Astros hope Clemens will return

Astros hope Clemens will return

HOUSTON -- Not long after his Astros had been swept by the Chicago White Sox in the World Series, owner Drayton McLane Jr. walked around the Astros clubhouse and had thanks and handshakes for the players who had reached heights no Astros team had ever attained.

Though Roger Clemens wasn't around when McLane made his rounds, the Astros owner intends to try to convince the seven-time Cy Young Award winner to return in 2006.

"I'll certainly give him two or three days, and then we'll sit down and talk about it again," McLane said. "He's concerned about the hamstring injury, but he thought he could be back and pitch the sixth or seventh game. We were planning ahead right there. We would love to have him back. I think he has been so important to this franchise. He helped lift it to the next level."

Clemens has not publicly announced his intentions for next season one way or the other. His one-year, $18 million contract expired with the last out of the World Series, and though it is clear the Astros would love to have the 43-year-old future Hall of Famer come back for a 23rd season, the decision will be up to Clemens.

One way or another, Clemens will be with Houston since he has a 10-year personal services contract with the club that begins upon his retirement as an active player.

"I have no idea [if Clemens will pitch in 2006]," teammate Andy Pettitte said. "I would never try to force the issue. He's a freak of nature. If he wants to pitch another year, he'll do it and have another great year."

Clemens fashioned a 13-8 record in 2005 with a Major League-leading 1.87 ERA. He battled hamstring and back problems during the second half of the season and his record was hurt by a Houston offense that was shut out 17 times during the regular season.

Clemens' ERA improved for the third consecutive season, and he logged over 200 innings for the fifth time in the last six years.

"I've thought about it a little bit. We just don't know and probably won't know for a little while. We'd certainly love to have him back," Astros general manager Tim Purpura said. "If we don't have him back, then we have to make some alternate plans. If we don't have him, we have to figure out how do we continue the pitching dominance we had this year?"

Even if Clemens returns next season, McLane and Purpura will have a hard time keeping the budget under $100 million with $64 million already committed to five players: Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Craig Biggio and Pettitte.

"To a large degree we are [limited financially] and that's going to color a lot of our thought process," Purpura said. "Certainly we realize that this is going to be a big part of the equation. We have to figure out how to retool for next year. That's the constant challenge in this game."

That would be a much easier task if Clemens were to come back for another season.

"Roger helped make this the best season in the history of the Houston Astros," McLane said. "Hopefully he'll come back and we can finish the job next year."

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.