Clemens’ indecision handicapping the Astros

For most people, there is no “I” in team. And then there is Roger Clemens, the one man around whom you could build a competitive team and the one man who refuses to consider the greater good of his team.

For the second year in a row, Roger Clemens’ off-season indecision is handicapping the Houston Astros in their quest to build upon their National League Championship season and first-ever World Series appearance. Similar to last year, Roger Clemens cannot decide if he wants to retire or if he wants to keep playing.

According to his agent, Randy Hendricks, Clemens would retire if he had to make the decision today. However, luckily for Hendricks and Clemens, two people who stand to profit from milking the Astros for another Clemens season, the Rocket doesn’t have to decide today.

He can just wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. And wait until the end of January when his agent says he’s more likely to come to a decision.

The Astros, of course, are not too thrilled about Clemens’ waiting game. “It’s the same situation we were in last year where we were uncertain as to when we would get an answer,” Houston general manager Tim Purpura said. “It puts us at somewhat of a disadvantage to build our club.”

Purpura isn’t mincing words when he talks about that disadvantage. Last year, Roger Clemens cost the Astros $18 million. But by waiting so long to make his personal decision, he also cost the team a legitimate shot at Carlos Beltran or any other available bat on the market.

Twelve months later, the Astros are in the same position. This year, Houston scored 693 runs, seventh lowest in the NL, and still managed to capture the Wild Card. They were so offensively challenged because Clemens’ massive contract, the highest-ever single-season salary for a pitcher, and his long wait effectively made it impossible for the team to pursue a free agent slugger they so desperately needed.

Now, history is repeating itself. Clemens, coming off a season with a sub-2.00 ERA, would be in line for another big pay day. And the Astros know that Clemens is a huge marketing ploy for this team. The fans, fellow Texans, love him and adore him on the Astros. But at the same time, another $18 million committed to Clemens would leave the Astros a few dollars short of a big-time bat. Additionally, the long wait for Clemens to make up his mind basically costs the Astros any shot at landing a free agent slugger.

But Clemens is waiting. He’s testing his hamstring; he’s making commitments to the World Baseball Classic. He’s posing in photo ops being the face of the USA team. He’s doing everything for himself and little for his team.

The Astros are growing weary. They say they are going to go about their business. “From a talent point of view, I don’t want to lose him,” Purpura said. “I also realize that we need to improve our club, and it’s very difficult for me to move forward in doing that if I have such uncertainty on whether he’s going to be able to contribute.”

Purpura, owner Drayton MacLane, and manager Phil Garner know what Clemens means to the team. They know that without his pitching, they are short not only one of the game’s all-time greats but a starter in the rotation. Wandy Rodriguez is no Roger Clemens.

But these men also know that they cannot afford a repeat of last winter. They can’t expect to win the Wild Card, the NL Central, or the National League title by scoring just 693 runs again next year. And any offense on the market is slowly slipping away.

Maybe Purpura and MacLane need to take a stand. Maybe they need to say to Roger that, for the good of the team, he has to come to a decision soon or risk taking a pay cut to fit in the Astros’ financial plans.

While Clemens last year was the epitome of difference-maker for the Astros during the regular season, it is highly unreasonable to expect a soon-to-be 44-year-old with a bad back and bad hamstrings to repeat his season. He would still be a key cog to the Astros machine, but he needs to give the team enough flexibility to move on without him if need be. The end of January is just too late for the Astros to execute a viable Plan B when Clemens decides against rejoining the team and heads off for the greener pastures of retirement.

It’s time for Clemens to end the injustice committed against his team and teammates and come to a quick decision. The “we in team” is waiting.

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