Lest there remain any doubt about their resolve, the Red Sox last night were fully prepared to let Pedro Martinez take his remarkable skills elsewhere rather than guarantee him a four-year contract to stay in Boston.
A three-year deal, yes. A day after the New York Mets entered the competition for Martinez, the Sox appeared open to eliminating any remaining escape language in their latest offer to the three-time Cy Young Award winner and fully guaranteeing him $38.5 million over three years plus $2 million in potential performance bonuses.
But four years? No way, according to sources familiar with the team’s position.
In fact, the Sox wonder whether a four-year deal would be enough to lure Martinez back to Boston. Team executives, after recently meeting with their former ace in Florida, harbor concerns about whether he even wants to continue his career here. Though team president and CEO Larry Lucchino publicly said the meeting “went fine,” Sox officials came away privately wondering whether Martinez believes he would be happier elsewhere.
Beyond his highly publicized schmoozing with the Yankees — he sat down in Tampa with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Derek Jeter the day before he met with the Sox brass and dined with Alex Rodriguez in Miami the night after — Martinez has made no secret about the level of respect he expects from his employer, the media, and the public. And though he professed his affection for the team and the city during the World Series — “My heart is with Boston,” he said — he has a keen memory for the slights he believes he endured during his seven years with the Sox.
All of which makes the preliminary offer from the Mets (an estimated $37.5 million over three years with a $12.5 million option for 2008) a significant development. Should the Mets guarantee a fourth year or trigger a bidding war with the Yankees or other potential suitors that generates a more lucrative offer, Martinez soon could summon moving vans to his Boston-area home for a one-way trip to the next destination in his storied career.
Some of his teammates might not be shocked. As a measure of the uncertainty surrounding Martinez’s desire to return to Boston, several Sox players privately have expressed more optimism about the team re-signing Jason Varitek than Martinez even though Varitek and the club have a larger gap in their contract talks. (The Sox have offered Varitek $36 million over four years while Varitek, who initially sought $55 million over five years, appears willing to consider a compromise of four years at more than $40 million.)
One day after the Mets captured the attention of Pedro MartÃnez, the World Series champion Boston Red Sox and the rest of Major League Baseball, they were confronted with the more sobering realization that they might not be able to create much more than a stir.
For the Mets, any free-agent fantasy is often accompanied by a supersized dose of reality, and their wooing of MartÃnez appears no different than most past pursuits. Although the Mets have offered MartÃnez a three-year guaranteed contract worth approximately $38 million with a vesting option for a fourth year, signing him is a trickier proposition than courting him.
One major league executive with knowledge of the discussions between the Mets and MartÃnez said yesterday that the Mets had not yet received a counterproposal from MartÃnez’s agent Fernando Cuza, and that team officials believed there was a good chance that Boston would match the Mets’ offer and eventually re-sign him.
Even if the Mets lose out on MartÃnez, they will probably not experience the same backlash from fans as they did when they failed to acquire Guerrero. Minaya has taken an aggressive posture as the team’s new general manager, having dinner with MartÃnez in the Dominican Republic last week and submitting an offer a few days later. The Mets have now demonstrated the wherewithal to bid on any free-agent pitcher, and might pursue Lowe.
Of course, Minaya does run the risk of frustrating fans if he continues to pursue high-profile players and fails to land any of them. He has already spoken with the Los Angeles Dodgers about Shawn Green and with the Cubs about Sammy Sosa, and he is now waiting for a response from MartÃnez. It seems he will keep swinging for the fences until he connects.