Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Astros cut Clemens loose


DALLAS — Roger Clemens' two-year stay as a player with the Astros apparently is over now that general manager Tim Purpura and owner Drayton McLane have decided against offering the future Hall of Famer salary arbitration.

By refusing to offer Clemens, 43, arbitration by today's 11 p.m. deadline, the Astros accept that their negotiating window with him will be closed until May 1. By then, the 341-game winner will likely be playing elsewhere if he opts against retirement.

Clemens earned $18,000,022 this year, a record for a one-year contract. If the Astros had offered arbitration and he had accepted and taken them to a hearing, he would have earned no less than $15.4 million next season but more likely something in the $20 million range. By offering arbitration, the Astros would have at least extended the negotiating window with Clemens until Jan. 8.

Quite simply, though, the Astros didn't want to risk going into an arbitration hearing. If they had offered arbitration and Clemens had accepted, he would have automatically gone on the roster and off the free-agent market. Clemens would have had until Dec. 19 to accept arbitration.

Through his representatives, Randy and Alan Hendricks, Clemens informed the Astros earlier this week that he wouldn't decide until late January or early February whether he'll play his 23rd major-league season or retire.

"This is probably one of the more difficult, gut-wrenching decisions we've made in this organization," Purpura said. "It seems like over the last year or so, we've had a lot of tough decisions to make. When you make a decision like this with somebody like Roger Clemens, you have to look at it on all levels in every perspective that you can.

"It's one of those things that you regret you have to do, but you also have to realize that when you're in our role trying to build a club, we need to move forward, and we don't know just what Roger's status will be."

The Astros' decision did not come as a surprise to the Hendrickses. Clemens was unavailable for comment, but Randy Hendricks said he had already sent him an e-mail message.

"We had prepared him for the fact that this could happen," Hendricks said.

Clemens, who won his record seventh Cy Young Award in 2004 after his first season with the Astros, led the majors with a 1.87 ERA in 2005.

Since his arrival, the Astros won a postseason series for the first time last year and went all the way to the franchise's first World Series this year.

After going 13-8 in 2005, Clemens is 341-172 with a 3.12 career ERA. Once he retires, he's tied to a 10-year personal services contract with the Astros.

But there's no guarantee he won't land with the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or any other team next season.

"There's no hard feelings," Randy Hendricks said. "It's just a strange situation."

The Astros also declined to offer arbitration to infielder Jose Vizcaino. Astros cut Clemens loose

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