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Roger Clemens Return: Why Astros Are Only Team That Would Take a Chance

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Roger Clemens Return: Why Astros Are Only Team That Would Take a Chance
Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE
Roger Clemens is scheduled to pitch Sept. 7 for the Sugar Land Skeeters.

When asked on Tuesday (Sept. 4) whether he was preparing for a return to the major leagues, Roger Clemens told reporters, including The Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly, "I don't see it happening."

Wait a minute—that's not following the narrative we've all mapped out here. Clemens is pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters again on Friday (Sept. 7). Following the five-day schedule of a starting pitcher, that would put him on pace to pitch Sept. 12, which many have speculated as the date when Clemens will return to the majors with the Houston Astros

But if Clemens is to be taken at his word, he's not playing along with that guessing game.

"Everybody is speculating and everybody’s got their own opinions, and that’s great," Clemens said from York, Pa., where he was throwing a side session before the Skeeters game versus the York Revolution.

"But it is still a lot of work. When I started warming up, playing a little lawn catch, I knew it was gonna be a little more work than I wanted."

Is this more work than Clemens thought it would be? It seems unlikely that Clemens would underestimate how much preparation would be required to get himself in major league shape. But after a five-year hiatus, perhaps he was naive about how easy it would be to pick up a baseball and start firing it at hitters again. 

Yet perhaps Clemens really did just think it would be fun to get out there and throw the baseball again, with no aspirations of returning to the big leagues, giving his career one last high note and resetting his Hall of Fame eligibility to five years from now. 

Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images
Roger Clemens will throw to oldest son Koby in his next game.

Maybe Clemens just thought it would be fun to get on the mound and throw to his son catching behind the plate. Mark Berman of FOX 26 in Houston was the first to report that Clemens' son Koby will be the Skeeters catcher on Friday.

Koby Clemens, 25, just finished his season in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, playing for Single-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. The Houston Chronicle reported that he asked the Blue Jays to release him so that he could play in this game. 

So was this the ultimate goal here? Did Clemens just want a nice moment with his son in front of friends, family and a few thousand other fans? 

Whatever the case may be, the Houston Astros will still have a scout watching Clemens pitch on Friday, according to Reid Laymance of the Houston Chronicle. Even if Clemens says he doesn't intend to pitch in the majors this season, the Astros will apparently be ready for the possibility—just in case.

"We're going to make sure we're prepared," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com. "If we have the information from a baseball perspective to see what he looks like, we're going to have a scout there. It's an easy game for us to cover."

The Astros are certainly in the best position to take a chance on Clemens if and when he decides to pitch in the majors again. 

For one thing, Clemens is already under contract to the Astros. He already has a personal-services agreement with the team that hasn't been exercised yet. Taking the mound as a starting pitcher would probably qualify as a personal service to the Astros.

Houston is also last in the National League in attendance, according to figures from ESPN.com. Drawing fans to see a last-place team that's traded away all of its recognizable names is a tough sell these days.

Bob Levey/Getty Images
Astros owner Jim Crane and GM Jeff Luhnow stand to gain from Roger Clemens pitching for them.

Though Astros owner Jim Crane insists he wouldn't do this for the money or publicity, there's no doubt that putting Clemens on the mound would bring both of those things.

Ultimately, there's just nothing to lose for the Astros if they let Clemens pitch for them again. With a record of 42-95 as of Sept. 6, Houston is the worst team in baseball by a significant margin. The Astros are 40.5 games out of first place in the NL Central. If pitching Clemens gives them a blip on the local and national baseball radar, why not give it a shot?

Would this be a sideshow? Of course it would. But Clemens doesn't seem to care about that. He's going to pitch for the Sugar Land Skeeters and throw to his oldest son, purely for the spectacle of it all, it appears. 

Luhnow seems serious about signing Clemens, maybe at the prompting of ownership. Are there baseball reasons to put Clemens back out there in an Astros uniform? At this point in the season, maybe he's a better option than Jordan Lyles or whomever would pitch instead.

It would surely be better for the long-term future of the franchise to let the younger player pitch. But maybe Luhnow feels that it could benefit his younger pitchers to watch a legendary veteran like Clemens at work. Maybe this would be like having Clemens around as a special coach during spring training. Anything he could pass along would be helpful. 

Clemens says he doesn't think he'll pitch in the major leagues this year. But he hasn't exactly established himself as a beacon of truthfulness in recent years either. We'll believe Clemens isn't going to pitch for the Astros when the regular season ends and he hasn't taken the mound at Minute Maid Park. 

 

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