until shown evidence otherwise I wil trust Z, if he traded a Clement for a couple lower minors guys, but that is not the type of optimism that a baseball fan should have to have in sprintime.

  4. mwalter on March 24th, 2009 6:12 pm

    I seem to remember asking and being told that Clements value as a hitter was primarily in the fact that he is a catcher. In other words, if he moves away from that position he becomes much, much less valuable.

    I do believe that eventually Clement will learn to hit MLB pitching – he’s shown bursts at times and has shown a consistent batting eye in AAA. This makes him an asset to the M’s as long as he remains a catcher, but if we move him to DH/1B there is much less upside and we will kill any trade value he has remaining.

    I also have to believe that although the other MLB teams know his defense is weak, they also know what he’s done in AAA and know there is potential there. If the M’s were to trade for someone like Clement I think we would all agree that it is another smart move being made by the organization…small risk, med-high reward if things pan out.

    Either way, quite the log jam is developing at the catcher position and someone is going to go or have their development stunted by this fact. At this point in time Clement has the highest trade value of the guys we’ve got and it might not be such a bad idea to try and move him now. He still has ‘upside’ and it would free up the organization to go with Johjima/Johnson now, letting Moore develop for another year or two and then moving to him as the new starter.

    At this point, if you can get anything decent in return you’ve got to make the trade. Clement’s upside as a hitter isn’t that high and it opens up some space within the organization.

  5. joser on March 24th, 2009 6:15 pm

    FWIW Pedro Griffol was a strong advocate for Clement at the Seattle Library thing a few months ago, and seemed to think there was no reason Clement wouldn’t start hitting once he was given enough ABs in the majors. We don’t know if his opinion has changed, or if he’s at odds with others in the organization, but the team seemed to still be sold on Clement as a catcher then.

    We basically are betting that his hitting, while potentially great, will someday pale in comparison to his ability to call/manage a game.

    We are?

    4. Once/if he does develop into the ‘great catcher who hits’ it will likely be in a couple seasons, at which point much of his shelf life will have been spent developing his catching…

    I don’t think that’s what anybody is thinking. I think they were hoping he’d be a “really good hitter who catches” which, thanks to positional scarcity, is a really valuable thing. As several other people have said, much of that value evaporates if he moves to another position.

    Piazza’s obviously at one extreme of the bat/glove trade-off, and any number of defensively great catchers at the other end. What you want is somebody who falls somewhere on that line, not under it. If Clement could start hitting in the majors the way he was in Tacoma last year, he’d definitely be on that line towards the Piazza end. But he doesn’t have to hit that well to offset his defensive liabilities. The various projection systems place his 2009 OPS in a range from .743 to .786, which would put him in some pretty good company.

    But here’s the real question: which would you rather see in the majority of games — a .654 OPS catcher with issues, or a .609 OPS catcher with issues? Because the former is 2008 Jeff Clement, and the latter is 2008 Kenji Johjima. Which do you think is more likely: that Kenji will bounce back (and that certain elements of the pitching staff will decide to love him), or that Clement will figure out how to hit MLB pitching (passed balls and base stealers be damned)? I’d bet on the latter, personally. I’d say his health is the bigger risk. If his knees prevent him from catching then he’s moving to another position no matter how well he’s learned to block pitches and throw out runners.

    But as Clement himself shows, the parachute doesn’t always open. This guy was the number 5 pick in the draft, and one of the few draft choices that wasn’t subject to much criticism when it was made.

    Actually, he was the number 3 guy in that draft, which makes it more painful. More painful still: guys taken after him: Ryan Zimmerman (#4), Ryan Braun (#5), Troy Tulowitzki (#7), Jacoby Ellsbury (#23), Matt Garza (#25), Travis Buck (#36), and Clay Buchholz (#42)… and that’s just the first round (there’s always a good chance there’s a late-round Pujols or Smoltz still lurking in the minors from that draft)

  6. SonOfZavaras on March 24th, 2009 6:18 pm

    Jeff Clement reminds me just a little bit of an old Yankees backstop by name of Matt Nokes.

    Nokes was a bit of a blockhead with a decent lefty bat, but way too limited of an athlete to be a decent catcher defensively even if he had worked hard at it (he didn’t).

    At least in Clement, there seems to be something resembling intelligence and a solid work ethic. But like Nokes, there may be only so far you can expect that body to go as a catcher.

    I’m not sold on Clement as a catcher, and I’m not totally convinced he won’t be a catcher, ultimately.

    But I do know he’s a big-legged, barrel-chested type that will have to fight to keep weight off by the time he’s 28-29. And his mobility’s substandard right this very minute.

    So seeing as how he’s 25 (26 in August) already, how many years can you really run him out there behind the plate, ultimately?

    My best guess is very few.

    More than that, Adam Moore is better defensively, and every bit the offensive prospect. And only a year away by a lot of estimates.

    My basic take on Clement is if you have him in the fold this year, run him out at the major-league level in 2009, and have him catch 3 of every 5 games. Trial by fire, let’s see what the guy has in ML value- knowing blasted well that what you’re really looking at is how his lefty bat profiles in your (or another) org’s future more than anything else.

    Also, if Zduriencik can somehow right now parlay Clement into a high-profile bat like Red Sox minor-league 1B Lars Anderson, I’m all for it.
    Or any other prospect with a high ceiling in an area where we are lacking, but Anderson’s high on my want list.

    I can totally live with Rob Johnson as the backup for a year.

  7. Dave on March 24th, 2009 6:39 pm

    Adam Moore is in no way the offensive prospect that Clement is.

  8. slescotts on March 24th, 2009 7:20 pm

    We need to get the guy AB’s at the major league level and not count on his catching. I don’t think he’ll last more than a few seasons as a catcher and this wear and tear will drag down his hitting… So, my point is: I see us wasting resources and his potential by continually hammering on him being ‘a’ catcher. The guy is a hitter. Put him on the roster and get him time at 1B/DH/C/PH–whatever, just let him hit.

  9. SonOfZavaras on March 24th, 2009 7:20 pm

    Sorry, Dave. I differ on that one. Moore has as much pure raw power from the right side as what the M’s have in their system right now.

  10. Dave on March 24th, 2009 7:33 pm


    Off the top of my head, right-handed hitters with more pure power than Moore:

    Wladimir Balentien
    Mike Wilson
    Greg Halman
    Jharmidy DeJesus

    Moore projects as a .270/.320/.440 guy in his prime. If he develops well, that’s his upside. He has no chance of being a big league regular if he’s not a catcher.

    Clement’s got legit .280/.370/.500 potential. The gap between his bat and Moore’s bat is substantial.

  11. nickwest1976 on March 24th, 2009 7:41 pm

    What I don’t understand is why the M’s didn’t have Clement play 1B when they sent him back down to AAA last year. Well, I guess it was the old regime so that explains that…but it seems to me they missed a solid opportunity to let Clement try 1B in AAA and learn the position with a lot less pressure on him.

    It’s not the end of the world but it seems to me it would have been a good use of his time in AAA last year after the first demotion.

  12. SonOfZavaras on March 24th, 2009 8:22 pm


    DeJesus may very well have MORE raw power than Moore, but I don’t consider him anything close to a proven, projectable commodity yet. Halman, I grant you that a case exists to say he has more power. I will even go so far as to say I glitched on him.

    But, Wilson and Balentien have never proven to have MORE power than Moore. Equal? Perhaps.

    And remember, I said “as much“, not “greater than”. I think all four of the guys you mentioned are on roughly equal levels on pure power, but not decidedly greater.

    And let’s compare Clement with Moore, specifically- as that’s the comparison that brought up the point. They’ve actually assembled pretty comparable numbers in the minors up to this point.

    Jeff Clement- 1,056 ABs, .286 BA; Career #’s in OBP- .377; SLG- .494; OPS- .871

    Sidenotes: 206 SO in MiLB.

    Adam Moore- 1,090 ABs, .306 BA; Career #’s in OBP- .375; SLG- .506; OPS- .881

    NOTE: 209 SO in MiLB.

    These numbers are not pro-rated with park factors in mind (because I’m not savvy on that, yet), but with those eerily similar numbers? I’m not seeing where you’re getting Clement being at eventually a .280/.370/.500-level and Moore not.

    To me, I think a case exists that they are equal prospects. Which is what I said in the first place.

  13. Mike Snow on March 24th, 2009 8:24 pm

    What I don’t understand is why the M’s didn’t have Clement play 1B when they sent him back down to AAA last year.

    Except that if they still thought he could be a catcher, but he needed a lot of work to be acceptable as a catcher, plus he’s more valuable by far as a catcher, it would have been completely foolhardy to have him work on being something other than a catcher. That’s why this is a fish or cut bait problem.

  14. Dave on March 24th, 2009 8:34 pm

    There’s not a case to be made that they’re equal offensive prospects. Sorry. There just isn’t.

    628 of Clement’s career minor league at-bats have come in Triple-A. 0 of Moore’s career minor league at-bats have come in Triple-A.

    433 of Moore’s career minor league at-bats have come in High Desert, the best hitters park on the planet. 0 of Clement’s career minor league at-bats have come in High Desert.

    Moore isn’t close to Clement in offensive ability.

  15. MI5 on March 24th, 2009 9:25 pm

    The only option we’ve got is to get this guy 300 – 400 major league at bats this year. As an organization we have to know whether he can hit ML pitching or not. Any talk about what position he’s going to play in the future for us is moot if the dude can’t hit. Period.

  16. Tuomas on March 24th, 2009 9:32 pm

    For SonOfZavaras’s benefit, and mine, is there a website with minor league park factors?

  17. TomTuttle on March 24th, 2009 10:16 pm

    Option #1, PLEASE!!!!!!!

  18. jjracoon on March 25th, 2009 12:12 am

    Every step the Mariners have made over the last couple years, except signing Johjima to a 3 year deal, indicates they still believe in Clement as a catcher. The spots that we see him at, DH and 1st, have a logjam of potential bodies which already show the talent to hit. Is there even the slightest chance that the 3 year contract for Johjima was to allow him to leave baseball with dignity and honor (and some nice cash)????? To me this is the year to have Clement catch as much as his body will allow NOT let it carry over into next year decision making. Option#1 or use him with one of our weighty pitchers to get something and move on!!

  19. SonOfZavaras on March 25th, 2009 5:19 am

    Fine, Dave. Clement is a better offensive prospect than Adam Moore.

    But come 2011 or even 2010, it’ll be Moore behind the plate and Clement will be either part-time both DHing and catching, trying to learn first base or be with another organization.

    Perchance, do you know the projected peak WAR of both players?

  20. Paul B on March 25th, 2009 8:48 am

    Is there even the slightest chance that the 3 year contract for Johjima was to allow him to leave baseball with dignity and honor (and some nice cash)?????



  21. sass on March 25th, 2009 11:57 am

    Oliver has Clement projected this year at .341 wOBA. I picked this one because it’s in the middle, others are better or a bit worse. This is 5.5 runs above average over 600 ab’s (I hope I’m doing this right). If you knock him a bit for defense, it might come out that he’s projected to be a very slightly above league average hitter. Which, with the positional adjustment (12.5), would make him a 1.5ish wins above average. However, since Dave says in his fangraphs post here, there is a 1.5 win gap between replacement level catchers and major league average players. That would put him at 3 WAR for 600 AB’s, though he wouldn’t ever get that even if he was the full-time catcher for the whole season. Dave put’s Adam Moore’s peak WAR at 2.5 in his latest future forty, though, and it is reasonable to assume that Clement will improve even more at the plate. Clement, as a catcher, this year, projects as well or better than Adam Moore’s peak. That’s why it’s so valuable to try to keep him there if possible. He’s be worth half the WAR at first base, even assuming he did a passable job there defensively.

  22. sass on March 25th, 2009 12:03 pm

    Edit: The above post uses the highest projection, not the middle one. It is still fairly representative, though, and most of what I say holds true, just to a lesser degree.

  23. slescotts on March 25th, 2009 12:36 pm

    I don’t know this is starting to look like a bad draft and poor development/management.

    We drafted for immediate need then signed Joh. I didn’t really get it then, especially with the level of talent available in that draft.

    I don’t want to close the book on this guy just yet. I say we forget about him as a catcher and make him a hitter. Give him AB’s @ C/DH/1B.

  24. Tuomas on March 25th, 2009 6:18 pm

    Clement wasn’t drafted, I think, for immediate need. He was drafted because his offensive upside at a premium defensive position made him a very valuable piece. Unfortunately, his defensive skills haven’t developed quite as well as the team thought they might have, putting them in their current predicament.

  25. Mid80sRighty on March 26th, 2009 6:59 am

    Why is everyone so quick to cast developing players aside? Maybe it’s because we live in a microwave society. Anyway, Clement had 224 PA last year and we all know what he did. But, I’d like to point out that one of the best hitters in baseball didn’t start off too hot either. Through 2 years Alex Rodriguez had 208 PA in which he totaled up 62 K’s, 9 BB, 5 HR, and ~.600 OPS. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not trying to compare the two. Mearly trying to illustrate that even the best hitters in baseball can struggle early in their careers. I just think it’s still a bit early to annoint Clement a flop and ship him off. Just seems too much like something regimes of the past would have done.

  26. eponymous coward on March 26th, 2009 9:01 am

    I just think it’s still a bit early to annoint Clement a flop and ship him off. Just seems too much like something regimes of the past would have done.

    Sending Clement to 1B or another organization isn’t labeling him a flop; it’s evaluating his defensive talent as a C and going “we just don’t think this is going to work long-term”. Certainly Clement has value as a prospect even if he’s not a C… it’s just he’s more like Lyle Overbay than Joe Mauer.

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