Clemens returns, but to what result?

A die-hard Red Sox fan and a former co-host on my sports talk show didn’t seem to mind losing the Roger Clemens sweepstakes yesterday.

I posed the question, “See the Yankees got the Rocket? Are you [angry]?”

“Not at all,” he answered.
After all, it was the Yankees, not the Red Sox, who were trailing by 5 1/2 games in the American League East. It was the Yankees’ staff who couldn’t run from here to the ice cream truck without pulling a hamstring. And, it was those same Yankee starting pitchers who had only had one starting pitcher last into the eighth inning so far this year.

He was armed with a list of reasons why he didn’t care: Clemens turns 45 in August. He won’t be able to last past the sixth inning. The Red Sox didn’t need him in the rotation, anyway.

Those points all seem to ring true on some level.

Certainly, the Yankees’ movement toward developing and harvesting their own talent took a hit yesterday.

Clemens’ returns as a mercenary – with all the privileges and benefits the Yankees absolutely wouldn’t extend him at this time last year. He doesn’t have to travel with the team if he’s not pitching. Though, it doesn’t seem to bother most players, and if it does, they’re not showing it.

As Jason Giambi put it, he’d carry The Rocket’s bags if he saw him every fifth day on the mound.

So, it’s settled. Giambi will be Clemens’ baggage boy.

The Yankees can only hope that Clemens continues to defy age like he has been doing. Last year, in 113 innings, Clemens had a 2.30 ERA with 102 strikeouts. In three years in Houston, Clemens’ ERA never rose above 3.00 while he collected 38 more wins to add to his already stellar Hall of Fame resume.

Yes, Clemens will have to pitch in the American League, yes his ERA likely won’t be as stingy, and, yes, he won’t likely last past the sixth inning on any given start.

But the Yankees were faced with limited options. Carl “American Idle” Pavano’s career is likely over pending elbow surgery. Kei Igawa has been an early bust besides his one spot-start against Boston. And, now, without rookie stud Phil Hughes, the Yankees have very little else to rely on (although I would like to see Darryl Rasner get a few more opportunities).

Still, it’s difficult to ignore the enormous price tag the Yankees had to pay to entice Clemens to return. Of the $28 million pro-rated to around $18 million Clemens is set to make, the luxury tax will actually cost the Yankees’ $26 million.

Clemens wasn’t looking at many options, either. Houston wasn’t willing to pay the ridiculous amount of money. And, while Boston would certainly like to send Julian Tavarez back to the bullpen, their rotation was neither as geriatric nor as strike-zone impaired as their Yankee counterparts. Plus, Boston had already taken a $51 million risk on Daisuke Matsuzaka, a move that, so far, has produced lukewarm results.

Boston is clearly in a better position right now to win a championship and Clemens could probably ease his way back into the rotation. They were equipped with a rich offer and, from my understanding, at least some of the perks that he has received in recent years.

So, in the end, it may have come down to a simple money game for Clemens and agent Randy Hendricks.

“We met with Randy Hendricks earlier this week and, at Randy’s request, made an offer to Roger Clemens,” the Red Sox said in a statement. “We offered a substantial salary and suggested, for health purposes, that Clemens return on approximately the same timetable as last year. Today we learned from Randy that Clemens has signed elsewhere.”

At any rate, it was clear that the Yankees needed Clemens more than Clemens needed the Yankees. Certainly a great position to be in during a negotiation, and, as a result, the Yankees were forced to accommodate Clemens at every single level.

The only question now is when Clemens will make his second debut in pinstripes.

Although the Yankees initially targeted Clemens for a return in mid-to-late June, Clemens wanted a more immediate return, as early as the start of June.

Well, the Yankees travel to Fenway Park on June 1, which would make for a dramatic return.

If anything, the Yankees and Red Sox will have an immediate barometer of whether they made the right move, or not.

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