Monday, May 07, 2007

The Clemens factor

The Monk watched yesterday as The Rocket announced his impending return -- Roger Clemens is coming back to the Yankees, thereby swinging the balance of power in the AL Wild Card race and giving the Yanks a chance to win the division. After all, the Red Sawx will lose more than 15 games this year. Ultimately, however, the fact of Clemens' impending return may be nearly as important to the Yanks as anything that Moooooooooooose and Wang provide in the coming weeks because (1) the Yanks know they will get a top-end starter in June and (2) they also know the owner and GM support the team. The latter should never be in doubt, but the fact remains that many teams have lost heart at the trading deadline when their front offices have failed to jump in and fill an outstanding need.

Money alone did not clinch the Clemens deal, although $4.5M/month never hurts (and the cost to the Yanks is about $6.4M/month+ because of luxury tax). Instead, two other factors were crucial: Clemens' friendship with Pettitte (after all, Rocket followed Pettitte to Houston), and the Yanks' desperation after losing Phil Hughes during the baby rocket's no-hitter in progress last Tuesday.

What can the Yanks expect from The Rocket? Critics yesterday said he's just a 5-6 inning pitcher but The Monk doesn't buy that. First, Rocket pitched in the NL for a team that had offensive problems last year, so pulling him after 6 innings when his spot in the lineup came up would almost be par for the course. Second, in both 2004 and '05, he consistently pitched 7 per start while mowing down the NL. Over the course of 22 starts this season, the Yanks should be able to expect 135-145 IP, 130-140K and an ERA around 3.75. What team would reject that?

The impact on the AL race and the Yankees' organization is huge. First, a top four of Wang-Pettitte-Mooooooose-Rocket puts the Yanks' starting as the near-equal of the RedSawx and Angels but with superior firepower. The Yanks' starters now surpass the Twins and pre-Rogers Tigers and probably the ChiSox and A's -- all probable wild card contenders. Second, the Rocket will take innings off the bullpen -- instead of using Proctor AND Vizcaino AND Farnsworth/Bruney, Torre can cut his use of those boys to one or two set-up men, instead of throwing more than one and often in early situations after Igawa honks a five-run lead or similar disaster. Third, when Hughes returns he has a Hall-of-Fame mentor with a similar selection of pitches. Fourth, the kids in Tampa, Trenton and Scranton get time to learn with The Rocket; just one meeting can change their career paths -- ask Curt Schilling about that.

So this signing is important, and the timing is better -- early in May instead of around Memorial Day, which means the Yanks get 3-4 more starts from Clemens than the Astros did last year. A nice boost, and good job by Cashman to get the deal done.

No comments: