The Clement Problem
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.