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Wednesday, December 18
Updated: December 19, 12:28 PM ET
Clemens or Colon? Yanks weighing their options

By Bob Klapisch
Special to

Remember how busy -- if not turbulent -- the Yankees promised to be just two months ago, after they were flattened by the Angels in the Division Series? Change was coming, perhaps a full-blown coup, fueled by owner George Steinbrenner's hunt for newer, younger and maybe even cheaper talent.

The Bombers just signed Japanese star Hideki Matsui, but instead of upheaval, their offseason has bogged down into a pitching-impasse, as they try to leverage both the Expos into trading Bartolo Colon and Roger Clemens into accepting a sizeable pay cut.

Bartolo Colon
Bartolo Colon was one of six pitchers to win 20 or more games in 2002.

Which one of the aces will end up in the Bronx? It can't be both, and the election could be determined by simple timing. GM Brian Cashman told reporters in Nashville that the first pitcher in Pinstripes would likely preclude the other from joining the team in 2003.

In other words: there's two bodies, one spot, make your move.

"You got to take Bartolo," Colon told the New York Times from the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. "You got to take Bartolo."

That could happen easily enough; all the Yankees have to do is agree to the Expos' request for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and Orlando Hernandez. Such a swap would give the Yankees the hard-throwing right-hander they crave, and send Montreal the young, inexpensive talent that Expos' GM Omar Minaya needs to remain solvent.

Trouble is, Minaya is asking the Yankees to assume at least half of Hernandez's salary for 2003 -- which, considering he's arbitration-eligible, could be at least $4 million. The Yankees haven't been able to digest that final request, and instead have chosen to wait out Minaya.

In fact, the Yankees haven't even made Montreal a counteroffer in the last four days, a delay that Minaya finds irritating. Minaya believes he's the one with leverage; after all, Colon is a proven 20-game winner, and his presence in Pinstripes would virtually ensure the Yankees another Eastern Division crown, if not a trip to the World Series.

But the Yankees also know that Minaya isn't just hoping to dump salary; he has to, on commissioner Bud Selig's orders. Sooner or later, in the Yankees' view, Minaya will have no choice but to soften his demand for Steinbrenner's cash.

That's one reason why Minaya chose to include the Red Sox in talks for Colon -- essentially creating a bidding war between the Eastern Division rivals. Just as he did with the Yankees, Minaya enticed the Sox with the idea that Colon could, by himself, swing the balance of power in the division towards Fenway.

Roger Clemens
Starting pitcher
Free agent
29 180 13-6 63 192 4.35

But Boston had problems with the Expos' sales-pitch, too: they had no interest in acquiring Fernando Tatis and his $6.5 million salary, which is why Minaya left Nashville for Puerto Rico without a deal.

He says he's not backing down -- that, in his words, "I'm only going to make a trade that makes economic sense for the Expos." But the longer he and the Yankees continue their standoff, the better Clemens' chances of staying in the Bronx.

Make no mistake: Clemens would've been history had the Yankees acquired Colon this past week, and his agents' strategy of negotiating exclusively with the Bombers would've backfired. Steinbrenner knows Clemens wants to remain in New York and get that 300th career victory in pinstripes.

Yet, to do that, he'll have to accept a one-year deal for approximately $8 million, a startling drop-off for a pitcher who earned $30 million in the last two seasons.

But Randy Hendricks, who represents Clemens, put the responsibility squarely on the Yankees, not his client.

"If (Clemens) leaves, it will be their choice, not his, that's their judgment call. History will record whether they're right or they're wrong," the agent said.

"A number of years ago Boston wrote off Roger, and I think when they made that decision they were saying to the world that they had a higher opinion of the person they traded for (Steve Avery, actually a free agent) than Roger. It could also be a higher opinion relative to the price."

Of course, there's an implied threat woven into Hendricks' message. If the Yankees let Clemens disappear, he'll haunt them with success elsewhere. Only, where? The Red Sox have yet to contact the Rocket's agents, leaving only two other logical choices, the Astros or Rangers.

Now that Houston has signed Jeff Kent for two years, it's unlikely, if not impossible for Clemens to fit in their payroll. That leaves the Rangers, who offer obvious hometown appeal. But does Clemens really want to finish his career out of the New York limelight he's grown so fond of?

Even Hendricks admits, "Roger wants to stay with the Yankees. That's been his goal from day one."

The Yankees believe that, but are curious to know just how much that loyalty is worth to Clemens. If he's willing to come in under $10 million, the Rocket-Bomber marriage will last another summer, at least.

If not, Colon is waiting.

Eventually, someone has to exhale.

Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for

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