Astros decide not to wait on Clemens#8217; decision

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Associated Press

DALLAS — Roger Clemens won’t be pitching for Houston on opening day, but Trevor Hoffman will be back in the San Diego Padres’ bullpen.

On one of the busiest days at the winter meetings in several years, the NL champion Astros refused to offer salary arbitration to Clemens on Wednesday, which means they can’t re-sign the seven-time Cy Young Award winner until May 1. The 43-year-old right-hander hasn’t decided whether he will retire or pitch next season, and the decision by his hometown team could lead to other clubs trying to sign him.

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The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, two of his former clubs, might be interested in signing Clemens, who made $18 million last season. The Rocket was 13-8 and led the major leagues with a 1.87 ERA.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of teams the would like to have Roger pitching for them next year,’’ Boston special assistant Craig Shipley said.

Said Clemens’ agent, Randy Hendricks: “If anybody calls, we’ll listen.’’

There were nine trades on the third day of the winter meetings, with the Texas Rangers reaching a tentative deal to send All-Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano to the Washington Nationals for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge plus minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga. The deal is subject to the players passing physicals.

With Wednesday’s deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their former players who became free agents, players and clubs were forced to make decisions. Hoffman, who had been negotiating with Cleveland and San Diego, decided to accept a $13.5 million, two-year deal with the Padres. An option year in 2008 could hike the value of the closer’s deal to $19 million.

‘’I’m just really happy that I’m not having to traipse my family across the country, although it was a tremendous opportunity with the Cleveland Indians,’’ Hoffman said. ‘’It came down to me making a decision for my family and not disrupting what we have going on.’’

Bernie Williams was among 26 players offered arbitration, giving the Yankees until Jan. 8 to re-sign their longtime outfielder, who is wanted back in a reserve role.

‘’We’re going to try to exhaust the situation with the Yankees before we move forward,’’ agent Scott Boras said.

Boras also represents Johnny Damon, who was offered arbitration by Boston. The Red Sox would like their center fielder back, but Boras is seeking a seven-year contract in the neighborhood of $84 million. Boras said Damon was in Dallas earlier this week to meet with teams, but would not specify which clubs.

‘’I’ll have to say it’s very much in the air where Johnny Damon’s going to be next year,’’ Boras said.

The Chicago White Sox refused to offer arbitration to two-time AL MVP Frank Thomas, who was injured much of the last two seasons. The World Series champions re-signed Paul Konerko last week and acquired Jim Thome to be their designated hitter, leaving no room for the Big Hurt.

San Diego said catcher Ramon Hernandez was headed to the Baltimore Orioles. Hernandez needs to pass a physical before his four-year contract can be finalized.

On the trade front, the payroll-paring Marlins made Juan Pierre the latest player to join the migration from Florida, sending the center fielder to the Chicago Cubs for right-hander Sergio Mitre and two minor league pitchers.

Pierre followed Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Guillermo Mota, Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo and Paul Lo Duca out of Florida, which has cut about $45 million of payroll since the end of the season.

‘’You see them getting picked off one by one and you know that you’re going to be one of them,’’ Pierre said. ‘’It’s just a matter of when and where.’’

Atlanta sent failed closer Dan Kolb back from whence he came. The Braves, who acquired him from Milwaukee during last year’s winter meetings, dealt him to the Brewers for pitcher Wes Obermueller. In another deal, Braves catcher Johnny Estrada went to Arizona for pitchers Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal.

San Diego dealt third baseman Sean Burroughs to Tampa Bay for pitcher Dewon Brazelton, and second baseman Mark Loretta to Boston for catcher Doug Mirabelli.

Milwaukee sent first baseman Lyle Overbay to Toronto for right-hander Dave Bush, outfield prospect Gabe Gross and a player to be named, a move that opens the first-base job for Prince Fielder. Left-hander Ray King was traded from St. Louis to Colorado for outfielder Larry Bigbie and infielder Aaron Miles.

Pittsburgh traded its second left-handed starting pitcher in two days, sending Mark Redman to Kansas City for pitcher Jonah Bayliss and a player to be named. The Pirates wanted to trim some payroll after picking up first baseman Sean Casey and his $8.5 million salary from the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday for lefty Dave Williams, a deal that still isn’t finalized.

It was unclear how much progress was being made in a proposed three-way trade that would send shortstop Edgar Renteria from Boston to Atlanta, shortstop Julio Lugo from Tampa Bay to Boston and third base prospect Andy Marte to Tampa Bay.

There were 11 signings among free agents, with shortstop Rafael Furcal and the Los Angeles Dodgers finalizing their $39 million, three-year contract, and outfielder John Mabry agreeing to a one-year deal with the Cubs worth $1,075,000.

Among the re-signings, the Mariners kept left-hander Jamie Moyer with a $5.5 million, one-year contract, the Indians gave closer Bob Wickman a $5 million, one-year deal, the Dodgers retained backup infielder Olmedo Saenz with a $2 million, two-year contract and Texas agreed to a $600,000 contract with pitcher John Wasdin.