While officially welcoming righthander Matt Clement to the fold last night, the Red Sox moved quickly to add another arm to their refashioned pitching rotation, coming to terms with former Astros righthander Wade Miller on a low-cost, one-year contract that contains some risk because of injury but could result in a phenomenal windfall: The 28-year-old Miller, winner of 45 games in a three-year period, was one of the best young pitchers in the National League before injuring the rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder last season.
The Red Sox, who attempted to trade for Miller during the winter meetings and swooped in to sign him as soon as the Astros did not tender him a contract two nights ago, are willing to gamble on a pitcher whose diving sinker has been favorably compared to that of former Houston star Mike Scott, but whose 2004 season ended after just 15 starts because of fraying in his rotator cuff.
In a deal expected to be announced today, the Sox will give Miller a $1.5 million base salary while offering him an additional $3 million in performance bonuses tied to his workload and his ability to remain healthy. Because they were in trade talks with the Astros, the Sox already had examined Miller's medical records before administering a physical exam to the pitcher yesterday, and are optimistic that Miller, whose condition required rest and rehabilitation instead of surgery, will come into spring training with a chance to start the 2005 season.
Miller is scheduled to resume throwing the first week of January, and while there is a possibility that he will have a recurrence of the shoulder problems that cut short his season June 29, and might require arthroscopic surgery, the club made the move to sign a premier pitcher at below-market value (he was paid $3.4 million last season and healthy might have doubled that in salary arbitration) in hopes that he will regain the form that made him Houston's Opening Day starter in 2002 after he won 16 games the year before.
The Sox also were close to striking a deal for disappointing righthander Byung Hyun Kim, mulling offers from at least two National League teams in which they would eat much of Kim's $6 million salary in 2005, while also picking through offers for both of their first basemen, Kevin Millar and Doug Mientkiewicz, one of whom almost certainly will be traded. They continue to talk daily with agent Scott Boras about free agent catcher Jason Varitek, who has until Jan. 8 to re-sign with the club, with the expectation that they will ultimately strike a deal that will keep Varitek in Boston.
During scouting meetings last week in San Diego, the Sox also worked out Japanese shortstop Tadahito Iguchi -- who is a free agent eligible to sign with a major league club -- their interest predicated on whether he could also play second base. But the Sox, who on Monday traded outfielder Dave Roberts to the Padres for infielder Ramon Vazquez and righthanded-hitting outfielder Jay Payton, plan to pass on Iguchi, according to industry sources familiar with his talks with the team. As it stands, Vazquez and third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who has been told to work out at first base as well, will come into camp as the team's primary infield reserves.
This is how Sox general manager Theo Epstein has responded to the free agent defections of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe: He has added lefthander David Wells, who at 41 still exhibited the best control of any starting pitcher in the major leagues last season; he signed Clement, the 30-year-old with the strikeout-inducing slider who started last season 5-1 for the Cubs but had an average of just 3.37 runs of support a game while going 4-12 the rest of the way; he has brought in Miller, who was 45-25 in three seasons before going 7-7 last season, and has a career earned run average of 3.87; he has signed John Halama, a lefthanded swingman who has started more than half of his 205 career appearances.
All four pitchers have been added at a cost considerably cheaper than what it would have taken to re-sign Martinez and Lowe, and give the Sox seven potential starting pitchers entering spring training, including holdover ace Curt Schilling, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, and 10-game winner Bronson Arroyo.
The Sox, who also signed Matt Mantei as a righthanded setup man, replacing free agent Scott Williamson, appear primed to enter the 2005 season with an 11-man pitching staff: Halama would likely serve as the second lefty in the pen, along with Alan Embree, with Mike Timlin and Mantei as setup men and Keith Foulke the closer. There is a potential downside to the Sox' moves, of course. Wells, who will be 42 in May, has a history of back trouble and weight issues and becomes the eldest member of a pitching staff that already has two 38-year-olds in Schilling and Wakefield. Miller's shoulder problems could be ongoing, Mantei has a history of elbow and shoulder problems, and Clement has a sub-.500 career record. But except for the commitment they made to Clement, the Sox have minimized their long-term commitments. Wells has a two-year deal, Mantei, Miller, and Halama a year apiece.Clement, who signed a three-year, 25.5 million contract, has this in common with Lowe, whose place in the Red Sox rotation he ostensibly is taking. Just as the Sox lost faith in Lowe in September, demoting him to the bullpen at the start of the playoffs, so, too did Cubs manager Dusty Baker drop Clement from the starting rotation down the stretch in September. Clement made his last start Sept. 20 and did not pitch again the rest of the season, as the Cubs lost seven of their last nine games and missed the playoffs by one game.
Clement, who hadn't missed a start in six seasons with the Padres, Marlins, and Cubs, had tightness in his upper shoulder that caused him to be knocked out early in two starts, and Baker elected to shut him down.
"I think I'm always the type of pitcher, or I have been in the past, that pitches through everything I've ever felt," Clement said in a conference call with reporters. "If I'm sore, if I don't feel right, I've always pitched through it.
"I think that, I was told, they made the decision for me, just because they didn't want it to get any worse and they thought that I wasn't getting through it like I normally do. It was awful. It was the worst week and a half of my career . . . I fought tooth and nail to go out there and it was a decision they came up with. I wasn't happy about it.
"It was a tough week to sit there and see what happened, especially against the Reds, but that's something you live and learn, and maybe next time when I first feel something I won't try to pitch through it from the get-go."
Clement, who chose the Sox over seven other teams that had made offers, has not been the big winner his previous employers envisioned him to be, mostly because of control problems that had him leading the league in walks once and wild pitches three times.
But there is some evidence that he could be a late bloomer. "The knock against him in the past is that he was soft," one National League executive said last night. "But he was begging Dusty to use him out of the bullpen in Game 6 of the playoffs in 2003, which to me shows some real toughness."
Calls to Miller's agent, Bob Garber, and Miller went unanswered last night. Garber had told ESPN.com of Miller's deal with the Sox last night. The Sox also announced that they had re-signed lefthander Lenny DiNardo, the Rule 5 pickup who was nontendered Monday, but it appears that another lefty, Billy Traber, will not be offered a deal because the Sox have doubts about the health of his arm.