Baseball Evolution West: Tony Clark

Just because a player has a no-trade clause in his contract, it doesn't necessarily follow that he cannot be traded. If the player wants out, all he needs to do is waive that clause. Tony Clark has such a clause in his contract, and it's reasonable to assume that he would want to play for a team that offered him more playing time than the Diamondbacks do.

But big Tony isn't going anywhere this year, because if he was, he'd have already gone by now.

Early in the season, injuries to Pirates 1B Sean Casey, Cubs 1B Derrek Lee, and Yankees LF Hideki Matsui left many teams desperate for a big bat.  Most of the Clark trade rumors concerned the Cubs, who were interested in him as far back as 2001.  Nothing materialized, of course, and now the window is closed.  Casey will be back before June, Lee will be back sometime during June, and the Yankees seem to have turned to Erubiel Durazo (whom Diamondbacks fans may remember as a younger version of Clark) for their DH needs.

Tony's failure to raise his batting average above the .200 mark has also lessened the demand for his services. Hitting .150 in early April doesn't hurt you too much when you hit over .300 the previous year, But come the end of May, that .300 suddenly seems like a distant memory.  If GM Josh Byrnes didn't think he could get enough value for Clark a month ago, he certainly isn't going to find what he's looking for now.

But the truth is that Byrnes recognizes the true value of a Tony Clark.  Here's a veteran player who slugged over .600 last season, but still only makes about $2 million over the next two seasons.  At that price, Byrnes can afford to use him as a role player.  Clark provides insurance in case an injury does befall Conor Jackson, one of the cornerstones of the franchise.  He can also switch hit, meaning that he would not need a platoon partner in such an event. 

Even though Clark is struggling with his batting average, he's drawing a lot of key walks, and has homered twice in his past seven at bats.  His .700 OPS isn't far behind Craig Counsell's mark of .746, even though Craig is hitting more than 120 points higher.  Fact is, batting average can be skewed by luck.  Hard line drives can be hit right at someone, and swinging bunts can allow for cheap singles.  But by walking and hitting for power, Clark is displaying true baseball skills, and when he starts having a little more luck at the plate, all of his overall numbers will once again look stellar. 

The part that puzzles me is the part where Tony Clark isn't being used in every single game.  2005 was Tony's first regular playing time since 2001, and also the first time his batting average rose above .232 in that span.  Basically, every time he gets over 300 at bats, he has a good season, and every time he doesn't, he struggles mightily.  Now I'm not suggesting taking playing time away from Conor Jackson, but there are other ways to get Clark's bat to the plate a little more often.    

In over one quarter of the Diamondbacks' games so far, Tony Clark has not had an at bat.  That's ridiculous!  There is simply no reason for Tony to go a single game without an at bat.  You've got to pinch hit for your relief pitchers; you may as well do so with your best hitter.  Orlando Hudson's been hitting a little better of late, but when he was clueless earlier in the year, there was no justification for leaving him in to bat in key late-inning situations.  I realize that the whole Arizona lineup looks good right now, but 1) it won't look as good after this road trip and 2) I don't think that anyone seriously believes that the eight players in a given day's lineup are all better hitters than Clark.

So by all means, hang on to Clark.  He's a tremendous value, and a cheap insurance policy.  And feel free to leave him on the bench.  Conor Jackson needs regular at bats to develop, and the policy of starting Clark roughly two games per week is a fine one.  But pretty please, make sure that he steps to the plate at least once per game.  It's good for the man, it's good for the team, it's good for the fans, and heck, it's even good for his possible trade value next year.  Step aside, John Vander Wal, Tony Clark is the pinch hitting stud of today.

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