Fantasy Hand Wringing: On the Fate of Jeff Clement

While most employers and ladyfriends refuse to acknowledge it, the life of a fantasy baseball manager (what we'll call the FBM, for short) is an agonizing one. The FBM, regardless of his* own eye for talent, is constantly at the mercy of the Powers that Be. Unable to influence major league roster changes, the FBM must speculate on the moves actual GMs and actual managers -- some of them shockingly deficient in areas like “reason”  or “good sense” -- are likely to make. Thus, the FBM must not only understand the finer points of advanced statistical measures, must not only stay current on transactions, injuries, and playing time, but he must also become a psychologist, must understand the dark night that is Trey Hillman's mind, must learn how Ed Wade's mother treated him so’s to better understand who he might summon from Triple-A.

*The use of the male pronoun is not merely antiquated grammatical convention here. It's fact!

All of which I bring up (as if it weren't obvious enough) as a prelude to one pressing question -- namely, will Jeff Clement ever catch again? The question's an important one -- perhaps the only one -- facing Americans right now.

There's room for argument, depending on your league's categories and position eligibility requirements, but the list of best fantasy catchers in the game today probably goes something like:

Joe Mauer
Pablo Sandoval
Mike Napoli
Victor Martinez
Brian McCann

A couple other guys could make a case for inclusion (one of my favorites is Jesus Flores and his line of .311/.382/.522 in limited action), but it's a solid list. Were Clement to hit at the major leagues in such a way that somewhat approximated his MLEs from the last couple years, he could very well put up a line of something around .275/.340/.475, which would put him in contention for top-five status (particularly, as Sandoval is iffy on catcher eligibility for next year). He'd be particularly valuable, in fact, if he gained catcher eligibility but played the majority of his games at first base or elsewhere -- a la Brandon Inge this season at third base -- where he could net more starts and suffer less the slings, arrows, and foul tips of a catcher’s outrageous fortune.
For the time being, Neal Huntington and the Pirates' front office is giving former prospect Steven Pearce a chance to prove his mettle at first base, so the question on Clement is moot for the time being. That said, the Serious FBM -- keeper league-er or not -- is mightily concerned with Clement's fate.

There are at least three impediments to Clement's catcher eligibility for the time being:

1. Ryan Doumit, the current starting catcher, is sweet at hitting and defensively adequate.

Doumit has been injured this year, and hasn’t approached his impressive, and maybe flukey, line of .318/.357/.501 from last season, but his record is that of a talented offensive player and the Bucs have accepted him defensively. He's signed at a reasonable rate with club options through the 2013 season, so he's probably not going anywhere quick.

2. Jeff Clement maybe bites a little bit defensively as a catcher.

Clement hasn’t played much catcher at all this season (16 games at Tacoma), so it’s tough to get a read on his current defensive chops, but scouts and dorks agree: Clement has miles to go before he sleeps so far as catching-and-throwing goes. That -- coupled with the presence of Doumit, Jason Jaramillio, Robinson Diaz (who’s no slouch offensively) -- give Pittsburgh less incentive to experiment.

3. In his first five game with Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis, Clement has played first base all five times.

Though it’s a small sample, the fact that Erik Kratz -- a 29-year-old career minor leaguer -- has received the start at catcher in Indy’s last four games doesn’t speak highly of Clement’s chances. Injuries to his knees relegated Clement to DH for Tacoma early on, but he did end up netting those 16 games.

Those are the impediments, of course. One has to figure that Huntington, who seems to actually have something resembling a "plan" so far as his acquisitions go, is willing to entertain the idea of Clement as at least a back-up to Doumit, where his (i.e. Clement's) bat would be super valuable. In the end, only time will tell. Stay tuned to this situation!


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