Friday, December 15, 2006

Rocket Man



The annual race to sign Roger Clemens hasn't begun in earnest yet, but it will soon and in the end Clemens will probably end up signing the biggest single season contract in baseball history. The Astros, Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox will all make sure that Roger knows how much they would like him to be a part of their rotations in '07.

The Red Sox signing of Matsuzaka probably means that they will not be a major player in the the rocket sweepstakes, but there has to be more than a passing attraction to Roger for him to finish his career in the uniform that he started it in. The ownership group and GM that alienated Roger have been replaced and he has said that he no longer feels any animosity toward the Red Sox. The Red Sox would probably be more than willing to accommodate Roger's schedule, but I think the problem with his return to the Sox is that they may not be able to come up with enough money. Their recent free agent signings have pushed their payroll into the $150 million range. I'm not sure that they would be willing to add another $25 million to that total. The Red Sox have long complained about the Yankees being the evil empire and having an unlimited payroll, but the Sox are edging dangerously close to the same territory. Currently the Sox have filled all the spots in their projected rotation for 2007 but they have yet to fill their need for a closer. That has to be their #1 priority at this point.

The Rangers will probably throw the most money at Clemens. Tom Hicks, he of the $250 million deal for Arod, has made it known that he will do anything to get Clemens into a Rangers uniform. The Rangers have longed for an ace to lead their staff and having a Texas legend in uniform would only serve to increase the revenue for the upcoming season. Nolan Ryan, the other Texas pitching legend, ended his career with the Rangers and I'm sure that Hicks envisions Clemens doing the same thing. The biggest obstacle facing a Rocket revival with the Rangers is the fact that there is no guarantee that they are going to be competitive in the AL West. The Rangers have yet to reach the playoffs in this century and the addition of Clemens probably would not push them over the top. They have a lot of holes to fill and Clemens has always stated that at this point of his career, he would only want to pitch for a contender.

The Yankees would be willing to match the dollar offer from Texas for Clemens and they are definitely a contender, but they would not be able to offer the fringe benefits that the other teams would be willing to give. Clemens would not be able to stay home on road trips, he would not be able to leave the team to see his sons play sports, he would not be given any special treatment at all. The Yankees have one sure hall of famer in Randy Johnson and one potential hall of famer in Mike mussina currently in their rotation. If Clemens were given special treatment, they would have to extend that to both Mussina and Johnson and that's simply not going to happen. While Roger does have fond memories of NY (winning multiple championships, winning a Cy Young award, winning his 300th game), it is half a continent away from his home in Texas. He would not be able to enjoy his family the way he has been able to do with the Astros. I also don't think that the Yankees signing of Andy Pettitte will have any bearing on what Clemens decides to do. The Yankees would offer him the chance to compete for a championship, but considering what he would have to give up, I think it would be a long shot if he came back to play in New York.

That leaves us with the Astros once again. Just like last year when he put the same four teams through the ringer before resigning with the Astros, I don't believe that he will end up anywhere else. The Astros showed last year that they are willing to pay him an astronomical sum to pitch for half a season if that is what he wants. His son is in the Astros organization and he will at least get to play on the same field with him in spring training, he doesn't have to travel with the team on days he isn't pitching, he's close to home and probably most importantly, he gets to sleep in his own bed for most nights of the season. It's a perfect set up for him. The Astros didn't make the playoffs last year, but they were in the World Series the just a season ago. He knows that he can make the difference in Houston. Given the fact that the Cardinals won the division last year with only 83 wins, it's very probable that the Astros could have won the division if Clemens had pitched for the entire season. We'll never know, but they only missed the playoffs by one game.

Clemens is the difference maker for the Astros. They are one pitcher away from being in the playoff hunt, unlike the Rangers. They will allow him to stay home on days he's not pitching, unlike the Yankees and they will pay him an enormous sum of money to pitch for them, unlike the Red Sox. It's a no brainer, just like it was last season. He will stay with the Astros. The question is how long is he going to keep the Astros on the hook this time? He has "retired" three times now. It's pretty clear that he's going to pitch again. No one who has been as effective as he has been has ever just walked away from the game. One of these years though, he is going to break down. Nolan Ryan's legs eventually betrayed him in his mid 40's, even though his arm never did and the same will probably happen to Roger. Exercise and "supplements" can only keep you going for so long. Eventually nature catches up to everyone. Even the singularly gifted, like Clemens.

This annual merry-go-round is really starting to become tiresome, but the truth is as long as Clemens can throw a baseball 95 mph, there will always be someone waiting at his door to hand him a huge paycheck.

By the way, this is the 200th post on "Lupica", so congratulations to me and my fellow bloggers (Natan, Ed and Toby). And they said it wouldn't last.

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