by Trevor Whenham - 05/19/2006
There are two types of people in this world - those, like me, who love Roger Clemens, and those who hate him. His fans believe that anyone with 341 wins, 4,500 strikeouts and seven Cy Young's can take all the time he wants to decide if and when he'll pitch again, and we should just count ourselves lucky if we eventually get to watch him. Others are just tired of his never-ending retirement tour and wish he'd just take his prima donna game and go away.
It looks like the fans may soon win out. Word is that Clemens has stepped up his workout program to the levels that are renowned for their intensity, and he and his agent have set a deadline of June 15 to determine if he is coming back and to negotiate a deal. Speculation is now raging over where Clemens will throw if, and likely when, he does come back. Money isn't likely to be a major factor, because he is going to get a truckload wherever he signs. The numbers that are being thrown around are in the range of $4 million per month. That's not bad money if you can get it.
There are four teams considered true contenders for his services, with one more popping up as an interesting speculation. The fact of the matter is, if he pitches anywhere near how he did last year, he could be a top two starter on any team in the league. Here's a look, in descending order of likelihood, at the teams that Clemens could suit up for.
Houston Astros - The Rocket has had two straight phenomenal years for his hometown team, and the 'Stros are the clear favorite to get his services again. The biggest argument floating around for his return to Houston is the prospect of playing with his son Koby, an Astros prospect who could theoretically be a late season call up. That would unquestionably be attractive to Roger, but it seems very unlikely at this point. Koby was hitting .186 in Class A before going down with a finger injury, so he is clearly a long way away from the big time.
The Astros could definitely use his arm. Roy Oswalt is playing like Roy Oswalt, and Wandy Rodriguez has been surprisingly solid, but Andy Pettitte isn't at his best, and the rest of the rotation has struggled with injuries and inconsistency.
The biggest challenge Clemens faced last year was run support. He frequently kept the opposition under two runs, but that often wasn't enough because the team couldn't score. They are better offensively this year, led by a great start for Lance Berkman, but they still aren't explosive. Last year it was Brad Lidge who saved Clemens' record in several games. The closer was almost unhittable all season. This year he has been so mortal that he was removed from the closer position earlier this month. That has to concern the Rocket.
The Astros closed strong last year to make the playoffs. Clemens will want to make it back to the playoffs again, and the Astros will have to improve dramatically to get there. Clemens would help them get a long way closer to that goal. Bodog had the Astros at 14/1 to win the World Series. Without Clemens that looks like a terrible bet. With him you would really have to take a look at them.
New York Yankees - Money clearly won't be a problem. The Yankees desperately need his arm, and they would open the vault for Clemens. When Shawn Chacon is your second best starter, you don't have a very good staff. Randy Johnson is looking his age and they don't have any pitching depth at all. The Yanks will need arms because they are locked in a battle with Boston and they can't shake Toronto. The rest of the American League is strong enough right now that they can't rely on winning the wild card if they lose their division, either.
On the plus side, Clemens would get all the run support he could want. When you have a potential all-star at every position, you can score runs. That would be a real treat for Roger. The biggest argument against the team, though, is the media circus that the Yankees are. Clemens has been there before and he was successful, but he would have to decide if he would want to live under the scrutiny and pressure that the New York media provides.
The Yankees were the second choice to win the series at 4/1. Clemens would make that much more attractive, because without him their pitching staff is likely not deep enough to carry them. The Yanks likely provide Clemens with his best shot at a World Series, so we will see by his decision how important that is to him.
Boston Red Sox - The biggest reason the Sox would want Clemens is so that the Yankees can't have him. Like the Yankees, the Red Sox have a top-heavy rotation. Schilling and Beckett have been fantastic, but beyond that it has been hit or miss. Clemens would add precious depth. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has been amazing, though, so adding Clemens to the staff would make them one of the best in the league.
There would be a nice full circle angle for Clemens to return to the team that he started out with. It would also probably please him to take millions of dollars from a team that publicly declared him washed up when they dumped him 10 years and four Cy Young's ago. On the other side, Boston has the same problem as New York - does Clemens want to deal with the ridiculous media at this point in his career?
The Red Sox likely won't spend as much as the Yankees would for Clemens, but they must know what he could do for them. They are 7/1 to win the World Series from Bodog. Without him, that's a stretch. With him it's about right.
Texas Rangers - Owner Tom Hicks has tried harder than anyone to land Clemens. The money won't be an issue if the A-Rod contract is any sign. The pitching staff is fine, but not great. The same thing goes for the offense - lots of nice pieces, but not as strong together as it could be. The geography, the money and the American League might please Clemens, but the team is in an uphill battle to make the post-season and Clemens isn't likely to join a team that can't compete. It's not incomprehensible that Clemens dons the big T, but it is far from likely. The team is 38/1 to win the Series, and even the addition of Clemens doesn't make that very attractive.
Toronto Blue Jays - Maybe it's because I'm a Canadian, but there is something about this longshot rumor that I like. Clemens was very successful last time he was in Toronto. The team has loaded up, have shown they will spend money, and have a very good offensive team. Roy Halladay is a horse, Gustavo Chacin is an underappreciated starter and, when he gets healthy, A.J. Burnett will be a great piece of the staff. Add Clemens and you have arguable the best rotation in the league. They are in range of Boston and New York and the arm and leadership of Clemens could put them over the top. It's not going to happen, but it is nice to think about, because the results would certainly be interesting.