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Astros won't offer arbitration to Clemens

DALLAS -- Roger Clemens came out of retirement two years ago
and helped his hometown Houston Astros reach their first World
Series. Now that he's pondering his future again, they won't wait
for his decision.

With Clemens uncertain whether he will pitch again or retire,
the Astros declined to offer salary arbitration on Wednesday. The
move means the seven-time Cy Young Award winner can't re-sign with
the National League champions before May 1.

"We've had two great years, and they were special years,"
general manager Tim Purpura said. "The fact of the matter is
Roger's 43 years old ... we're not talking about somebody in the
middle of a great career. We're talking about somebody who's at the
end of a great career."

Still, Purpura called it "one of the more gut-wrenching,
difficult decision" the Astros have had to make.

"We expected this because we talked a great deal about this,"
said Clemens' agent, Randy Hendricks. "It's no surprise."

The Astros didn't want to risk going to salary arbitration while
they awaited his decision whether to play. Clemens still intends to
pitch for the United States in March during the inaugural World
Baseball Classic.

Clemens made $18 million this season, when he led the major
leagues with a 1.87 ERA and went 13-8. He finished third in the NL
Cy Young Award voting behind 20-game winners Chris Carpenter and
Dontrelle Willis.

Clemens had an injured leg and back late in the season and was
forced out of his start in Game 1 of the World Series against the
Chicago White Sox after only two innings.

"The health is not an issue. It's the willingness of Roger to
play, and we just don't know that," Purpura said. "To tie up
resources for that long of a period of time would really hurt our
ability to move forward."

Houston's decision could lead to other teams trying to lure
Clemens, such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, two of
his former clubs.

"If anybody calls, we'll listen," Hendricks said.

"I'm sure there's a lot of teams that would like to have Roger
pitching for them next year," said Craig Shipley, a Red Sox
special assistant.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman said late Wednesday night that he
wouldn't rule anything out, but wasn't ready to discuss Clemens'
availability.

"We all know who Roger Clemens is, and how special a player he
is. I guess all that's for another time," Cashman said. "I will
be engaging all players in the free agent market."


ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney reports that according to a club official, the Yankees will definitely take a look at Clemens.

"It's a natural conversation," the official told Olney.

Hendricks doesn't expect Clemens to make a call about pitching next
season for at least a month.

"Nothing has changed about his plan to decide in late January,
early February," Hendricks said, adding that Clemens' performance
in the WBC could play a part in the decision.

"I expect that will be a form of a litmus test to see how feels
about playing mentally and physically," he said.

While the Astros won't rule out the possibility of Clemens
pitching for them from May 1 on, Purpura said "nobody should pin
their hopes" on that happening. Purpura said that hasn't even been
discussed.

"Until he gets to the point that he decides he wants to play, I
don't think anybody can guess when or if he would come back,"
Purpura said. "There's no deal that that will happen, no
preconceived approach to that issue."

Even without Clemens, the Astros have an escalating payroll. But they also still have a starting rotation that includes Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt.

Pettitte, Oswalt, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman are scheduled to make about $65 million in 2006, up from about $45 million last year. Purpura said another $10 million to $15 million
will go to players eligible for salary arbitration, including
closer Brad Lidge and cleanup hitter Morgan Ensberg.

Clemens planned to retire after the 2003 season, and it seemed certain that his start for the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the
World Series would be his last. But his buddy Pettitte then went to
their hometown Astros, and Clemens followed him and won another Cy
Young in 2004, when Houston won a playoff series for the first
time.

With 341 victories, Clemens is ninth on the career list with the
most wins among living pitchers. His 4,502 strikeouts are second
only to Nolan Ryan's 5,714.

"I'd love to have an answer today that he would come back,"
manager Phil Garner said. "In the event that that's not going to
happen, this is the best possible scenario, to move forward."

Purpura said there were no hard feelings or animosity between the Astros and Clemens, who has a 10-year personal services agreement with the team after he retires as a player -- even if he pitches for another team.

"I think there's a full understanding of why we have to make
our decision at this point," Purpura said. "He's going to be with
us in some form or another. ... We certainly have cherished our
time with him."

Clemens' oldest son, Koby, signed with the Astros in July. The 19-year-old third baseman hit .297 with four homers and 17 RBI in
33 games for the Rookie League Greeneville Astros and .281 with six
RBI in nine games with the Class-A Tri-City Valley Cats.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.