The Houston Astros, less than two months removed from their first World Series appearance, decided not to offer arbitration to future Hall of Fame pitcher Roger Clemens. That means that, should he re-sign with the club, he cannot play for them until May 1. Clemens, according to his representatives, has not decided whether to play next season, but the chances he could sign with another team increased tremendously Wednesday with Houston's decision. Clemens could be courted by the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, teams that have always seemed to have interest in the pitcher. The Yankees don't seem enthusiastic, but that could change since owner George Steinbrenner is very fond of Clemens.

The chances that Clemens could return to Houston appear remote since Houston has not discussed the possibility of having the pitcher join the team in May, according to General Manager Tim Purpura.

The general manager said the team could no longer wait for Clemens, who made $18 million last season, to make a decision because of budgetary reasons. Purpura said that six players on the Astros roster, not including Clemens, are owed a combined $65 million. Six other players who were eligible for arbitration would likely increase the payroll by $10 million to $15 million.

Purpura said that if they waited, the Astros could not make moves to improve the ballclub because of the money Clemens would be owed next season. Purpura said the team will now use the money that would have been assigned to Clemens to improve the team in other areas.

"We felt it was something we had to do for the good of our organization," Purpura said. "He's not at the point where he wants to make a decision to make a deal."

A source close to Clemens said the pitcher had not decided to play next season because he wanted Houston to make improvements to the team. But the team, according to the source, was reluctant to spend the money, which displeased Clemens.

"You can't force a great athlete -- one of the best pitchers of his generation -- to make that decision before he's ready," Purpura said.

Meantime, the Baltimore Orioles appeared to be closing in on a four-year deal worth approximately $25 million to $30 million with San Diego Padres free agent catcher Ramon Hernandez. It appeared the Orioles were simply waiting to see if the Padres would offer Hernandez arbitration in order to announce the deal, according to one high-ranking Orioles source. Padres General Manager Kevin Towers said San Diego would likely do so.

"I would guess yes," Towers said.

By offering arbitration to Hernandez, the Padres would receive a supplemental first-round pick and a second-round pick from the Orioles when the catcher signs with Baltimore. The Hernandez deal is pending a physical and will likely be officially announced early next week, according to one team official.

Also, the Orioles made a one-year, approximately $4 million offer to free agent Nomar Garciaparra. One Orioles official said the team would likely not offer Garciaparra a two-year deal, which could make Baltimore a long shot to land the infielder. Agent Arn Tellem said Garciaparra would likely make a decision within a week.

Baltimore declined to offer arbitration to 41-year old outfielder B.J. Surhoff.

On what turned into a busy day at the winter meetings, the Padres agreed to terms on a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third year for closer Trevor Hoffman, who has spent 13 years with the team and is second on the all-time saves list.

"The guy is the face of our organization," Towers said. "We're breathing a little easier right now."

The Cleveland Indians made a strong bid for Hoffman, who had been angered by San Diego's first contract offer. But the Padres made a late run at Hoffman. Towers said the Padres increased their offer to Hoffman, 38, several times this week. To trigger the third-year option, Hoffman must finish a combined 90 games in 2006-07 or simply finish 45 in one season. With 436 career saves, Hoffman needs only 42 to catch all-time leader Lee Smith.

The Padres made two other moves, sending second baseman Mark Loretta to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for catcher Doug Mirabelli and third baseman Sean Burroughs to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for pitcher Dewon Brazelton.

In what may the final move of their purge, the Florida Marlins traded center fielder Juan Pierre to the Chicago Cubs for pitchers Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto. Last season Pierre, 28, hit .276 with 57 stolen bases.

The Kansas City Royals acquired pitcher Mark Redman from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for pitcher Jonah Bayliss and a player to be named.

In a late deal, the Toronto Blue Jays acquired first baseman Lyle Overbay from the Milwaukee Brewers for right-hander Dave Bush, outfield prospect Gabe Gross and a player to be named, according to the Associated Press.