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It All Started With Pedro

Mike SteffanosThursday, April 3, 2008
By Mike Steffanos

Watching Pedro Martinez get hurt in his first start of the season was depressing on several levels for me. As with so many Mets fan, Pedro holds a special place in my heart because his decision to sign with the Mets immediately gave juice to a franchise that badly needed an infusion of excitement. The Mets had been bad for a long time by the winter of 2005. The club had faded miserably down the stretch of the previous season after making the ill-advised Scott Kazmir deal to prop up their slim playoff hopes.

That trade, and the almost universal negative reaction to it, seemed to solidify the image of the Mets as a hopelessly bumbling organization. I remember after the season wondering what could possibly change things in Flushing. Sure, David Wright had a nice debut, but Jose Reyes and Cliff Floyd couldn't stay on the field, Mike Piazza was in obvious decline, and the Mets "commitment to youth" hadn't even survived the first trade deadline.

When I heard the Mets under new GM Omar Minaya were courting Martinez after the season I laughed. Why would Pedro consider coming here? The Mets were unable to convince even such modest free agents as Craig Counsell that the Mets would become relevant again anytime soon. When, despite all odds, Pedro did elect to come here, he changed things in a fundamental way that even the later Beltran signing -- probably only possible because of Pedro's -- didn't. Suddenly the Mets had a little buzz and excitement, and those who had written off the Mets at least began to take some notice.

In 2005, Pedro made 31 starts, and every single one of them was an event. That was Glavine's best year as a Met, but he never captured the hearts of fans in the way Pedro did. In retrospect, that club still had a lot of holes. The bullpen was only fair, with Looper as the closer and Mr. Koo, Mike DeJean, Manny Aybar and Danny Graves starting more fires than the few they were able to douse. We endured 16 starts from Kaz Ishii. Piazza was a shell of his former greatness. Doug Mientkiewicz was awful. Miguel Cairo somehow had 327 AB with a batting line of .251/.296/.324, mostly because Kaz Matsui continued to flop. Eric Valent, 2004's feel-good story, came crashing back to earth with a thud. The 2005 Mets were a team of non-greatness.

Yet every time Pedro took the mound that spring and summer, that team was transformed. The stadium was electric, watching in rapt attention as a master showman plied his trade on the mound. If he wasn't quite the Pedro of old, he was pretty damned good. The 2005 Mets would ultimately fade at the end of the season again, although not quite as bad as the previous year, and finish third. Pedro posted a 15-8 record for that mediocre club, robbed of several deserved wins by that bullpen. His ERA of 2.82 was fourth among NL starters. His hits allowed per nine innings pitched was second. He pitched 217 innings, too, something we're unlikely to see his even come close to ever again.

2006 and 2007 were not great years for Pedro. He only took the mound 23 and 5 times, respectively. Now he's on the DL again only 3.2 innings into the season. Inevitably you start seeing items that question whether signing Pedro was a "good decision".

Please, spare me.

From a completely dispassionate business perspective, it's hard to justify the $14 million per season Pedro made in 2006 and 2007. Maybe that turns out to be the case with the $11 million that he'll earn this season. But anyone who questions whether this was money well spent has a short memory. Shea Stadium had all the energy of a graveyard in 2003 and the final month of 2004. The Mets were the joke of the league, only Mets fans weren't laughing.

Omar Minaya hasn't had a perfect record in making deals these past couple of winters, but his decision to pursue and sign Martinez in the early days of his tenure was exactly right -- even if Pedro doesn't pitch another game for the Mets. It's hard to go back through the four decades of Mets history I have observed and think of a single player who came here and changed so much so fast. There are things (and pitchers) that just transcend cold-blooded cost-benefit analysis.

For a small market club, Pedro's contract wouldn't have made any sense. For a large market club that was already successful, like the Red Sox, Pedro was a bad gamble. For a team like the Mets who were badly in need of a complete karma makeover, Pedro was just what the doctor ordered.

Certainly the Mets will have a tough decision to make next off-season about whether they bring Pedro back and if so, under what terms. If Pedro can't stay healthy and pitch effectively the question is probably moot. I wonder if under that scenario the Mets make another, stronger attempt to re-sign Oliver Perez long-term. We don't know what the future holds, but I for one can only hope that there will be more Saint Pedro days to celebrate before his time here comes to a close. Even a diminished Pedro still has that magic.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (11)

As usual, a great post. I couldn't agree more. We would be nothing without the Pedro signing. People who question it now are trying to rewrite history.

Hi Mike. You outdid yourself again with this article. I for 1 did not believe the Pedro signing was prudent at the time but changed my mind on his first start. He was a breath of fresh air and honestly I couldn't say it as good as you did about how much he meant to the organization. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading your next blog. Ed

Mike; right on the money as usual. Simply put, Pedro was a MUST-GET for Omar and somehow he got him, and with a little luck, Beltran followed (when the Yanks didn't offer up enough). That's when the Mets became relevant again. Omar makes his share of bad trades and signings, but without Pedro, I don't think the improvement happens; at least it doesn't happen nearly as soon as it did. I had quite a lively "debate" about this signing at the time with my brother (who was dead-set against it), and I still maintain that if Pedro never pitches another inning, the deal was totally worth it for the Mets.

Couldn't disagree more. Martinez brought some excitement in '05 but little since then. Money brought Beltran, money and the fact that the Yanks wanted Johnson more than him, not Pedro being on the roster. Delgado turned down the mets and went to the Marlins, where was the Pedro influence then? Lowe would have been a much better signing and I'm sure there were a couple of other available free agent pitchers that year that I've forgotten that would have been better too. 52 million for 27 wins and some excitement is not a good signing. Pedro is a Hall of Famer and seems to be a good guy but a good signing for the Met, no, not in my opinion. The Red Sox knew what they were doing. I just hope the Mets let him walk this offseason but I bet they resign him.

Thanks to Joe, Ed and George.

Old Timer, you're entitled to your opinion, but honestly, I couldn't disagree more with just about everything you said. I guess that makes us even. No one is saying money had nothing to do with Beltran coming, but the idea that Pedro had nothing to do with it is belied by Beltran's own words. Derek Lowe would have been a good signing, but he would have changed nothing as far as the atmosphere around here. I'm glad you don't run the Mets.

I see Old Timer frequents this site as well. Great post. I actually just finished working on a short piece that looks at the flip side of the debate. I thought my data showed 26 wins but the point is wouldn't it also make a case for one of the biggest free agent busts in the last 5 years ranking right up there with Pavano? Have a great season guys!

Joe, the whole point of what I wrote was that I didn't believe you could judge the signing with cold blooded cost-benefit analysis. The Yankees only needed Pavano to pitch, and he couldn't do that. The Mets needed Pedro to pitch and change the mood of the franchise from within and the perception of the Mets from without. He didn't accomplish enough of the first, but he sure accomplished the other 2. What would have been a bad signing for the Yankees or Red Sox doesn't completely apply to the floundering Mets franchise of that time.

By the way, Pavano started 19 games in total for the Yankees and won 5 games. Do you think that comparison is a little unfair?

Mike right on! Pedro is still worth a ticket to see. He brings alot to the table, The fans love him, I enjoy his dugout actions, he not only knows how to work a hitter but he knows how to work a crowd. I have grown to love Pedro,even if he never pitches again he was ( is ) a good Met with a Met fan heart and smile

I agree that the Pedro Martinez signing was a bold move, one that demonstrated the Mets' resolve to advance among the better teams.

Two thoughts: one, that as the Mets actually did go on to improve, new signings like the Pedro signing would no longer qualify for the light scrutiny, of the built-it explaination that the Martinez signing gets. If the Santana trade and signing somehow doesn't work out, which god forbid, the Mets won't have "shown the world they were serious about competing;" rather, thay will have "squandered the prime of Wright's and Reyes' careers for a poorly considered move that the Bosox and the Yankees passed up." Not to suggest that it would be a fair thing to say.

The other thought, and I have no idea of the answer to this one: who did the Red Sox draft with the #1 and the Supplemental picks they got when they lost Martinez to the Mets?

It was a number 2 pick, because the Mets didn't finish in the top half of MLB teams in 2004.

They took High School C Jonathan Egan in the second round with the pick the Mets forfeited to them. They got Clay Bucholz with the sandwich round pick.

Signing Pedro was like putting out a big sign that read OPEN FOR BUSINESS. It was the right move at the right time and everything good flowed from it. Nobody at the time of his signing had any illusions that Pedro Martinez in 2008 would be the pitcher from a decade earlier. We were paying for up-front performance and credibility and we got both in spades. If we hadn't signed him in '04, then who? Pavano? Matt Clement? Both are younger and both have missed significant time since then.

Right move at the right time. Right move for posterity. Great post.

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