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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!

Comments

By: Jonah Keri
On: 8/6/2009 9:12:00 AM
Good stuff, Carson. I've owned Napoli, Pierzynski, or both every year for...pretty much since Napoli was a rookie. AJ is an underrated C option who hits for a moderate to high average every year and always earns more than the $7-$8 it costs to buy him. Clement could be a good buy down the road, assuming people don't bid too high on the prospect sheen.
 
By: Carson Cistulli
On: 8/6/2009 9:17:00 AM
Jonah, thanks. In re Pierzynski, you're probably right so far as his fantasy value goes. It's just hard for me to invest in a guy who bleaches his hair. Irrational? Yes. True? Double-yes.
 
By: jtopper
On: 8/6/2009 12:07:00 PM
Clement has a bad knee, right, which hurts his chances of playing behind the plate again. Doumit, try as he might, is just a terrible defensive backstop. Mr. Huntington is aware of Doumit having more value as a catcher than as an outfielder or first baseman and former catcher/current manager John Russell has helped Doumit out. Still, Doumit isn't the long term answer behind the plate, especially because of his injury history. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Pirates trade Doumit (in the offseason) once he proves to the league that he's healthy from wrist surgery. Jason Jaramillo is solid and I think his defensive skills play well as a backup/sometimes starter. Robinzon Diaz is way too cavalier behind the plate and throws the ball around like a backyard game of run down -- but he has a no power-nice hitting-for-average bat. The guy to keep an eye on is No. 1 pick Tony Sanchez, who is defensively advanced and does a nice job framing pitches, another thing Doumit is horrible at. We all know it takes a long time for catchers to transition to the majors, but Sanchez is on as fast of a track possible for a backstop. Clement will likely be up by September to take at-bats as a first baseman and the team will go from there.
 
By: hoonose
On: 8/6/2009 12:53:00 PM
This situation reminds me of what is happening on the north side of the Chi with Jake Fox. A man without a posish in the NL. Both former catchers it seems as though their defense is bad enough that we won't and probably shouldn't see them behind the plate.

It's pretty evident especially with catchers, managers are unwilling to accept the defensive liability of someone like Clement or Fox behind the plate, for good reason I presume. Luckily for Clement, he isn't competing for PT behind Derrek Lee at first base (SLG .536 btw) but Stephen Pearce. Furthermore he has the potential to be the left side of a 1st base platoon. Although this might not be ideal for fantasy purposes it might be good for the Pirates.

Well done Cistulli, you baseball writer you.
 

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