Finding dependable arms won't be easy
With Roger Clemens now out of the picture, where will the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers turn for pitching help?
Clemens re-signed with the Astros on Wednesday, and when the day was done the Red Sox and Yankees were tied atop the AL East and the Rangers clung to a four-game lead in the AL West. Clearly, all three teams have postseason aspirations.
But all three clubs are also in need of pitching upgrades and will have to find reinforcements that don't involve Clemens.
Here's a look at the three teams and where -- and to whom -- they might turn:
The Sox held out some hope that Clemens would finish his career where it started and were actually the last runner-up ruled out in this pageant.
Matt Clement sports a 6.91 ERA and his confidence is bruised. The Sox never know what to expect from this enigmatic righty, whose results seldom match the quality of his stuff.
They were encouraged by David Wells' aborted return (4 1/3 innings, one run allowed on Friday). But it's unclear when -- or if -- he'll return. If Wells could overcome some chronic knee issues, he could help over the final three months. But his return to health is hardly certain.
Lefty phenom Jon Lester is progressing nicely at Triple-A Pawtucket, but ideally the Sox would like him to get more experience. Erstwhile closing option Craig Hansen is being stretched out at Pawtucket but isn't ready to assume a regular workload in a big league rotation.
The Sox have kicked the tires on Twins right-hander Kyle Lohse, who could benefit from a change of scenery but probably isn't the answer. Like nearly everyone else, they'll make calls on Dontrelle Willis in July, but after Marlins GM Larry Beinfest cherry-picked Boston's system in the Beckett trade this past offseason and came away with shortstop Hanley Ramirez and three young arms, it's unlikely they can match up again.
The Red Sox could find a journeyman to get them through the next couple months -- until either Wells is healthy or Lester is prepared -- but won't sacrifice much for a short-term rental.
The start from Randy Johnson on Monday in Detroit was encouraging, though hardly a guarantee that the Big Unit has completely righted himself.
Mike Mussina is off to a terrific start, but as several people have noted, Mussina always seems to fare better when he's not expected to be a team's No. 1 starter. That makes Johnson's return to form doubly important. Jaret Wright has thrown well since returning from the disabled list, but as always, he's brittle.
A year ago, when the Yankees were desperate for help, Small went 10-0 after a promotion from Triple-A Columbus. So far, he's a disappointing 0-2 with a 7.78 ERA in seven outings.
Money is never a sticking point for the Yankees when it comes to taking on contracts, but do the Yankees have the necessary prospects to package in a trade for proven pitching help? Right-hander Philip Hughes at Double-A Trenton is their most accomplished prospect in years, but for just that reason, the Yanks swear he's untouchable. That stance could soften if a certain principal owner demands the baseball brain trust put an end to the team's five-year title drought.
Beyond Hughes, the Yanks don't have much to offer in the way of prospects -- at least not any close to being ready to contribute on the major league level. Third baseman Eric Duncan has regressed at Columbus and has shown little power (no home runs in 31 games).
That said, any non-contenders looking to move an expensive starter (hello, Livan Hernandez) always seem to have Yankees GM Brian Cashman on speed-dial.
The Rangers are the surprise leaders in the AL West one-third of the way through the season, but the general consensus seems to be that their pitching, as currently constituted, isn't good enough for them to stay there all season without some additional help.
Robinson Tejeda, having failed in a handful of starts, has been sent back to Triple-A Oklahoma for more seasoning. In the meantime, a second lefty, John Rheinecker, obtained in a useful late-spring acquisition from Oakland, is getting a shot.
Thirteen-year veteran lefty Brian Anderson is recovering from Tommy John surgery and could be ready by midseason. Not long after, the Rangers might get righty Adam Eaton back. Eaton was lost for two-plus months in April with a finger injury.
The Rangers have some depth from which to deal, and though they'll want to retain their best prospects (left-hander John Danks and righty Thomas Diamond), that could change. If the AL West remains winnable in another month or two, the Rangers might feel compelled to go for it, having failed to finish higher than third place since 1999, their last postseason appearance.
On the other hand, the Rangers could help their pitching if only they could start to hit as well as expected. Surely, they didn't expect Michael Young and Mark Teixeira to combine for nine homers in the first two months.
Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.
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