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Void is filled with Clement

Righthander gets three years, $25m

With the supply of attractive pitching options dwindling daily -- they lost Pedro Martinez to the Mets, missed on Tim Hudson, and are resigned to Randy Johnson becoming a Yankee -- the Red Sox struck again last night, coming to terms with free agent Matt Clement on a three-year deal that will pay the righthander in the neighborhood of $25 million.

Clement's agent, Barry Axelrod, confirmed the agreement last night, and Clement may be in Boston as early as Monday for the requisite physical and official announcement. Clement chose the Sox from among eight offers from other clubs, including the Angels and Dodgers. The Cardinals inquired but did not put an offer on the table.

With the addition of three new free agents -- lefthander David Wells, swingman (and another lefthander) John Halama, and Clement, general manager

Theo Epstein has refashioned the Sox rotation for the 2005 season, though it was unclear last night if he's done shopping. Depending on whether he succeeds in re-signing free agent catcher Jason Varitek, considered an absolute priority from top to bottom in the organization, or moves another player, such as first baseman/outfielder Kevin Millar, who doesn't want to split time with Doug Mientkiewicz, Epstein may be done rebuilding the starting staff. The 2005 rotation will no longer feature Martinez or Derek Lowe, who has yet to sign with another club but said on a national radio show he will decline the Sox' offer of salary arbitration. It will be anchored by Curt Schilling, who earlier this week raised doubts about whether his right ankle injury will have healed sufficiently to allow him to start the season on time. Wells would be the No. 2 starter, with the 30-year-old Clement and holdovers Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo rounding out the rotation. The plan is for Halama to be a spot starter and long reliever.

The Sox had been talking to the agent for lefthander Eric Milton, but Epstein may have maxed out financially.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 215-pound Clement has known Epstein since coming up through the Padres organization as a third-round draft choice in 1993. He was considered one of San Diego's top prospects and the Padres refused to part with him in proposed trades for Randy Johnson and Edgar Renteria, the free agent shortstop who signed with the Sox yesterday.

He fell short of fulfilling San Diego's high expectations, and was eventually dealt to the Marlins on the eve of the 2001 season for outfielder Mark Kotsay and Cesar Crespo (another former Sox player). A year later, again just as the season was about to start, Clement was moved to the Cubs, along with reliever Antonio Alfonseca for Julian Tavarez and three minor leaguers, one of whom, Dontrelle Willis, became the National League's Rookie of the Year in 2003.

Clement had winning records (12-11 and 14-12) in his first two seasons with the Cubs, but fell off to 9-13 last season, despite an ERA of 3.68.

His career record is 69-75 with a 4.34 ERA, and he has been plagued at times by control problems -- he led the NL in walks in 2000 with 125 and led the league in wild pitches three times. He also has a tendency to give up runs early. But the Sox love his pitching skills, which include a terrific slider, sinking fastball, and changeup. Last season, he held opposing hitters to a .229 batting average, eighth lowest in the league. He was bothered earlier in his career with liver inflammation, but since 1999 has never made fewer than 30 starts. Last season, he struck out 190 in 181 innings.

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