The Red Sox have communicated with Roger Clemens's agents, the Hendricks brothers, over the past few days to express their interest in the future Hall of Famer if he elects to play in 2006.
Clemens, who was not offered salary arbitration by the Houston Astros, was informed of the contact, and sources close to Clemens said the pitcher reacted positively to the scenario of a return to Boston.
''We had an internal discussion," said Sox CEO and president Larry Lucchino, ''and concluded we should make an initial call to let the Hendricks brothers know we were open to discuss Roger's return if he should have interest in the Red Sox in 2006.
The theory among those close to Clemens is that if he still wants to pitch, he would return to Houston May 1, the earliest date he can re-sign with the Astros. That way, he can monitor spring training, and the first month of his son Koby's progress; Koby Clemens is a catcher in the Astros organization.
But he has surprised people with his decisions before.
In an interview with the pitcher during the playoffs, Clemens spoke fondly about Boston and the many friends he still has in the area.
''Here I am, still pitching," Clemens said in October. ''Debbie and I were looking forward to the day where we could just go up to my old neighborhood [Framingham] and just hang out with some of our friends up there. Maybe go to a few games at Fenway. Same in New York. Just grab five or six of your close friends up there and go out to eat and see a ballgame.
''But here I am, still pitching."
Clemens is 341-172 lifetime with a 3.12 ERA in 672 games and 4,502 strikeouts. Last season, he went 13-8 with a league-low 1.87 ERA and likely would have won his eighth Cy Young Award had Astros hitters supported him better.
He is 100-55 with a 3.19 ERA in 199 starts at Fenway and 53-22 with a 3.55 ERA in 101 starts at Yankee Stadium.
At 42, Clemens still pitched 211 innings and made 32 starts, striking out 185 and walking 62. He was bothered by back and hamstring problems late in the season and into postseason.
The Astros feared Clemens's salary ($18 million last season) would likely increase in arbitration and the team would not be able to offer more than $15 million.
Another Sox link for Clemens would be Boston's offseason addition of his former teammate, Al Nipper, as bullpen coach. Clemens and Nipper remain close friends.
Sox pitchers Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett have idolized Clemens, and Tim Wakefield is a holdover from Clemens's tenure with the team, which ended after the 1996 season.
The Sox also have had contact with Clemens's Houston batterymate, Brad Ausmus, about coming aboard as a backup to replace Doug Mirabelli.
Ausmus, who is from Connecticut and has a home on Cape Cod, is still negotiating with the Astros and would prefer to remain in Houston as a starter, but so far the numbers haven't worked to his satisfaction.
Clemens probably won't decide his future for some time. He should be in shape after playing for Team USA at the World Cup in March, which may influence his decision. He had a unique schedule with the Astros, who allowed him to spend a lot of his non-pitching days at home.
The Red Sox allowed Tom Seaver a similar schedule in 1986. Any team that signed Clemens would have to make those concessions.
While Clemens returning here is a long shot, what the Red Sox have done is to make sure they're not left out of what could be a public relations coup.
The Red Sox and Orioles spoke again yesterday about a possible Manny Ramírez-for-Miguel Tejada swap, though nothing appeared imminent. Orioles owner Peter Angelos, quoted in yesterday's
Chris Snow of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.