Pedro On The Way

NEW YORK – A mango tree grows in Flushing. <P> As every second ticks away, the Mets and Pedro Martinez get a little closer to consummating what will amount to a four-year marriage – for better, for worse, for partial tears, "Who's Your Daddy" and the presence of pint-sized Nelson de la Rosa.

According to reports, Wednesday will mark the day that Martinez submits to the standard-procedure physical en route to inking his reported four-year, $56 million deal, spurning the Boston Red Sox for Shea Stadium.

But as with everything else in this soap-opera Pedro pursuit, it appears that even that won't come easily. The Mets and Martinez's representative, Fern Cuza, are reportedly haggling over whether Martinez must actually take an MRI – something that will almost assuredly reveal a significant tear in Martinez's right shoulder – or whether he can otherwise satisfy the Mets by going through a few strength tests.

At age 33, there's no question that Martinez is no longer the super-natural pitcher who was a threat to strike out 18 batters each night in Boston. These days, Martinez is a six-inning pitcher, one who just posted the highest ERA of his career at 3.90.

But you know what? Martinez is essentially stepping in to replace 39-year-old Al Leiter, a six-inning pitcher who hasn't exactly been the spitting image of Sandy Koufax the last few years.

This move not only helps the Mets on the field, which it does – Martinez will automatically become one of the premier pitchers in the National League, a role he's familiar with from his toils a decade ago.

It helps the Mets in the marketplace, both among New York's fickle fans and among potential free agents who now may recognize Shea Stadium as more than just a place where both long fly balls and baseball's aging veterans go to die.

These are exciting times. Finally, the Mets are a force again, playing the market like something other than bargain-basement shoppers.

Reports on Wednesday indicated that the Mets are now stepping up their offer to first baseman Carlos Delgado, who has previously received interest from the Baltimore Orioles and the Seattle Mariners.

Delgado, 32, is something like Pedro in that he's only in his early 30s, but already has seen his numbers decline a few notches.

The slugger is four years removed from an unconscious 2000 in which he hit .344 with 41 homers and 137 RBI, but it's not like he withered into Jason Phillips overnight. Delgado hit .269 with 32 homers and 99 RBI in 2004 after first-half struggles, numbers that automatically make him the Mets' most dangerous hitter if injected into New York's lineup.

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