But the Astros weren't completely blindsided. They knew throughout the offseason that Clemens wasn't a sure bet to return, and when Andy Pettitte signed as a free agent with the Yankees just after the Winter Meetings ended, the Astros knew chances were high that Clemens would defect to the Yankees, also.
Purpura and McLane met with the Hendricks brothers twice -- the most recent meeting occurring toward the end of April. According to Purpura, the two sides discussed "broad parameters" but did not have any serious conversations regarding money.
It appears there was a difference in opinion about how long Rocket should pitch this year. Clemens wanted to pitch four months of the regular season, which is what he eventually agreed to with the Yankees. The Astros preferred to sign him for three months, as they did last year. Clemens made his first start in 2006 on June 22.
"Three worked very well," Purpura said. "He was strong until the end. I think he would have been strong for us in the playoffs. Our interest was more in the three. It didn't seem to be any kind of a deal-breaker. Clearly, the Yankees came on strong and made a big push and now he's there."
Health factors were certainly a consideration. Clemens, who turns 45 in August, has had a history of back, groin and hamstring issues, and last September, he missed one start with a right groin strain.
At a going rate of $4.5 million per month, the Astros seemingly did not want to risk losing Clemens to injury for any period of time.
"We were interested in having him on board for three months," Purpura said. "When Randy called me, he said, 'He's interested in playing longer than you guys were interested in having him on board for.'
"From our point of view, the three months worked well last year. He made it through very well. He was very strong at the end of that. It's kind of one of those things, if it's not broke, don't fix it. You add another year on to his situation, and you've got a guy who's 44, going on 45."
"The Astros talked about him being a year older, starting in late June or July," Randy Hendricks said. "They never showed any enthusiasm."
Clemens' son, Koby, is a third baseman for the Astros' Class A team in Lexington, where Rocket spent much of his free time last year. It's unlikely that Major League Baseball rules would allow the elder Clemens to suit up and work out with the Astros' farm team, now that he is employed by a different big-league club.
The Astros and Clemens are still tied together, however. Sixty days after Clemens retires for good, his 10-year personal services contract will go into effect.
"From our point of view, we wish him the best," Purpura said. "He was tremendous for this organization for three years. He helped get us to the World Series. We wish him all the best. He's a tremendous competitor; our young players have learned a great deal from him. He's been a big part of our pitching development. Roger's a special, special human being."
When Hendricks called Purpura to tell him the Rocket had moved on, Purpura asked where he signed. Hendricks did not tip his hand.
"Tim tried to quiz him," McLane said. "Randy said, 'Gotta go.'"
Looks like Clemens did, too.