Jeff Clement gets sent to AAA Tacoma for the 3rd straight year, as his catching defense still needs significant work, and it appears the struggles were beginning to affect his hitting. Saberheads wanted Clement to start everyday over ownership darling Kenji Johjima and work out the kinks at the MLB level.
One problem with learning how to catch by playing everyday in MLB is that any problems Clement has with catching (receiving pitches, calling games, setting fielding positions, managing pitchers) also becomes a problem for every pitcher he works with, and for his fellow fielders. This in turn hinders the development process for the team's young pitchers, and can hinder the performance of the veterans in their walk years, which could hurt the team's chances of increasing their trade value for a midseason deal. And this never minds any possible negative effects his struggles have on the team's performance as a whole, though this is generally considered a rebuilding year and the team's ceiling may not be too high.
His bat has potential, but with his catching playing enough games with his head to affect his hitting, better to have him get things back together in a lower pressure environment (Tacoma) than to keep him in the bigs, continue to watch him sputter and end up with a whiter, more talented Miguel Olivo-like head case who needs to get away from Seattle to figure things out. That sort of stuff does leak towards other men on the roster, and you don't want that. Maybe by May, the bat turns around and, even if his catching still isn't quite working, if the team's having problems at 1B or DH, or if Johjima's career fails to reanimate, you can bring him up and give him some sort of everyday role.
A demotion can be good if, while jacking around with his catching in Tacoma, they give him some quality time at 1B, LF, RF or DH. They could prepare him for either a possible conversion away from catcher, or help expand his potential roles so that the Mariners can better find regular lineup time for him.
Or at the least, he mashes in Tacoma and the team finds a trade partner willing to offer some useful talent in return. Teams that could use a catcher that doesn’t suck at hitting include:
- The Padres, because right now they’re planning on playing something called Nick Hundley at catcher every day
- The Astros if Pudge fails to rebound
- The Blue Jays if Rod Barajas flatlines
- The Marlins, who have yet to find a regular catcher that can perform more than a step above useless
- The Phillies if they get nothing out of their old man backstop rotation (Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste)
- Or maybe even the Red Sox if Jason Varitek finally falls apart.
In terms of self-actualizing Jeff Clement, demoting him may not be the optimal move from a philosophical standpoint. But who is to say that this move is permanent? Things can change rapidly in a month in MLB. And even if the 25 year old may not have a future with the Mariners, that’s not to say he can’t help the team by restoring any lost value in Tacoma and delivering some return value in a trade.