Clemens sweepstakes officially begin

Clemens sweepstakes officially begin

HOUSTON -- If Roger Clemens decides he does indeed want to pitch in 2007 and if he had to pick a team today, based on the requirements he has placed on the interested parties, he'd go to the Red Sox.

After all, the Red Sox are in first place in their division, they're third in the American League in runs scored and their pitching? Second lowest ERA in the league.

The other two suitors, the Yankees and Astros, well, they're not doing so well. Both are in last place in their respective divisions, with 14 losses apiece. The Astros have won 10 games, the Yankees nine. The Astros' problem is offense, the Yankees, pitching.

But according to Clemens' agent, Randy Hendricks, no team is out of the running.

"The three original teams are all being considered seriously," Hendricks said via e-mail.

The calendar has flipped to May, officially marking the Clemens sweepstakes open for business. Clemens will decide, according to Hendricks, "sometime during the month of May, but certainly, not very soon." Of course, he first has to decide whether he wants to pitch, and while Clemens is playing coy, few in the industry believe he'll retire.

Last year, Clemens signed on May 31. It's likely the same ETA can be expected this year.

Astros owner Drayton McLane recently had a brief conversation with Randy and Alan Hendricks, and while McLane hasn't talked to Clemens in a few weeks, he's certainly keeping tabs on the Rocket. Clemens spent much of Spring Training in Kissimmee, Fla., throwing batting practice to and working out with the Astros' Minor Leaguers. When the regular season began, he made a handful of trips to Lexington, where his son, Koby, is a third baseman for the Class A Legends.

Clemens hasn't made his desire to pitch in '07 official, but if he does agree to stave off retirement for a fourth year, his suitors will not have to worry that he may not be in proper shape. Clemens' workout regimen is as strenuous as ever, and according to Hendricks, Clemens' nagging aches and pains from the past -- groin, back, hamstring -- are not an issue.

"He feels very good physically," Hendricks said. "He will be accelerating the intensity of his workouts soon."

But first things first. Clemens has to inform the interested parties that he will pitch this year.

"We had a brief conversation with Randy about Roger," McLane said. "I said, No. 1, that Roger and Debbie [Clemens' wife] need to make up their minds. He's 44, he'll be 45 during the season [Aug. 4]. He's still a power pitcher and he needs to determine physically that he can do it.

"[Hendricks] said that they are having conversations and hopefully, sometime by mid-May, Roger will give word. We're not negotiating and to my knowledge, no other teams are negotiating. [His agents] said there's no point until we know what Roger wants."

McLane is confident about the Astros' chances to sign Rocket, despite the club's slow start. The Red Sox and Yankees haven't said whether they would afford Clemens the perks he has with the Astros, namely, skipping road trips when he's not pitching.

But if Clemens signs with New York or Boston, it's likely he wouldn't be able to spend time during the season in Lexington with Koby, which has been a huge selling point for the Rocket since Koby was drafted in 2005.

The other issue, of course, is money. Last year, Clemens signed for $22,000,002 and was paid a little over $12 million for a shortened season that began on June 22. Assuming Clemens begins this season around the same time, and assuming he's not going to accept a pay cut, McLane will have to exceed the $100 million mark in payroll for the second year in a row. The Astros' Opening Day payroll was just under $88 million.

McLane is confident that the Astros will be competitive with their bid for Rocket's services. He also doesn't seem to be worried that the Yankees and Red Sox would knock the Astros out of competition with a bidding war only those two teams can afford.

"I certainly hope not," McLane said. "I don't think so. I think [Clemens' agents] know reasonably where we are."

What is reasonable?

"I don't know," McLane said. "You saw what it was last year and this is a year farther down the road. Whether that will be less, the same or more, we haven't gotten that far."

McLane, who will likely be the sole negotiator on the Astros' behalf when the bidding begins, likes his club's chances to land the Rocket for a fourth year.

"Randy has assured us that we are in the mix," he said. "The big decision is the one that Roger and Debbie need to make. He needs to let Randy and Alan know and then we'll sit down and talk. I think Roger feels there's something that hasn't been accomplished here that needs to be.

"I think he really feels a part of the Houston Astros. I said to him all along, he helped us get to the World Series and now we need to get back to the World Series and win it. I think he really, really wants to be a part of that."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.