Mets entering Pedro's world
Omar Minaya's top objective this offseason was to sign Pedro Martinez. For better or worse, Minaya will get his man.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- All weekend, throughout the baseball winter meetings, Omar Minaya heard the same sobering advice from colleagues and friends, even from members of his own staff: get real, and give up the dream of signing Pedro Martinez.
Everyone saw the hustle Martinez was playing on the Mets and their GM in particular. While Pedro pretended to be courted by the 90-loss team, he was leveraging the Red Sox for the four-year deal he felt he deserved. David Ortiz captured the sentiment of the entire industry when he told a Dominican newspaper, "Pedro ain't going to no Mets."
But Minaya never stopped working on Martinez. He wasn't just offering money, but the attention and respect that Pedro craves. The two negotiated not just as businessmen, but as fellow Dominicans who spoke the same language and shared a cultural bond.
As Pedro's talks with the Sox stalled, Minaya was convinced the opening was real, making his case to Mets' ownership on Sunday. He asked the Wilpon family to guarantee a fourth year, fattening the offer to $52 million. Minaya staked everything, including his reputation, on the belief that Pedro would say yes.
Finally, late Sunday night, the Mets crossed the threshold, making Pedro the offer he could not refuse. Minaya doubled the length of the contract the Sox had given Curt Schilling, and would allow Pedro to make more per year, too.
Pedro stewed as Schilling muscled him out of the rotation's No. 1 spot in October. Now, finally, Martinez would be able to one-up Schilling, even if it meant leaving Fenway to do so. The Mets were so eager to please Pedro they waited patiently as he took their offer to the Red Sox one last time -- rejoicing when Boston refused to cough up another penny.
Not only are the Mets getting an ace and a marketable star, Martinez's presence represents a personal triumph for Minaya, who'd spent the first two months of his administration chasing anyone and everyone -- from Shawn Green to Carlos Beltran to Sammy Sosa to Carlos Delgado to Pedro.
From the outset, however, it's been Pedro whom Minaya coveted. As the GM said in a private moment this weekend, "don't you think getting (Martinez) would send a statement that we're at least trying?"
Minaya told everyone Pedro would reverse the Mets' four-year downward spiral -- if not by himself, then at least as the starting point. The GM went so far as to seek the Yankees' counsel on Sunday, asking a high-ranking official if he should offer Martinez that critical fourth year.
"Definitely, you should," is what the Yankee official told Minaya. And why not? In the Yankees' eyes, the Mets were doing them a favor, stripping their AL East rivals of a key weapon.
It's true, the Sox will miss Pedro and his 16 wins, but they're simultaneously relieved. Now Pedro and his mood-swings and his tardiness and his constant rule-bending will be the Mets' problem, not theirs. And the Mets, not the Sox, will have to deal with Martinez in the third and fourth years of his contract, when he'll be closing in on his 37th birthday.
Who knows if Pedro's shoulder will hold up that long? Who knows if his ERA will continue to climb, after a career high 3.90 in 2004?
And who really knows how Pedro will react once he's cashed his checks, surveyed the landscape and finally realized he's not in Fenway anymore. For the last decade, Martinez has been accustomed to pitching in a pennant race and living off the energy of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. That's gone now.
Instead, Martinez is joining an improving team, but hardly a National League force. The Mets are still reliant on Mike Piazza and Cliff Floyd, two aging stars, for their offense. And, except for the yearly Subway Series with the Yankees, the Mets have no true rivals. It's fair to wonder how Pedro will feel pitching against, say, the Washington Nationals in late September.
|(Pedro) Martinez is joining an improving team, but hardly a National League force. ... And, except for the yearly Subway Series with the Yankees, the Mets have no true rivals. It's fair to wonder how Pedro will feel pitching against, say, the Washington Nationals in late September.|
It'll be up to new manager Willie Randolph to motivate Pedro, not to mention contain him. Randolph will need Minaya's public backing the first time Pedro shows up late at Shea, or when he asks for a few extra days off during the All-Star break, or if he tells the Mets when he's pitching, instead of the other way around.
If Minaya takes Randolph's side, he risks losing Pedro in his very first summer at Shea. If the GM coddles Pedro, the rookie manager will have an instant credibility-crisis in his own clubhouse.
The Sox were successful enough on the field to tolerate Pedro's antics, but no one loved him, even as he helped take them to the World Series. No one has forgotten that Martinez remained in Boston while Game 6 of the AL Championship Series was being played in New York.
Then, when he realized he had a chance to be a hero in the decisive seventh game. Pedro forced his way onto the mound, telling -- not asking -- manager Terry Francona he would be pitching that night.
The manager had no choice but to use Pedro in the seventh inning on one day's rest, resulting in near-disaster for the Sox.
Martinez taunted Francona again during the World Series, missing the Sox' 1 p.m. workout at Busch Stadium before Game 3. Pedro was walking into the ballpark at 5:30, bumping into Francona as the manager was leaving.
Pedro's explanation? He thought the Sox were working out at 4:00 -- untroubled that he was a mere 90 minutes late. As always, Francona chose not to discipline his pitcher.
The Mets say they're aware of Pedro's transgressions, but in their current state of euphoria, don't seem worried. Minaya believes his relationship with Pedro -- as his boss, friend, and fellow countryman -- will smooth out the rough edges in Martinez's personality.
The Mets might be right, since they'll treat Pedro as their savior, even though he and Piazza have disliked each other since 1998. Piazza is convinced Pedro hit him with a fastball back then, which means the catcher will have to find a way to co-exist with the Mets' new ace.
Pedro takes pressure off Tom Glavine, and allows Steve Trachsel to be safely nestled in the rotation's No. 5 spot. And, assuming he doesn't get hurt, Pedro's up-and-in fastballs will give the Mets a street-credibility they've lacked for years.
It's all theirs now -- the pitching genius, the raging ego, the toughness as well as the hustle and the con. For better or worse, this bizarre marriage is almost ready to begin.
Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.