On Clemens and Bagwell

By | December 05, 2005

Here’s an idea that I know would tick off the union, but everyone else would be happy: what if Roger Clemens decided to come back for the 2006 season, and he signed a one-year, $6 million contract? Why is it just a foregone conclusion that Clemens is going to get a $20 million contract if he decides not to retire again?

Is Clemens worth $20 million? Probably. But he just finished a season where it was painfully apparent that his team’s offensive woes cost them a possible World Series title. Was that Clemens’ fault? Of course not. Yes, Clemens collected a huge $18 million that the Astros theoretically could have spent on three or four guys who know how to hit. But if you want to talk about big contracts, at least Clemens was healthy enough to earn his money, as opposed to Jeff Bagwell, who got paid $18 million for 100 subpar at-bats.

Bagwell’s contract brings up a lot of interesting issues, like a team giving a guy a long-term contract that will pay him $18 million when he is 37 years old, and about the same amount the next year. I love Bagwell, and I am happy for him for every dollar he gets, considering how well he has played over the course of his career (and how loyal he has been to the Astros and the city of Houston). But honestly, someone in the Astros organization is to blame for shelling out these big bucks at an age when a decline was almost inevitable. And of course, that person is not Roger Clemens. Clemens isn’t to blame for the Bagwell contract, but he could do a lot to fix it.

My understanding of the union rules is that Bagwell would not be allowed to restructure his contract for lower annual dollars unless the overall dollar figure went up. For example, as I noted the other day, Chipper Jones restructured his contract in a purely “unselfish” manner that included $15 million more in guaranteed money. He is getting paid less per season, but he got a couple more guaranteed years tacked on, as well as a signing bonus up front. So in order for Bagwell to provide any financial relief to the Astros, they would have to either guarantee him more years (not likely, considering his health), give him a big signing bonus (which, as I mentioned in my Chipper post, doesn’t actually provide financial relief, since bonuses aren’t paid out in Monopoly money), and/or pay him for a few years after he is retired (which probably isn’t any better than paying him when he is inured or ineffective). So basically, the Astros are stuck with Bagwell’s contract.

Clemens, though, has pitched two seasons with the Astros, both on one-year contracts. He has been stellar both years, winning the Cy Young Award the first year and deserving it the second. But let’s face it: he retired two years ago, which means he was comfortable with his finances for the rest of his life. At that point in his career, he had made nearly $95 million dollars ($94,962,181, not counting his rookie year, which I can’t find a salary for). He never mentioned finances as a reason for unretiring to sign with the Astros. If finances weren’t an issue two years ago, they certainly $23 million later.

So Roger Clemens could easily afford to sign for five or six million. That’s no chump change. I mean, it’s not Paul Byrd money or anything, but I’d take it. And then we could talk about a REAL unselfish player — someone who sacrificed his own wallet for the good of the team. Or hey, let’s take it one step further, Roger: sign for the league minimum.

I love Roger Clemens. Like I said with Bagwell, I am happy for every single dollar that Clemens makes. But if he sacrifices some money so that the Astros can upgrade offensively, maybe they will score some runs for him next year, and he can go 24-2 and win himself another Cy Young. I’m just sayin’…

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