The Cardinals Gambled on Clement

Facing the start of the 2008 campaign with their top starters Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder on the disabled list, the Cardinals turned to former All-Star right-handed starter Matt Clement for help. After all from 1998 to 2005, Clement posted an 82-81 won-loss record with 1174 strikeouts and a 4.37 ERA in 1347 innings, he appeared to be just what the doctor ordered.

The Cardinals needed someone who could eat innings and hold the down fort until the dynamic duo, Carpenter and Mulder returned, after the All-Star break and mid-May respectively. If healthy, Clement would fit the bill; after all he has a good sinking low 90s fastball, and a hard slider he mixes with a four-seamer and changeup. A good enough arsenal that he held opposing batters to just a .233 batting average from 2002-2005, while racking up a combined record of 47-42 with a 3.99 ERA for the Chicago Cubs (02-04) and the Boston Red Sox (05).

Clement was coming off a three-year contract that he had signed with the Red Sox before 2005 for approximately $25 million, a deal that the Red Sox had buyers remorse almost before the ink had dried on the contract. Clement made just 12 starts in 2006 for the Red Sox, posting a 5-5 record with a 6.61 ERA, before having season ending surgery in September. He was rehabilitated at the Red Sox extended spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida, but did not make a major league appearance in the 2007 season. His ineffectual pitching during the 2006 season and failure to even pitch in 2007 earned him the nicknames "DoorMatt" and "HazMatt" on Red Sox talk radio.

The Red Sox opted not to keep Clement, who went from a 13-6 record with a 4.57 ERA in 2005 in 32 starts, to just a 5-5 record with a 6.61 ERA in only 12 starts in 2006, after he was hurt and had to have arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder to repair tears in his rotator cuff and labrum.

The Cardinals, desperately seeking starters for the 2008 season, signed Clement to a one-year, $1.5 million Major League contract, laced with incentives, with a club option for 2009, with the expectation that Clement would be ready to pitch when the season opened in St. Louis.

"Matt is a very talented pitcher who has been beset by injury the last few years," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said in a statement released by the team. "Based on our findings from his rehabilitation last season and his recent physical, we feel that he can be a solid addition to our starting rotation, and should have no limitations upon reporting to spring training."

The Cardinals were forced last week to place Clement on the 15-day DL, retroactive to March 21st, this coming after the Cardinals' team doctor said that Clement was healthy and would be able to begin the season playing regularly in January.

This past weekend, Clement who is still working on building up his arm strength, made his most intense rehab outing of the spring as he threw three and two-thirds innings and 54 pitches in a minor league game. He allowed two runs on five hits, but showed improved command and velocity that has been reported around 86 MPH.

Pitching coaches would like to see Clement get his velocity up to the low 90s, but on a positive note, he didn't walk anyone on Sunday.

This season Clement gets a $1.25 million salary and can earn an additional $5.25 million in performance bonuses, receiving the full amount if he pitches 200 innings.

The Cardinals have an $8.75 million option for 2009 with a $250,000 buyout. The option would increase to $9 million and the buyout $500,000 if Clement reaches 160 innings this season; $9.5 million and $1 million for 180 innings; and $10 million and $1.5 million for 200 innings.

The debate continues as to when the Cardinals can expect Clement back, depending on who you talk to, it's anywhere from the mid-April until the end of May. He wasn't healthy enough to make an appearance in a Grapefruit League game, so I would suggest he's at least a few weeks away from returning.

But the bottom line is, if healthy in the second half of this season, Clement can still become a solid member of the Cardinals 2008 rotation. In his first season with Boston in 2005 he was named to the American League All-Star team and finished that season with 13 wins. The Red Sox were 22-10 in his starts, their most wins behind any starter.

If he can return to that form of 2005, the signing of Clement could still turn out to be one of the best deals made during the offseason, which would mean bonus money for Clement, and an added bonus for the Cardinals and their fans.


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