Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

GREAT (AND UNREALISTIC) EXPECTATIONS

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me
- "The Weight", by the Band

You can bet the burden will weigh heavily on Roger Clemens when he makes his celebrated return to the Yankees' rotation for the first time in four years. The Bombers appear to be in a free fall at the moment, little more than a month into the 2007 season, and Clemens is being viewed as their savior. Saving any team, especially the Yankees, is one lofty expectation and a mighty heavy burden for any one player.

But when that player is three months shy of his 45th birthday, those expectations appear outsize and unrealistic.

As a Red Sox fan, sure I'd like to see Clemens finish his career in Boston this year. It'd be a story book ending to a storied career, and the Sox look like genuine World Series contenders at this point. But I'd be weary of hanging all my hopes on him, or his ability to pitch like he used to. As this stage of his career, Clemens is a six-inning pitcher. In his last 200 starts, dating back to 2000, Clemens has exactly one complete game. That came in a Yankee uniform in 2003.

Backed by the rejuvenated Red Sox bullpen, a six-inning Clemens outing would be sufficient and likely result in some wins. In New York, it could be the source of much grieving. The New York bullpen is a mess, and it needs help -- lots of it.

Take, for example, future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera.

The Yankee closer already has three losses this year, after having just five in 2006. And Rivera has also blown two saves already this spring, but had just three all of last season. At present, Rivera is sporting a bloated 8.44 ERA and opponents are batting .318 against him. Last year those numbers were 1.80 and .223, respectively.

The numbers, apparently heralding Rivera's rather sudden decline, go on and on. Last year he gave up a total of just three home runs; this year he's already given up two. In just 10 2/3 innings this season, Rivera has allowed 14 hits, resulting in 10 earned runs. Last year he allowed just 15 earned runs over the entire season.

Sure, if the Yankees get the best possible production from each of their starters they should, in combination with their formidable lineup, win plenty of games -- perhaps even 90-95 -- and possibly earn yet another playoff berth. But consider this; Mike Mussina is 38, and Andy Petite will be 35 next month. Both have already been injured this year, as have Chien-Ming Wang and rookie Phil Hughes, who, by the way, has made exactly two major league starts and has a 1-1 record.

And in case you didn't know, Mussina and Petite both averaged just six innings per start last season, and Petite was in the pitcher-friendly N.L. And guess what? Clemens averaged just six innings a game last year as well, the lowest of his career.

Having things go perfectly over the course of a baseball season is unrealistic and almost never happens, as the Yankees should have learned already. To expect the best possible production from their staff, now anchored by a soon-to-be 45-year-old pitcher, is a fool's game.

So far this year, Yankees starters -- all 10 of them -- have averaged just five innings per start, a major league worst. That won't get it done in October. By then, an already worn out bullpen will be on life support and resemble a MASH unit. Oh sure, they'll be in the market for bullpen help like almost everyone else -- except the Red Sox.

Assuming that Clemens makes five starts per month from June through September, the Yankees will pay him $900K for each of them. All things considered -- his age, his six-inning endurance, his bullpen, the dangerous A.L. hitters he'll regularly face -- that doesn't seem like a wise investment. It's yet to be determined if he'll actually earn it.

One way or another, it'll be interesting to watch the story unfold. But Clemens has become a villain in Boston once again -- once and for all.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

ROCKET MAN IS A MERCENARY MAN

Roger Clemens is a Yankee once again. The very notion is sure to ruffle the feathers of any Red Sox fan. Back to the Evil Empire goes a Red Sox legend.

Clemens, the greatest pitcher of his generation -- some would argue the greatest ever -- has revealed himself to be a mercenary, a man who will grant his services to the highest bidder.

How else can Clemens’ decision to sign with the Bronx Bombers be explained?

Returning to Houston would have allowed him to continue pitching for his hometown team, where could spend time at home with his family or work with his son Koby, an Astros’ minor leaguer. Clemens was granted unheard of privileges in Houston, such as skipping road trips when he wasn’t scheduled to pitch.

Instead, Clemens joins a 14-15 Yankee team devastated by injury, and in last place in the A.L. East. Injury and unpredictability have served to burden an already unbalanced bullpen, and that relief core has given manager Joe Torre fits, potentially putting his very job in jeopardy.

Consider this: on Monday, the Yankees are set to become the first team in major league history to use 10 starters in its first 30 games.

The Clemens signing apparently caught the Red Sox by surprise. The team issued a statement saying that they had “offered a substantial salary” to Clemens, and yet they came up short. Or they were simply spurned.

In February, the 44-year-old Clemens told a Houston television station that there was an 80 percent chance he would retire. This is clearly a conflicted, or confused, man. Clemens has retired, or at least threatened to do so, after each of the four previous seasons.

Despite making the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros patiently wait while he pondered his decision, Clemens declared, "I'm not keeping anybody hanging. I don't want to play."

Yeah, whatever.

The Yankees will reportedly pay Clemens a pro-rated $28 million salary for the remainder of the season -- or $4.5 million per month -- and allow him the same generous privileges the Astros granted him. The deal will also cost the Yankees approximately $7.4 million in additional luxury tax, amounting to a $26 million investment for just one season.

In a slight to the Red Sox, Clemens made these pointed remarks regarding the Yankees: "Let's face it -- these guys know how to win."

That remains to be seen.

How can the Red Sox and their fans find solace? Well, Clemens is entering his 24th season, a time when the few pitchers who’ve lasted as long were in serious decline.

In his previous five-year stint with the Yankees, Clemens had an average ERA of 4.01, and he was 4-8 years younger during that period.

Sure, over the last two seasons, with the Astros, Clemens posted remarkable ERAs of 1.87 and 2.30, respectively. But a continuation of that type of performance would be, by historical standards, almost superhuman.

At this point in his long and storied career, even Clemens knows his body can't hold up to the rigors of an entire MLB season. In order to help the Yankees make a stretch run and gain a playoff berth, Clemens needs to avoid a late-season fade. Yes, he has done the seemingly impossible over the last few years, but history suggests that a pitcher who will be 45 in August can't hold up like this much longer.

Gaylord Perry pitched 200 innings when he was 43 but then retired the following season at age 44. Steve Carlton never cracked 200 innings after the age of 39 and retired at age 43. Don Sutton had productive seasons at 41 and 42, but was out of the majors at age 43. Tom Seaver had a productive season age 40 but was out of the majors at age 41. He attempted a comeback with the Mets at the age of 42, but was unsuccessful.

If Clemens’ return to the A.L. results in anything less than dominance, it won’t serve the Yankees very well. They need more than a mediocre, multi-million dollar pitcher.

Realizing the limitations of a man his age, both the Red Sox and Astros told Clemens they'd prefer him to join them in late June or early July. But, according to agent Randy Hendricks, the desperate Yankees were willing to take a chance and said: "We'd like you yesterday."

Clemens hopes to start pitching in minor league games in about two weeks.

The Rocket declared. "I expect to perform like I was 25; that's my expectations. Anything short of that would be a disappointment."

I think he can expect to be disappointed, especially in the potent American League.

The Red Sox, and their fans, can take hope; at just 23-years old, lefty Jon Lester is a considerably younger, and cheaper, alternative to Roger Clemens.



Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.