Why the Pirates' "Experiment" With Jeff Clement is a Good One

This list of reasons the Pirates might win or lose this year is a really good article. Its author, Dejan Kovacevic, was on the radio yesterday saying a lot of the same stuff, and one thing that seemed to stick with people was Kovacevic's bit about Jeff Clement being the starter at first, which Kovacevic explains in the article this way:

Management's actions alone speak to the notion that the future remains the priority over the present, and not just because of the payroll or Alvarez starting the year in the minors: Deploying Clement at first base, despite questions about all facets of his game, despite Huntington's oft-stated declaration that players will not be given roster spots "by scholarship," despite this being the start of the season rather than the standard experimental time, stands out the most.

This is fair, and I don't see it as a problem that the Pirates are using the beginning of the season for experimental purposes. (Kovacevic doesn't pass judgment on it in the article, but it's clear from the radio show that some people do.) Does anyone really think the Pirates are going to contend this year? No? Then why go through the motions of pretending to contend for a couple of months? For a team in development mode, time is an important resource, and it would be a shame if the Pirates used the time they have to play a known veteran quantity like Ryan Church when they could find out what they have in Clement instead.

As someone pointed out recently in a really good Clement thread in the FanPosts, Clement has had something like 1300 Class AAA at bats, and he has shown he can hit there. So placing him in the Pirates lineup is not really "experimental" at all, at least not any more than playing any other rookie is experimental. Where the experiment comes in has to do with his fielding at first base, which probably will be a struggle, but which is probably only marginally more difficult to do in the majors than in Class AAA. 

And if that paragraph sounds defensive about "experiments," let me continue. The Pirates have been in bad shape for a long time. Everyone knows that, and it would be stupid to deny it. For a team that's in a bad way, "experiments" and weird gambles are generally good things, and we should encourage them. They may not provide the best short-term reasons to provide tickets, but they can be great for the health of the franchise.

Check out Joe Posnanski on Branch Rickey to see what I mean. When Rickey ran the Pirates in the early 1950s, he was doing things that made Neal Huntington's experiments look positively tame, and the Pirates were really bad during those years, but when all the smoke cleared, the Bucs ended up with Roberto Clemente, Elroy Face and Dick Groat as a direct result of all of Rickey's roster shenanigans. Now, it's not really possible anymore to receive so much in return for punting one's regular season hopes, but if the Pirates are willing to be honest enough with themselves to start a converted catcher with some hitting potential at first base, then I think that's great. 

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