Mon 7 May, 2007 02:00 pm
May 7, 2007
Paying Dearly in Desperation
By MURRAY CHASS
It's Roger Clemens's ball, and he can throw it wherever he wants. Beginning June 1, he'll throw it for the Yankees.
This is the second time Clemens has engineered his way to the Yankees. He did it the first time in 1999. He had played for the Blue Jays for two years, winning his fourth and fifth Cy Young awards, but he wasn't happy in Toronto and his agents orchestrated a trade to the Yankees.
This time he was a free agent. But just as he did last year, he said he wasn't certain if he wanted to play. And as they did last year, the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros let him know that if he wanted to play, they wanted him to play for them.
But of the three teams, the Yankees were the only one that was prepared to sign Clemens now. They would have preferred signing him yesterday - that is, not yesterday as in Sunday, but yesterday as in a month ago. That's how desperate they have been to bolster their decimated pitching staff.
The Red Sox are not desperate for pitching; they have a pretty good starting rotation. They would have been happy to send Julián Tavárez back to the bullpen and give Clemens his spot in the rotation, but they are in first place and lead the Yankees by five and a half games. That position just might make them feel a little too good about themselves. Did someone say cocky?
I'm not suggesting their mind-set was "Who needs Roger Clemens?" but maybe they weren't prepared to pay the price. They had, remember, paid $51 million for the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka, and maybe they just didn't have a yen to pay for Clemens, too.
What the Yankees are paying Clemens raised eyebrows and sent heads shaking in baseball executive circles. "What?!" was one reaction. "Mind boggling" was another.
The Yankees will pay Clemens at the rate of $28 million a season, the highest single-season salary in baseball history. Alex Rodriguez's contract calls for a salary of $27 million this year and each of the next three years.
Clemens, who signed a minor league contract to make it all legal, will go on the major league payroll when he makes his first start, which the Yankees expect to be June 1. That would give him 122 days in the majors, two-thirds of the season, which will translate into actual pay of $18,666,666.
Last year, the Astros paid him $12,262,294, based on a $22 million full-season salary. He made his first start for the Astros on June 22.
The Yankees were so desperate to sign Clemens that they were willing to pay a steep tax on his salary. With a luxury tax rate of 40 percent, the Yankees, who are already beyond the tax threshold, will pay nearly $7.5 million ($7,466,666, to be more precise) on the salary they pay Clemens, meaning the old guy will cost them $26 million.
But tax aside, the winner of this year's Clemens sweepstakes was going to pay dearly for him. Clemens's agents had talked to the interested clubs about an actual salary in the area of $16 million, which would have meant a season salary of about $24 million. The Yankees' distress purchase cost them a few million more.
The money was worth it to the Yankees because Clemens will begin earlier than last season. The additional three weeks will mean an additional three starts.
Randy Hendricks, one of Clemens' agents, said yesterday that he told all three contenders that Clemens wanted to begin pitching at the end of this month. After he spoke with the Red Sox and the Astros, Hendricks talked to Clemens about getting "ready to play now with the Yankees, or you're going to have to delay it for another month."
"He's Roger Clemens," Hendricks said at a news conference at Yankee Stadium. "From my point of view, when he says he's ready to play, teams should listen."
Hendricks said the Red Sox, given their position in the standings, had the luxury of waiting; the Astros wanted to follow last year's timetable.
That left the Yankees, who �- am I repeating myself? �- wanted Clemens yesterday. They were so eager to get him that they agreed to allow him the same privileges he had with the Astros last year, the same privileges that the Yankees said last year they wouldn't grant him.
If he is not scheduled to pitch on a trip, he doesn't have to accompany the team. Special perks for special people. "He may be here sometimes and not be here sometimes," General Manager Brian Cashman said. "We'll be happy when he shows up every fifth day to pitch for us."
In another time, the Clemens contract might have prompted Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox strategist-in-chief, to refer to the Yankees as the Evil Empire, but he already did that a few years ago. Furthermore, he wasn't talking about Clemens yesterday.
"I personally will have no comment," Lucchino said on his cellphone. But the Red Sox issued a statement.
"We met with Randy Hendricks earlier this week and, at Randy's request, made an offer to Roger Clemens," the statement said. "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."
The next time the Red Sox see Clemens could be June 1, when they play the Yankees at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox are still a cheap team, no matter how you cut it...
I wouldn't turn down that kind of money. I don't give a **** which team I play with.
So like Roger Clemens is some well known athlete or something?
He beats that weenie from Japan who tosses a ball for the Eed Sox.