Martinez Available But Are Dodgers Interested

The rumor had already begun around Los Angeles well before March 12, when Los Angeles Times column by Bill Plaschke implored the Dodgers to sign free agent right-hander Pedro Martinez and right a 15-year-old wrong.

Martinez, then a Dodgers' rookie pitching prospect, was dealt to Montreal in November 1993 for Delino DeShields. Martinez went on to become an eight-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner.

Pedro, younger brother of Dodgers' ace Ramon Martinez, had a spectacular rookie season, recording a 10-3 record and a 2.61 earned run average, mostly in relief (he was allowed to start only twice) and punched out 119 opposing batters while walking 57.

In 1992, the expansion Colorado Rockies drafted second baseman Jody Reed from the Boston Red Sox and, under a prior agreement, traded him to the Dodgers for relief pitcher Rudy Seanez.

He had a fine season with the Dodgers, solid at the plate and with a spectacular glove. L.A. attempted to sign him but Reed turned down a three-year, $8 million offer and became a free agent.

As an aside, it was perhaps the worst decision in baseball history. Reed finally signed with Milwaukee for $750,000.

But it left the Dodgers without a second baseman and with no one ready in their minor league system, negotiated with Montreal for Delino Deshields, who had hit in the .290s over his first four years and had averaged 47 stolen bases.

But Montreal wanted the younger Martinez Hermano. The club's doctor, Frank Jobe, didn't think Martinez's small (5' 10", 165) frame was strong enough to be a starting pitcher. The field staff seemed to agree so general manager Fred Clair made the trade.

It turned out to be the worst trade and Los Angeles history, to which Claire, to his everlasting credit, didn't disagree.

"It was a bad trade," he said. "It turned out to be a very bad trade for the Dodgers."

No matter who was to blame, Pedro went on to pile up a Hall of Fame career with Montreal, Boston and the New York Mets, winning 214 games while losing 99 and recording a pair of 20-game seasons.

He has struck out 3,117 in 2,782 innings and as an eight time All-Star, he recorded a 5-3 record in 13 post-season games.

"Here's hoping the Dodgers don't let him get away again" Plaschke wrote.

While that column only added fuel to a fire that had begun when an apparently healthy Martinez pitched six shutout innings for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, it also included, buried closer to the bottom than to the top, a quote from Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti that was widely interpreted as confirmation that the team had a strong interest in pursuing Martinez.

"He is somebody we're curious about," the quote read. "We know how great he has been, and we know how popular he is in Los Angeles."

But no matter how much nostalgic Dodgers fans would like to see it happen, the team doesn't appear close to signing Martinez, especially not at his widely reported price of at least $5 million for this season.

Martinez is 37, and injuries have limited him to a total of 25 starts over the past two seasons with the Mets. The Dodgers' habit this winter and in recent years, whenever they have signed players with injury histories, has been to offer a vastly reduced base salary with incentives to make up the difference if the player can stay healthy.

They signed pitcher Claudio Vargas for one year, $400,000, with another $1.4 million in incentives, and second baseman Orlando Hudson for one year, $3.38 million, with $4.62 million in incentives.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported that the Dodgers might be willing to sign Martinez, but only for a guaranteed base salary that isn't much more than the major league minimum of $400,000.

This scenario will be interesting to watch.

NOTES, QUOTES
--Anthony Delmonico, the Dodgers' sixth-round selection in last year's amateur draft out of Florida State, is watching this year's WBC with particular interest because his father, former University of Tennessee head coach Rod Delmonico, is the manager of the Netherlands team, the team that upset the heavily favored Dominican Republic twice in pool play to advance to this weekend's second round in Miami.

"It's a little bit of an `Angels in the Outfield' thing they have going on," said Delmonico, whom the Dodgers are converting from shortstop to catcher. "To be honest with you, I knew they had some good pitching, but I didn't know they were capable of doing what they have done. Proud pretty much sums it all up. Words can't describe what has been going on."

--INF Juan Castro, a .228 career hitter in 14 major league seasons, was sizzling in the Cactus League. After singling in his only at-bat March 13 against Texas, Castro was hitting .545 (12-for-22), with half of those hits having gone for extra bases. Castro is in camp as a non-roster invitee and is trying to make the club as a second utility man.

--LHP Hong-Chih Kuo finally made his spring debut on March 12 after manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt exercised extreme caution with him because of his history of elbow problems. Kuo, projected as the club's eighth-inning setup man this season, came on in exactly that role and promptly retired the first two batters he faced before giving up a single and hitting a batter, at which point he was removed. Kuo has undergone four elbow operations during his professional career, including two Tommy John surgeries while still in the minor leagues.

--RHP Cory Wade, who had been nursing a sore shoulder all spring, mowed down three consecutive batters in his Cactus League debut on March 13 against Texas. Entering to start the eighth inning, Wade got Brandon Boggs to fly to left, Chris Davis to ground to second and Adam Melhuse to ground to first. Wade posted a 2.27 ERA in 55 appearances as a rookie last season.

--OF Xavier Paul, who has little chance of making the club because of a lack of available roster spots, was batting .394 in the Cactus League through March 13. He had six extra-base hits in 33 at-bats. He also had a .429 on-base percentage.

--RHP Hiroki Kuroda had yet to allow a run in his first three Cactus League starts spanning 8 2/3 innings. He was dominant on March 10 against Arizona, when he issued a leadoff walk, then retired the next 10 batters in succession, striking out six of them. Kuroda is the leading candidate at this point to get the ball for the Dodgers' season opener on April 6 at San Diego.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Teams in a stretch of six seasons that veteran UT Doug Mientkiewicz will have played for if he makes the team out of camp. That appeared to be a longshot, given that he had been made no promises when he signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers earlier this spring and he was hitting .133 (2-for-15) in the Cactus League, albeit with two home runs, through March 13.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Those were supposed to be sliders, but I call them breaking balls now. I don't really know what they were. I was just trying to spin those. That was a pitch I haven't thrown all spring, so I thought I would try it and see what happened. It worked really well, so I will work off that for now." --RHP Jason Schmidt, after giving up three runs over two innings on March 9 against Texas, his first start against major league competition since June 2007.

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