The Making of a Phillie
MIAMI - It started with two little questions. On June 19, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and two of his lieutenants, Scott Proefrock and Dallas Green, sat casually in Amaro's office at Citizens Bank Park and talked about a familiar topic: the team's search for pitching.
MIAMI - It started with two little questions.
On June 19, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and two of his lieutenants, Scott Proefrock and Dallas Green, sat casually in Amaro's office at Citizens Bank Park and talked about a familiar topic: the team's search for pitching.
It was the kind of routine, water-cooler conversation baseball men have every day. For weeks, Phillies officials had attempted to trade for pitching - they're still trying - only to become frustrated by teams that either set unreasonably high prices for what the Phillies saw as thrift-store talent or weren't willing to deal because they fancied themselves contenders.
"What about Pedro?" said Proefrock, matter-of-factly tossing out the name of unemployed, three-time Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez, who had been lightly auditioning for curious teams in the Dominican Republic.
The words had barely come out of Proefrock's mouth when Amaro, willing to consider anything in the team's hunt for pitching, reached for the phone and called Fernando Cuza, one of Martinez's agents.
That call set off a series of events that led to another Phillies official posing a question to Amaro 18 days later.
"Are you sitting down?" scout Charley Kerfeld asked his boss over the telephone after seeing Martinez throw in a simulated game in the Dominican Republic on July 7.
Amaro assured Kerfeld that he was indeed sitting.
"I'd sign him," Kerfeld told Amaro.
What about Pedro?
Are you sitting down?
Those were the two questions that led the Phillies to take a chance that the once-great, 37-year-old Martinez might have enough left in his right arm to help them in the second half of the season.
Martinez signed a prorated $2 million deal with the club on Tuesday - he will make about $1 million for the remainder of the season and have a chance to collect an additional $1.5 million if he reaches incentives based on starts and time on the active roster - and this week will begin workouts at the Phillies' minor-league facility in Clearwater, Fla. The Phils hope Martinez will be ready to pitch in the majors in early August.
The Phils know Martinez's last three seasons with the New York Mets were marred by injury; he had rotator cuff surgery after the 2006 season and a hamstring injury last year.
They realize he had a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts for the Mets last season.
But, for the love of Pete, this is Pedro Martinez, a future Hall of Famer. It's a modest amount of money (by baseball standards). In this pitching-scarce world, the Phils say it's worth the shot.
"We kick this stuff around all the time," Amaro said of the conversation he had with Proefrock and Green on June 19.
"We had been assessing what was available and what might be available, and while we were doing it, more teams were moving into the race than out of the race. Acquiring pitching is difficult. We had to look in other avenues.
"The expectation isn't that he'll pitch like a Cy Young winner. The expectation is he comes in here and helps as an addition to our pitching staff. We do not expect him to save us. Hopefully he'll help us win some games."
Still loved the game
After winning his first Cy Young Award for Montreal in 1997, Martinez was traded to Boston, where he forged a spectacular 117-37 record and won two Cy Young Awards and four ERA titles (as well as a second-place finish) in seven seasons.
He helped break the Red Sox' 86-year World Series championship drought in 2004, then signed a four-year, $53 million deal with the New York Mets. Martinez was 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 31 starts in his first season with the Mets but battled injury during his final three seasons and was just 17-15 with a 4.74 ERA in 48 starts over that span.
During the 2006 season, Martinez told ESPN.com that he was leaning toward retirement when his Mets contract ended after 2008. But last winter, Martinez could not totally give in to the idea. He still loved the game, still loved to compete, still felt as if he had something to offer a contending team - if healthy.
Martinez, 214-99 in 17 big-league seasons, pitched six scoreless relief innings, with six strikeouts and no walks, for the Dominican team in the World Baseball Classic. He had hoped that would entice a team - possibly the Mets, for whom he enjoyed pitching - to sign him, but clubs were wary of his $5 million price tag.
Still hoping to pitch this season, Martinez continued his workouts in the Dominican, and teams such as the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Angels, and Rays began to peek in on his bullpen sessions in June. None of the teams made a contract offer or requested to see Martinez pitch against hitters. That request didn't come until the Phillies' involvement with him heated up in recent weeks.
Martinez bristled when asked if he was surprised he remained a free agent for so long when so many teams need pitching.
"If I needed a job, I could have had one on the first day of spring training," he said. "I wasn't just signing with anybody."
Pat Rooney, one of Martinez's agents, confirmed that.
"He wanted to play for a winner," Rooney said. "He wanted to stay in the National League. And he preferred the East Coast."
But still, there were reasons teams were reluctant to take the chance the Phillies did.
That was confirmed by Phillies officials and those from other clubs.
"He had a price tag," Amaro said. "I've talked to teams that said they were in on him, but his expectations and theirs didn't line up. And some of the teams that were interested were not contenders. He wanted to pitch for a winner, a team that could be a winner. That's what he told me."
An executive from a team that had watched Martinez throw in the Dominican talked further about the concerns teams had in signing Martinez.
"He hadn't pitched like the Pedro Martinez in a while, and there was the injury history," said the executive, who spoke on a condition of anonymity. "That weighed on teams' minds, along with the price tag. He threw OK. He wasn't 92-93 (m.p.h.), but it's difficult to evaluate in the bullpen."
An official from another team that has a history with Martinez also cited the pitcher's health record and price tag as reasons teams were reluctant to do what the Phillies did. The official, offering his insights on condition of anonymity, also noted Martinez's reputation for being a little high-maintenance.
"His demands were high and there were health concerns," the official said. "And he can be a bit of a diva. I'm sure teams considered that."
All that said, the official said he thought the Phillies made a good signing.
"It looks like [Martinez's camp] came way down in price," the official said. "For that money, this could be good for them. They're only asking him to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. And if I'm Pedro, what better way to get back at the Mets?
"And as far as that diva stuff, I really think that gets overplayed. Pedro respects the game. He's one of the most intelligent guys you'll ever meet. He likes guys that work and know what they're doing. That Philly team is a very together unit. Ruben and [former GM Pat] Gillick put together a club with great makeup. I don't think Pedro will disrupt that. As a matter of fact, I think he'll like being part of it.
"People don't always recognize this, but Pedro is a high-character guy. If he's not doing what he expects to do after a few starts, it wouldn't surprise me if he walked away."
The first executive also saw merit in the Phillies' $1 million gamble.
"I think the odds are against him because nobody knows how his arm will hold up," the executive said. "That's the big wild card. But he knows how to pitch, and if he has a healthy arm, he should help. The Phillies may get lucky. Everybody thought Jamie Moyer was washed up 10 years ago. They may get a real bargain."
Gillick spent three years as Phillies GM before stepping down after the team won the World Series in October. He remains with the club as an adviser.
Gillick's legacy with the organization is not just a World Series title. He left a mind-set, a resourcefulness that can be seen in the Martinez signing. Gillick loves low-risk, high-reward rolls of the dice like this. Some go bust, like Kris Benson. Others go boom, like Jayson Werth.
"The legacy Pat brought was 'don't be afraid to take chances on somebody' and 'be open-minded and try to have a little ingenuity,' " Amaro said. "Sometimes you have to solve your problems in an unconventional way. Some things might not work. Others might. There's nothing perfect in baseball. This might not work. [Martinez] might not be effective. But you don't find that kind of experience and competitiveness just anywhere. We don't see a downside."
While Amaro's phone call to Cuza in June ignited the pursuit of Martinez, it was not the first time the two parties had discussed the pitcher. The Phillies enjoy a close relationship with Cuza and Rooney. Rooney played briefly with the Montreal Expos in the early 1980s. He negotiated Jim Thome's contract with the Phillies and represents Phils manager Charlie Manuel.
All along, Cuza and Rooney thought the Phils would be a good fit for their client.
Kerfeld scouted Martinez in the WBC.
"He looked like a guy trying to get in shape, trying to get his arm ready," Kerfeld said.
After reestablishing contact with Martinez's camp in June and learning that the pitcher's $5 million price tag had come down, the Phils asked if they could see Martinez in a private workout. They asked if he'd come to their Dominican training academy in Guanuma and throw a simulated game against some of the Phillies' young Dominican farmhands.
Kerfeld, who had pitched in the majors with Houston and Atlanta, was the ideal guy to make the scouting trip because he had seen Martinez during the WBC and had a baseline from which to make a judgment.
"I went down there not expecting a lot," Kerfeld said. "As many teams as had been looking for pitching and no one signed him . . . "
Martinez is a national icon in the Dominican Republic, and his visit to the Phils' academy was met with excitement. Youngsters from the neighborhood climbed fences as they tried to watch him pitch. After the simulated game, Martinez signed autographs, posed for pictures, and imparted some wisdom to the young Phillies farmhands.
Martinez's graciousness impressed Kerfeld. So did his work on the mound. Martinez threw three 18-pitch innings.
"He could have done more," Kerfeld said.
Martinez's fastball clocked between 86 and 91 m.p.h. on Kerfeld's radar gun.
"You saw more velocity than the WBC," Kerfeld said. "He was mostly 88 to 91. His change-up was the same great change-up he's always had. He was still feeling for his breaking ball, but you could see it would come. He looked like a guy who could be ready to pitch after 15 or 16 innings in the minors."
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Martinez has made more than $146 million in his career. It's safe to say that money is not his motivator for coming back.
Kerfeld knew that from the beginning. Martinez wanted to pitch because he loves to compete and wants the chance to win another World Series. Kerfeld said that sentiment resonated in Martinez's voice in a conversation the two had after the workout.
"This isn't about the Benjamins," Kerfeld said. "He's got enough money to buy the whole island. Pedro wants jewelry. He wants another ring, and he chose the team he wanted to be with."
Rooney confirmed essentially that.
"Pedro felt he'd earned enough respect in the game to have some say where he ended up," Rooney said. "He was patient enough to go to the right team. He wants another ring."
One more time
Kerfeld's positive report impressed Amaro, especially the part about Martinez's improved velocity. The more velocity that Martinez has on his fastball, the more effective his off-speed pitches become. In his prime, Martinez threw in the mid-90s, but his velocity, on occasion, had slipped into the mid-80s over the last couple of seasons.
"Eighty-eight to 91," Amaro said. "With his breaking ball and change-up, he can pitch at that."
But before Amaro acted on Kerfeld's recommendation, other matters had to be covered.
Amaro, who said he had no concern about Martinez's character, asked around about the pitcher anyway. He consulted people who knew Martinez.
"Pedro's good people," Amaro said. "He says what he wants to say because he's honest. Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable. But there's nothing wrong with a little honesty."
Potential terms of a contract had to be discussed. And Martinez, like any other free agent, had to have a physical exam.
But before all this took place, another of Amaro's lieutenants spoke up. Assistant general manager Chuck LaMar suggested that the Phils see Martinez pitch one more time, just to see how he rebounded after testing his arm against hitters, before making the deal. Martinez agreed to throw again on July 10, this time with assistant GM Benny Looper taking a look.
"Three days later he went full tilt for us," Amaro said. "He wasn't as sharp, but we expected that, and the drop-off was not significant."
Before finalizing the deal, Martinez also had to pass a physical, which was administered by team physician Michael Ciccotti at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. Ciccotti took particular interest in Martinez's surgically repaired right shoulder. Ciccotti injected dye into the shoulder so he could pick up abnormalities during an MRI exam. The Phillies would not comment specifically about the exam, but they felt good enough about it to sign Martinez.
Funkiness and deception
The always quotable, always entertaining Martinez was introduced at a news conference Wednesday. Afterward, he had lunch with some Phillies officials, including Proefrock, the man who asked, "What about Pedro?" last month.
"We're going to get everything this guy has," Proefrock said. "He's motivated. He's got something to prove to everybody and himself."
Wearing his familiar No. 45, which had been given up by bench coach Pete Mackanin (he's now wearing 22), Martinez joined his new teammates Thursday in Miami. He spoke with Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee, both of whom are enthusiastic about having him.
One player who didn't want to be named said Martinez, even past his prime, can help.
"Even when he was throwing 85 [m.p.h.] the last couple of years, there was a funkiness and deception to his pitches," the player said. "Just the way the ball came out of his hand. He knows how to pitch."
Martinez is technically on the disabled list with a mild shoulder strain. According to the Phillies, he can't pitch in an official minor-league game until Thursday. On that day, he is likely to pitch for one of the Phillies' Florida-based minor-league clubs.
The Phillies hope Martinez isn't their only midseason pitching acquisition. They are pursuing Toronto ace Roy Halladay in a trade.
Halladay is the type of impact pitcher Martinez once was, and, after a half-season on the unemployment line, hopes to be again.
"I think Pedro missed playing," Amaro said. "He's a competitor. He's a baseball rat."