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Thursday, December 16, 2004
Pedro says Red Sox waited too long

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Pedro Martinez considered the choices: stay with the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, sign with the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals or become the cornerstone of a reconstruction project with the New York Mets.

In the end, he chose the challenge.

Tony Gwynn's Take
Tony Gwynn
Signing Pedro Martinez gives the New York Mets the splash they wanted to make, but the Mets can't stop there.

Their next need to address is a bat for the middle of the lineup. Carlos Beltran is still available, but I doubt the Mets can afford him after shelling out $53 million for Pedro. Still, there's a heaping helping of quality free agents out there who won't cost top-of-the-line money.

Some pieces of New York's offensive puzzle, like Mike Piazza and Cliff Floyd, weren't as productive in '04 as they have been in the past. Will the Mets trade Piazza? Or move him back behind the plate and maybe get somebody like Carlos Delgado to play first? Or will Floyd move to first? The Mets still have lots of questions to answer.

They hope they've answered one with Pedro, but his arm issues are a factor because of the money involved and the contract length (four years). If I'm the GM, I definitely would have tried to sign Pedro, but I don't think I would have signed the 33-year-old to a fourth year. But Mets GM Omar Minaya knows Pedro. Minaya knows he wants the ball and wants to win.

And even if he isn't the old Pedro who won three Cy Youngs, I believe he's still one of the best starters in the game. The Mets' rotation does look really good now, with Pedro, Kris Benson, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel. I wonder about closing out games, though.

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Martinez formalized a $53 million, four-year contract with New York on Thursday and embraced the idea of helping rebuild a team that has fallen on hard times.

"This is a team that needs a little help. I can supply some of that help,'' Martinez told a jammed Shea Stadium press conference.

"Boston didn't win for 86 years that seemed like forever. I was proud to be part of that and I hope to do the same here and pull one out,'' he said.

It will be no simple matter. The Mets followed two last-place finishes by finishing next-to-last in the NL East in 2004. They are starting over with new general manager Omar Minaya, and Martinez became the first marquee move in his effort to make the franchise competitive again.

If Martinez has his way, he won't be the last.

Minaya said other high-profile free agents have contacted him, attracted by the Mets' signing of Martinez, and the pitcher wants to help recruit them.

"If you expect me to do it alone, it's not going to happen. Without a doubt, I will talk to other players,'' he said.

Boston remained on Martinez's mind as the Mets celebrated the signing.

"When you talk about Boston, it's important that everybody know I have all the love and respect for the people and the fans,'' he said. "I have a lot of people who were good to me. In my heart, I will always hold the city of Boston.''

Martinez, who turned 33 on Oct. 25, won two of his three Cy Young awards in seven years with the Red Sox and became one of baseball's top pitchers. He brings a career 2.71 ERA, lowest among active major league pitchers, and was 16-9 last season.

There have been some questions raised about his right shoulder and that apparently was a problem for Boston, which would only offer a three-year contract. Minaya's offer of a guaranteed fourth year was decisive.

Martinez said he is ready to convert the sometimes hostile New York fans, who often targeted him in the heat of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.

"I have an opportunity to win the fans over,'' he said. "I don't know if I can, but I will try. I never got a ticket. I never was in jail. Why would I be in bad shape with the city?''

There was, however, the matter of wrestling 72-year-old Yankees coach Don Zimmer to the ground during a playoff melee two years ago and a few hit batsmen along the way. New Mets manager Willie Randolph, then with the Yankees, remembers Martinez's competitive edge and their occasional clashes.

"He's passionate and I'm passionate,'' the manager said. "Things were said but after the game, we were cool.''

Martinez's take-no-prisoners reputation made him a top priority for Minaya, who went after the pitcher hard and proudly introduced him as a kind of early Christmas present to New York who might draw future players from the Dominican.

"It took a lot of hard work, a lot of belief in staff and ownership to sign what we believe is the best free-agent pitcher in the marketplace,'' Minaya said. "If you want to win, I'll go to war with Pedro Martinez on my team.''

If was that kind of sweet talk that lured Martinez to the Mets. The money, he said, was entirely secondary.

"I was a millionaire at 24,'' Martinez said. "When I got to Boston, I made millions. You didn't pick up a bum from the street. It was more of a commitment for a team than it was for money. I gave Boston every opportunity for three years to keep me. Boston wouldn't pull the trigger.''

Martinez said the best Red Sox effort to retain him simply came too late in the free agent process.

"Why did they have to wait until the last minute?'' he asked. "Omar showed me respect and commitment.''

Minaya traveled to Santo Domingo at Thanksgiving and dined with Martinez. It was a defining experience for the pitcher.

"He showed up by himself,'' Martinez said. "He said, `If I can get you, will you play for me?' I told him I was trying to work it out with Boston but if not, I will play for you.''

"It was a three-horse race with Boston, St. Louis and the Mets,'' agent Fernando Cuza said. "Omar said, `We really want you.' He made Pedro feel very welcome. He went after him with passion and sincerity.''

And with a fourth guaranteed year that sealed the deal.