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Mets' money talks for Pedro

Special to

Dec. 14

In the end, respect is defined as money for Pedro Martinez. Oh, he might have felt Red Sox owner John Henry and president Larry Lucchino dissed him because they did not immediately give him what he believes he is worth. But in the end, they scraped and bowed and gave him the perks he requested, all proof he is different from the other players on the Red Sox.

It wasn't enough to keep him. On Tuesday, Martinez told the world he's a Met.

Pedro Martinez
Pedro Martinez pitched 217 innings in 2004, the most he's finished with since the 2000 season.

His agent, Fern Cuza, is happy. He can report back to SFX that he got top dollar. But, in July 2006, will everyone be so happy?

Let's forget about any injury because anyone who has been enraptured by Pedro the performer the past 10 years prays he is healthy and his shoulder holds together in The Swamp. And let's say Martinez is what he is now, which Tom Verducci aptly compared to Greg Maddux. Martinez is not the man who ensured Hall of Fame induction with a Koufaxesque run but a nice, six-inning, three-run a game pitcher.

Remember, in 17 starts on normal (4 days') rest, his 2004 earned run average was 4.995, or 5.00; his three outstanding postseason starts were on seven, eight and seven days' rest, while his weaker start was on a fifth day of rest. And, remember, he didn't pitch on four days' rest from June 13 to July 27 and was given 10 days off at the All-Star break. From 1997 through 2002, Martinez had by far the best strikeout-walk ratio in the game but in 2003-2004 he ranked ninth. He led all major league pitchers in lowest OPS year after year, but in '04 he was ninth in the American League, right behind Freddy Garcia and Jake Westbrook. When Red Sox fans howl about their rivalry with the Yankees, remember, in the past two years, the Red Sox were 24-16 against the Yanks when Pedro didn't start, 3-9 when he did.

Martinez was fourth in the AL in quality start percentage behind Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Curt Schilling, but the timeline tells a story:

Year BR per
9 IP
H per
9 IP
SO per
9 IP
SO/BB ratio
2000 7.22 5.31 11.78 8.82
2001 8.19 6.48 12.57 6.52
2002 8.98 6.50 10.79 5.98
2003 9.79 7.09 9.93 4.38
2004 11.20 8.00 9.41 3.72

Going into the National League, particularly Shea Stadium, certainly helps, as Pedro has said that non-DH lineups are worth up to 30 pitches a game. (Although the pitchers also face retaliation in the non-DH game, and a 3.90 ERA pitching in Fenway Park might be 3.10 in Shea.)

But while Stu Sucherman, the public relations friend of Mets owner Fred Wilpon, might think this is the way back to the hearts of New Yorkers, this seems to be a typical Mets maneuver. They're built to win the back pages of newspapers in January, but come September they're trying to figure out what to do next year. Someday they'll figure out fans want winners, which entails performance, not promises and glowing talk-show praise leading into a Jets game.

In 2004, the Mets had the highest payroll in the National League and were the only team among those with the 10 highest payrolls to have a losing record.

"Look at their current roster, and the only two players on multi-year deals who aren't vastly overpaid are Mike Cameron -- and he was hurt -- and Braden Looper," says one AL GM. "Remember, this whole business is out of whack because they overpaid Kris Benson by $2 (million per season)."

But the biggest problem is simply Martinez in New York, and for Cuza to ignore this is acting in the worst interest of his client. In Boston, Pedro was allowed to do whatever he wanted -- show up whenever and take vacations. The Boston media were easy on him for what he had done. They gave him a mulligan for not attending Game 6 in New York. He went months without talking to the media for what he considered slights. He reacted angrily to fans who booed him. By and large, he was given slack because for a seven-year stretch he was the best right-handed pitcher in the history of the franchise.

What players, agents and talk-show callers don't understand is that players are not paid on the past, but on the perceived future. Martinez's performance curve is declining. The idea is to eliminate as many inefficiencies as possible, and one of the major inefficiencies in the baseball business is sentiment. That is why Pedro was asked to take a paycut in Boston, albeit one on a contract that totaled $40.5 million.

In New York, there will be no pass, nor should there be one. This is completely a mercenary decision by Martinez, and he will have no room for complaints whatsoever if he is savaged by New Yorkers. Why not? Pedro Martinez went to the Mets solely because they offered him more money. Period. If he doesn't perform to the standard GM Omar Minaya has promised his owners, it won't be a pretty picture.

And you thought SFX had a problem with Jason Giambi in New York?

Pedro Martinez
Starting pitcher
Boston Red Sox
33 217.0 16-9 61 227 3.90

Personally, there's so much about Pedro to love. To walk down the streets of Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic, and see the churches, school, houses and youth center that he has built is chilling. He is brilliant, and he has a duende that is mystical.

If he had gone to St. Louis or Florida, Los Angeles or San Francisco, it would be a different story. But he is the ultimate mercenary on a team whose business is dictated by the Daily News' poll of the day, and that's before getting to being uninsurable.

The Red Sox will plod forward, knowing Curt Schilling likely won't be available until May 1.

"We would have spent three years with a great deal of anxiety," says one member of the front office. "Pedro is very good, but losing Pedro and Derek Lowe means we have to replace 400 innings and a 4.60 ERA."

They will try to kick the tires on A.J. Burnett and others, but there are no games scheduled in January. They have until April to get one more starter, then try to get into the summer bidding for a potential free agent like Burnett or Ben Sheets, knowing that of the past five world champions, 5.8 members of their postseason rosters were added after May 15.

On the bigger three-year picture, they probably have better ways to use their $40.5 million, with Jon Papelbon and Jon Lester en route near the end of this season. But Pedro is Pedro, and when he took the mound at Fenway Park, it was like Springsteen doing so.

Because Pedro is Pedro, New York might be his hell's kitchen.

And that's before he gets an MRI.

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