Jays sign Clement to Minors contract
With pitching as primary need, Toronto takes chance on right-hander
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are taking a chance on Matt Clement, and he knows that as well as anyone. But, now more than two years removed from major surgery on his right throwing shoulder, the pitcher doesn't believe Toronto is taking as big of a risk as some might think.
"If you want to call it a gamble," Clement said during a conference call on Friday, "I think it's a good gamble."
It's fitting then that the Blue Jays reeled in Clement with a Minor League contract on Friday, one day after baseball's annual Winter Meetings wrapped up at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In desperate need of starting pitching, Toronto also included an invite to Spring Training for Clement.
The Blue Jays are down a pair of injured starters -- Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum -- and just lost right-hander A.J. Burnett to the Yankees via free agency. That means Clement will join a group of relatively young and inexperienced arms in the competition for the two vacancies within Toronto's rotation.
Clement is hoping that he can make a run at one of the available jobs.
"In my mind," Clement said, "I wouldn't have even talked to another team if i didn't think I could get back to the Major Leagues right now. I have a desire to prove that I can beat the surgery that I had. It was a very extensive surgery and I still want to prove that all the hard work -- there is something that comes out of the hard work."
Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi isn't quite ready to say Clement is in the running for a rotation job.
"I think we'll have a better idea once we see him," Ricciardi said. "Right now, we don't really know what he is, outside of he's feeling a lot better. I think once we get him in Spring Training and we watch him, we'll have a better idea."
At the end of the 2006 season, when Clement was with the Red Sox, the right-hander underwent an operation to repair a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. The 34-year-old pitcher signed a one-year deal with St. Louis last offseason, but was ultimately released in August after making 16 rehab outings between three levels within the Cardinals' farm system.
Clement said his pitch velocity last season reached 89 mph, which is only slightly below the level it was prior to his surgery. Also encouraging is the fact that Clement hasn't experienced any setbacks throughout his rehab process -- an aspect of his recovery that has the pitcher confident about his chances.
"It's really been strange," he said. "So many people rehabbing have to take a week off or five days off or a month off. I've never had that happen. Now, I've had to slow down a little bit, but I've always been able to keep throwing. I've never had sharp pains or anything that I guess you could call a setback. That's the other thing that keeps me going."
Clement said he had received interest from more than a half dozen clubs this winter, but Toronto appealed due to the presence of pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and head trainer George Poulis. Clement worked with Arnsberg during their days in the Florida organization and Poulis was a trainer in the Padres' farm system early in the pitcher's career with San Diego.
"I still think I can pitch. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't," Clement said. "I wanted to put myself in the best hands, the people who could help me achieve that. I thought that the combination of those two guys were a great combination. It made it an even easier decision, because I know the Blue Jays are looking for starting pitching."
Clement, who is 87-86 with a 4.47 ERA over a nine-year big league career, made at least 30 starts for seven straight seasons before encountering shoulder problems in 2006. Clement's last full season was in 2005, when he finished 13-6 for the Red Sox and was named to the American League All-Star team.
St. Louis signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract last January and -- between stints with Class A Palm Beach, Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis last year -- Clement struck out 10 and walked 13 over 32 2/3 innings and posted a 5.23 ERA. The pitcher said his pitch mechanics were the main issue throughout the year.
That's one reason Clement is looking forward to reuniting with Arnsberg. Clement said he's kept in touch with his old pitching coach over the years and added that he sought out Arnsberg for advice last season and before beginning his throwing program this winter.
"The one thing that hurt me last year the most was I never got mechanically right," Clement said. "My arm felt good most of the time and felt great a lot of the time, but I was still throwing how I was before I got hurt, trying to protect my arm.
"I'm very anxious to get to work with him, because when we worked together in Florida, it didn't take him very long to figure out what I needed to do."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.