NASHVILLE — The Roger Clemens' market lost two customers Sunday. The Angels withdrew--unable to satisfy the Toronto Blue Jays' trade demands. The Houston Astros, a favorite as the pitcher's hometown team, went out with guns blazing. General Manager Jerry Hunsicker called a news conference to say he was "stung and outraged" by the contract demands of representatives Alan and Randy Hendricks and concerned for the industry as players and agents attempt "to extract the last nickel."
Amid ongoing action at the winter baseball meetings, the Clemens' developments overshadowed the New York Mets acquisition of venerable free agent Rickey Henderson and a trade in which the San Diego Padres sent Joey Hamilton to Toronto as a possible replacement if Clemens departs.
Blue Jay General Manager Gord Ash had hoped to satisfy Clemens' trade demand even before these meetings began. He said Sunday that it's now possible the five-time Cy Young Award winner could still be with Toronto next year, but Clemens would seem to have left Ash with no choice but to trade him--despite a softening market.
It is believed that only the Texas Rangers and Colorado Rockies remain seriously involved, with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees eyeing each other from the wings.
The 36-year-old Clemens, taking advantage of a verbal agreement with former club president Paul Beeston, had asked to be traded to a contender or team closer to his suburban Houston home. The Astros seemed to satisfy both demands, but the inference in Hunsicker's news conference was that Clemens is only interested in the money.
Clemens has two years and $16.1 million remaining on his four-year contract with the Blue Jays, but a Toronto official said that the Hendricks brothers had asked the Astros for a renegotiated contract of three years at $42 million, an average of $14 million a year.
In a complex situation, the Blue Jays have given the agents permission to negotiate with interested clubs, even though no club has satisfied the Blue Jays' trade requirements.
Hunsicker said the Hendricks delivered an unsolicited contract proposal Saturday. He couldn't pinpoint the time, but sources said it came shortly after Kevin Brown had set a new market standard, agreeing to a $105-million, seven-year contract with the Dodgers as the last of the elite free-agent pitchers.
"We're being asked to treat this as if Clemens is a free-agent pitcher while giving up a package of quality players in the process," said Hunsicker, adding that the contract proposal was mind-boggling. "We're philosophically opposed to renegotiation, but given the unrealistic demand, it was a moot point."
It's also another example of how mid-market teams can no longer compete for elite players.
Ash refused to respond to Hunsicker's comments--which included the view that the Blue Jays have seemed "unmotivated" to consummate a trade--and said he was confident he could complete a trade.
Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi said he was unable to satisfy the Blue Jays--"We're not prepared to overreach but I think we made a real strong effort to get the guy almost to the point of gambling"--and has become a little frustrated in his search for pitching help, with two or three trade possibilities still alive but not imminent.
"We're not talking about Roger Clemens, but these would be pitchers capable of helping our rotation," Bavasi said. "We're turning over every rock, but it's not coming very easily. We've set a target, and if we don't get the type pitcher we're looking for, then we're not moving [Jim Edmonds or Garret Anderson].
"We'll have to find another way. We've got until April."
In anticipating the departure of Clemens, the Blue Jays acquired Hamilton (13-13, 4.27 earned-run average) in exchange for starting pitcher Woody Williams, reliever Carlos Almanzar and first base prospect Peter Tucci.
"This allows us to position ourselves with a solid rotation if we lose Roger," Ash said. "When Dave Stewart [the former Padre pitching coach] came on board [as assistant general manager] he strongly supported Hamilton's acquisition."
Only Andy Ashby and Sterling Hitchock remain among regular starters in the San Diego rotation that Brown led to a National League pennant. General Manager Kevin Towers said Williams (10-9, 4.46 ERA) will move in behind Ashby and Hitchcock, with two young pitchers, Matt Clement and Stan Spencer, getting an opportunity.
Almanzar (2-2, 5.34 ERA) adds depth to the bullpen, he said, while implying that the real key was Hamilton's contract status.
He made $3.25 million and is eligible for arbitration again, having put the Padres through that difficult process before last season.
"We didn't want to go through that same song-and-dance again, and it looked like we were headed that way," Towers said.