Kenji Johjima’s contract extension (three yeras, $24 million) surprised many, including MLB Trade Rumors’ Tim Dierkes:
I didn’t see this coming; I thought the Ms would hand catching duties over to Jeff Clement in ’09 despite questionable defense. Instead, they’ll apparently use him as a DH/1B or trade him. He’s hitting .375/.500/.688 in 19 Triple A games.
Neutral observers may be shocked, but the reaction in the Mariners blogosphere is downright despairing. I’d estimate that 50% of the angst is due to Johjima’s struggles, while the other 50% results from the continued blocking of hot-hitting catching prospect Jeff Clement. Let’s go to the blogs:
Lookout Landing has the dismay:
You all know why this such a horrible move. Clement, the likely draft compensation from letting Kenji walk, Kenji’s age, Kenji’s horrible start to 2008 (and not just his numbers, he looks bad), Kenji’s workload, etc etc etc.
A move like this just reinforces the impression that no one upstairs understands aging curves or the benefits of cheap young talent. So instead of being able to look forward to an offseason of potential awesome, now we’ve been shaken right back into awaiting the Ibanez extension and Clement trade for Octavio Dotel. Because, why wouldn’t those happen? What reason do we have to expect otherwise?
We weren’t born pessimistic. We were made this way.
Onward, broken soldiers.
Caffeinated Confines has the requisite sarcasm:
What an amazing vote of confidence the Mariners have placed in their farm system, and specifically, in Jeff Clement, today, in signing an extension to a struggling catcher who frequently has problems communicating with his pitchers.
Bleeding Blue and Teal has a look at the options for young Clement, and sees a possible trade in his future:
I’ve been thinking about some different scenarios on what may happen to stud catching prospect Jeff Clement, and there are more bad ones than good. The first thing you have to notice about this extension is the timing. Johjima is hitting just .200, so inking him now is a PR nightmare. This move is obviously connected to other moves to come.
And Buster Olney suggested yesterday that the Red Sox would be interested, if they could get Clement for Coco Crisp and some pitching:
What follows is pure speculation; to repeat, pure speculation. With the Mariners now committed to Johjima for the next few years, it might make sense for Seattle to offer catching prospect Jeff Clement to the Red Sox in return for outfielder Coco Crisp, with other players also involved in the deal; the Red Sox would have to include some pitching.
Boston is looking to improve its catching depth and Clement could give them a solid alternative one day, as Jason Varitek enters the last years of his career, and the Mariners desperately need to stabilize their outfield situation. Crisp could play right field, with Ichiro Suzuki remaining in center, or, if Ichiro preferred right, Crisp could play center.
“I would guess that at some point along the way, because of Jeff’s bat — and assuming Kenji plays the way he can — Jeff’s going to get exposed to another position at some point,” Bavasi said. “But we have not given up on him as a catcher. A left-handed hitting catcher with power, those are real tough to find. So, this doesn’t change Jeff’s track to the big leagues much at all. Because his track to the big leagues is with his bat more than his glove anyway.”
What that could mean is Clement getting in a couple of games per week as a catcher, then spending the rest of his time as a designated hitter or first baseman. The contract of incumbent first baseman Richie Sexson runs out after this season.
Clement is tearing up the Class AAA ranks for the team’s Tacoma affiliate. The first-round draft pick from 2005 is hitting .364 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.161 with five home runs and 17 runs batted in over 66 at-bats.
Personally, I don’t think the Red Sox are looking to acquire someone who is tearing it up in Triple A. They’re looking for a stud prospect who is still a couple of years out (unless, of course, they’re not planning on resigning Varitek, who is a free agent at the end of this season—a turn of events which would absolutely floor me). Nonetheless, there are plenty of other teams who would be interested in acquiring Clement, and Seattle would probably be willing to oblige, especially if the M’s have unfulfilled needs at the trade deadline.