Dayn Perry / FOXSports.com
Posted: 1 hour ago
Even at this late hour, we don't know whether future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens will ever pitch another game in the major leagues.
What we do know, however, is that if he does table retirement plans for another season, Clemens figures to have a serious impact on the pennant race, regardless of where he signs. If the rumors are any guide, the Astros, Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox are the serious contenders to sign Clemens, probably in that order.
Last season, Clemens, of course, worked 211 1/3 innings, posted a 1.87 ERA (the best such mark in the NL since Greg Maddux's 1.63 in 1995) and in a just universe would've won his eighth Cy Young award. Whenever a pitcher posts a sub-2.00 ERA, there's bound to be some luck involved. However, a glance at Clemens' supporting statistics suggests that even at age 43 he has much to offer. Consider that in 2005, his walks per 9 innings ratio was 7.88 (13th in the N.L.); K/BbB ratio was 2.88 (18th), and his groudball/flyball ratio 1.41 (22d).
Naturally, you shouldn't expect Clemens to post another 1.87 ERA, but those strong peripheral numbers say he'll once again pitch at a high level. It's doubtful he'll be the best pitcher in his league again in 2006, but Clemens does figure to be a certifiable ace for at least another season.
Some want to see this form of a Rocket throwback ... (Rick Stewart / Getty Images)
Having established that, let's take a look at the teams in the chase for his services. Here's how those aforementioned clubs ranked in 2005 in terms of runs allowed (RA) and rotation ERA: Angels, first in the NL in both; Rangers, 12th in AL RA and 13th in ERA; Red Sox, 11th in RA and 8th in ERA; Yankees, 9th in both RA and ERA.
All three AL squads were generally inept at keeping runs off the board, but the Astros thanks in large part to Clemens himself sported the best run-prevention unit in all of baseball last season (that's especially the case considering the hitter-friendly nature of Minute Maid Park).
Still, keep in mind that last year Houston claimed the Wild Card by only a single game and that they'll be burdened once again by a listless offense (11th in the NL in runs scored last season). It's also possible that Andy Pettitte will regress a bit and that the setup corps in front of closer Brad Lidge won't be as imposing as it was last season. Also, because they opted not to offer salary arbitration to Clemens, the Astros are ineligible to sign him until May 1.
Right now, the Astros look bound for third or fourth place, and while Clemens will improve the team, he's probably not enough to lift the Astros to the top of what figures to be a tougher Wild Card fray in 2006 (it goes without saying that Houston isn't going to win the Central). It's in the Houston's best interest to let Clemens walk and move headlong into the rebuilding process. He'd sell tickets in 2006, to be sure, but this likely isn't a playoff outfit even with Clemens in tow.
As for the Rangers, their long-suffering rotation has been helped by the addition of Kevin Millwood, but that's not enough. Clemens would provide Texas with a high-level, durable starter at the front of the rotation. With Clemens on board, the Rangers would boast a respectable front four of Clemens, Millwood, Adam Eaton and Vicente Padilla. Then they could take the "let God sort em out" approach with the fifth spot and choose among Kameron Loe, Juan Dominguez, Joaquin Benoit, John Wasdin and perhaps top pitching prospect Tom Diamond. It's certainly far more desirable than trying to find two adequate starters in that group.
Owner Tom Hicks should leverage his team's proximity to Clemens' suburban Houston home, the fact that he wouldn't have to bat in the AL and the fact that his addition would elevate the Rangers from third-place team to nominal contender. Then, of course, he'll need to loosen the purse strings.
... and some long for a return to the Bronx. (Otto Gruele Jr. / Getty Images)
Boston is banking on a healthy Curt Schilling, and they also have prospects Jon Papelbon and Jon Lester ready to step into the breach if Schilling (or perhaps David Wells) isn't able to stay healthy all year. At present, the Sox have six starters not even counting Papelbon. Signing Clemens would necessitate a trade or Wells, Matt Clement or Bronson Arroyo, but this is a team without manifest needs at the moment. Raiding the coffers for Clemens isn't a move that makes sense for the Red Sox.
It also seems like a move that wouldn't make sense for the Yankees. New York has six starters in the fold and an emergency option on the roster in Aaron Small. Still, Clemens would certainly look nifty pitching in front of Randy Johnson in the rotation.
Also, the Yankees, unlike the Red Sox, do have needs. Specifically, their bench is fairly awful. That's not wise for a team whose core is so old. Chances are age, injury or some combination of the two will force someone into the lineup who doesn't belong there. If you're in these straits, it's not wise to have things like Andy Phillips, Bubba Crosby and Felix Escalona polluting the roster. Trading away Carl Pavano or Jaret Wright (assuming some team out there is dimwitted enough to want him) for bench help would be ideal. That would certainly require the Yankees to cover most of either pitcher's remaining contract, but that's something they're accustomed to.
Overall, the Astros and Red Sox should pass on Clemens, but the Yankees and Rangers should be in hot pursuit. More specifically, it's the Rangers who should be willing to break the bank for the Rocket. The Yankees are already a playoff-worthy unit, but the Rangers, without Clemens fronting the rotation, haven't much of a hope. If Texas is serious about contending in 2006, they need Clemens.