Martinez wants deal, but at what price?

For the Red Sox ace, that means pay him now or risk another high-profile Boston exodus.

Originally Published: April 1, 2003
By Sean McAdam | Special to ESPN.com

In Monday's season opener, Pedro Martinez was typically brilliant: no earned runs allowed in seven innings, just three hits given up and six strikeouts.

It wasn't his fault that the Red Sox were upended by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who scorched the Boston's bullpen-by-committee approach with five runs in the ninth to leave Martinez with his third consecutive no-decision on Opening Day.

Pedro Martinez
The Yankees usually bring out the competitive instincts in Pedro.

``I can only give my team a chance to win,'' Martinez said philosophically. ``After that, everything slips out of my hand. There's nothing I can do.''

It's a familiar feeling these day for Martinez, who is also watching to see what happens with his future with the Red Sox.

The Sox own a $17.5 million option for next year, which Martinez has been pressing them to pick up. The club has until November to make that decision. When Martinez arrived for the start of spring training two months ago, he issued an ultimatum of sorts: pick up the option before Opening Day or Martinez would leave via free agency when the opportunity arrives.

Within days, Martinez backtracked some, saying he would make a determination on his future at a later date. But whenever the subject was broached, Martinez made sure to make his case publicly, even going so far as to playfully imagine himself in Yankee pinstripes -- every Red Sox fan's worst nightmare.

Beyond wanting the option to be vested, Martinez would like to work out an extension that will keep him in Boston beyond the 2004 season. But he continually emphasized that he would not allow negotiations to continue once Opening Day arrived.

``Not a chance,'' Martinez said firmly. ``I'm here to play baseball. That's what they pay me for.''

Martinez changed his stance slightly Monday night when he extended the self-imposed deadline for another few days.

Prior to the opener, it seemed the issue of reaching an agreement on a possible contract extension was moot.

``There are no announcements to be made today,'' CEO Larry Lucchino said in a statement relayed to a club public relations official. ``The lines of communication remain open.''

But after Monday's loss, Martinez hinted that Red Sox management -- presumably principal owner John Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino -- sought to speak with him prior to the game.

``I don't talk before I pitch,'' Martinez said.

Martinez went on to acknowledge that ``both parties (presumably agent Fernando Cuza and Red Sox management) are still talking.''

Asked how long he might allow his representative to continue discussing a new contract, Martinez said: ``Not too long. Only until they reach some sort of decision (on whether a new deal is possible). After that, I have to be left alone.''

That Martinez would agree to keep the discussions going is an indication of how eager he is to obtain an extension. But securing a new deal won't come without some concessions.

A source close to the negotiations said the Sox want something in return for triggering the option seven months before the clause mandates. Presumably, that would come in the form of discount on the extension.

A source close to Martinez, in fact, said the pitcher expected that exact approach from the club. To date, however, that has not been forthcoming, or at least not to the pitcher's satisfaction.

Not surprisingly, a big factor in the talks is the two-year extension signed by Randy Johnson last week. The 40-year-old Johnson was on the final year of his multi-year deal with Arizona before the Diamondbacks gave him a two-year, $33 million extension keeping him with the club through the 2005 season.

The $16.5 average annual value of the deal is the most given to a pitcher, though, interestingly, it falls $1 million below what the Sox are scheduled to pay Martinez should they vest the option as it is.

``I don't think I have to rely on Randy to prove what I deserve,'' Martinez said last week. ``I'm right there with him (in achievements). There's not much I can say.''

When he was asked if the deal given to Johnson was an indication that top pitchers can still command such salaries, Martinez turned inquisitor.

``I'll answer that with a question: If you were the owner of another team, would you want me on your team?'' he said.

Still, Martinez pointed out that Johnson is some eight years his senior. Johnson also has a chronic back condition which has limited him from time to time, though he's never been sidelined since joining the Diamondbacks prior to the 1999 season.

In fact, despite the difference in age, Johnson has been far more durable that Martinez over the last four years. Johnson has made 139 starts to 106 for Martinez. Johnson has thrown 1,030 innings while Martinez has thrown 746 1/3 in the same span.

The negotiations -- for as long as they last -- could prove fascinating given the timing.

The Red Sox are of the belief that, in the aftermath of the new collective bargaining agreement, a market correction is taking place. Few eight-figure contracts were given out to last winter's free agents and Johnson's average annual value is a million less than Martinez' option -- originally signed in December, 1997 -- calls for him to be paid next season.

Martinez, on the other hand, said he believes that he's due an increase over his 2004 figure, reflecting a trend that has governed baseball's economics since free agency was introduced in 1976: salaries always increase for top players.

``I believe they're going to be fair to me,'' he said, ``and I'm going to be fair to them.''

Red Sox fans, who have watched favorites like Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn leave Boston in bitter fashion, can only hope for their own market correction to take place.

Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.

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