At first glance this is a complete head scratcher. Johjima is hitting .180 with an OPS below .600 and really isn’t that great of a defensive catcher. However, none of that compares to the fact that they have a great catching prospect waiting in the wings, and has been waiting in the wings in Jeff Clement. Clement was drafted in 2003 No. 3 overall because of a lack of catching depth and because he was a very good, power hitting catcher. The Mariners passed on talent like Troy Tulowitzki and Cameron Maybin among others, who are now in the bigs making contributions to their respective franchises. So at first glance this is a very stupid deal and incredibly crippling to the future of the franchise and of Clement.
However, looking at this a bit longer, I can see some potential for this move to be OK. First off, this deal should in no way gaurantee Johjima the starting catching job in ’09 and even in August and on in this season. Obviously, the deal was financially very beneficial for the Mariners and hopefully all the move did was give them some flexibility at the position. In my opinion, it would be incredibly stupid for Bavasi and the rest of the front office to just continue to throw money and playing time at the veterans and impede the institution of young prospects on the team.
This move could — and should — open the door for Clement’s promotion to Seattle immediately where he can platoon between regular time as DH and the occasional start at catcher. They’ve already come out and said he won’t play at first so those are the two positions where he will see time. And by keeping an open mind about who your starting catcher is, you don’t do anything dumb with Clement (like hold him down or trade him) and your team benefits because of it.
Not only that, but the signing of Johjima could ultimately lead to his trading. Perhaps the pressure of playing in a contract year has led to his sudden decline at the plate because Johjima historically is a very solid offensive catcher. Getting him for something like 3 yrs and $10 million is a bargain even at his age of 32 (I think).
Basically, just don’t make this mean that Clement is ruled out of your mind as the future starting catcher for the M’s in ’09 and beyond. Keep an open mind and let this just give you options. One of which is immediate, the promotion of Clement and demotion of Vidro as DH.