Relentless Pursuit

Relentless pursuit. <P> Clear as day, workers at the Mets' spring training complex affixed the words to the minor league clubhouse in January, an inspirational saying intended to sear into the mind of each Shea Stadium hopeful who passed underneath. (Premium Content)

The catch-phrase could have easily extended all the way back up to Omar Minaya's office in Queens, where the dapper first-year GM hosted perhaps the biggest splash an executive has ever made in his first winter on the job.

Under Minaya's watch, the Mets – a club that finished 71-91 in 2004 and closer to last place than to first – have re-energized, snagging future Hall of Fame righthander Pedro Martinez and budding superstar Carlos Beltran in a pair of deft offseason moves.

Now that the flashbulbs have died down and Minaya's prize hauls of the winter are closer to lacing up their cleats, the Mets GM – who received his trial by fire at the helm of the cash-strapped Montreal Expos – admits he still has to pinch himself sometimes when he looks at his club's star-studded roster.

"I didn't think we were going to get two of these guys," Minaya said. "It's a long haul when you lose 91 games."

Attempting to defy the odds anyway, Minaya set out on a path to shun naysayers left and right in his first several weeks of official duty.

Conventional wisdom said that the Mets would not be able to woo Pedro Martinez, one of the premier starting pitchers of his generation, away from the comfortable confines of the World Champion Boston Red Sox.

No problem for Minaya, who embraced the challenge.

"I like being an underdog," he remarked.

Minaya set out to avert Pedro's Beantown reunion in December, practically holding executives hostage at the MLB Winter Meetings in Anaheim as they consumed multiple orders of Marriott room service. In-between bites, the Mets suits crunched the numbers that might eventually woo Martinez to consider the Mets.

With reports swirling that Martinez was precious moments away from a return to Boston – Red Sox slugger David Ortiz told reporters that "[Pedro] ain't going to no Mets" – Minaya put a sudden stop to weeks of negotiations, looking Martinez's agent Fern Cuza directly in the eye.

Like a slugger gritting his teeth at the plate, Minaya dug in for the payoff pitch.

"Do we have a deal or not?" Minaya asked Cuza, his eyes darting toward paperwork that sealed a four-year, $53 million offer for the righthander.

After a brief telephone call down to the Dominican Republic, where Martinez makes his home near the mango trees he made so famous during last year's ALCS, the verdict was in. Minaya had knocked one out of the park.

"Omar said, `We really want you,'" Cuza said. "He made Pedro feel very welcome. He went after him with passion and sincerity."

You could argue that it was all part of Minaya's grand plan from minute one. At Martinez's Shea Stadium press conference, Minaya spoke about the "domino effect" that Martinez's signing would have on the Mets organization.

"No other free agent in the marketplace has that value," Minaya said. "What [Martinez] means to us in five years, 10 years. There are kids out there who will want to be with the Mets because of this signing."

On the morning of the Martinez announcement alone, senior VP Jim Duquette said he fielded exploratory telephone calls from two star MLB players, including one player still under contract with a Major League club.

But the real prize was Beltran, who was scanning the TV news interestedly from Puerto Rico. The jewel of the free agent market, Beltran had been whispered for weeks as a virtual lock to choose between the Yankees and the Houston Astros, with whom he completed the season and had one of the most unconscious postseasons in recent memory.

Now, after years of playing in front of dwindling crowds in small-market Kansas City, Beltran's future was in his own hands.

He had heard from agent Scott Boras that the Mets were calling for constant updates – later, Boras would say that either Minaya or assistant Tony Bernazard dialed his number for 31 straight days – and now he saw Minaya on the television set, blinded by flashbulbs alongside Martinez. Beltran admitted that thoughts of the Mets couldn't help but begin to creep into his mind.

"It really surprised me," Beltran said. "I started thinking, 'They're trying to make a run and win ballgames.' That's where you want to be. It was a big factor on me."

Minaya didn't know it yet, but the Mets had just inched closer to snagging the 27-year-old outfielder. While the Mets' cross-town rivals wined and dined Arizona Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson for a two-year contract extension, Minaya took no hesitation to infiltrating the situation.

Favoring personal relations over cold business dealings, Minaya invited several Mets executives - including principal owner Fred Wilpon – to tag along to San Juan, where the group met the outfielder. Minaya had requested to meet Beltran in his home, wanting to push the high value of family in Latin culture even farther, but Beltran backed off.

So it was in a hotel that Minaya stunned the baseball world by extending a club record seven-year, $119 million commitment to Boras and his client.

"I was raised as an area scout and I haven't lost the feel," Minaya said, recalling his days as one of the Texas Rangers' top talent evaluators. "I will go the extra mile to get a player."

Indeed, with a no-trade clause worked in and only minor negotiations to iron out, the Mets and Beltran soon reached an agreement in principle. The resulting contract neatly folded the Houston Astros' chances and hammered close the door before the Yankees could even make an official offer.

"When they signed Omar, I knew the team was headed in the right direction," Beltran later said. "Omar's been in the game a long time. He knows how to get to players."

Minaya was a little more circumspect, simply remarking, "Players like to go to cities where they have a chance to win."

Thanks to Minaya and his 'relentless pursuit,' the Mets now offer just that.

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