As wily in business as he is on a pitcher's mound, Pedro Martinez last night followed his provocative visit with Yankees boss George Steinbrenner by meeting with Red Sox executives to gauge whether they would sweeten their offer to keep him in Boston.
Martinez, who surprised the baseball world Tuesday by weighing his possible future in Yankee pinstripes with Steinbrenner in Tampa, made his next stop in Florida a special visit with Sox principal owner John W. Henry, team president and CEO Larry Lucchino, and general manager Theo Epstein to renew their contract talks.
The meeting, which was scheduled before Martinez's side trip to Steinbrenner's offseason headquarters in Tampa, was considered crucial because both sides were eager to reach an agreement and move on to other concerns.
At the very least, Martinez almost certainly needed to sense some willingness by the Sox to improve their initial offer if he were to maintain faith in the negotiations. And the Sox needed to determine whether they could afford to reasonably satisfy Martinez's expectations, particularly if he believed his meeting with Steinbrenner improved his bargaining position.
Since Martinez was not considered likely to welcome shuttling much more often between his winter home in the Dominican Republic and the United States for the talks, he and the Sox understood the importance of avoiding reaching an impasse. Both sides agreed to keep details of the negotiations private.
The starting point for the new round of talks was a preliminary offer the Sox presented to Martinez's agent, Fernando Cuza, shortly after the World Series: a two-year, $25.5 million proposal with a $13 million option for 2007 and $2 million in potential performance bonuses. The proposal, which calls for Martinez to earn $12.5 million next year and $13 million in 2006, was nearly identical to the deal Curt Schilling signed last year to waive his no-trade clause with the Diamondbacks and accept a trade to Boston.
The only difference between the proposals was that Schilling triggered his $13 million option and picked up his $2 million bonus by helping the Sox win a World Series. Since Major League Baseball barred such incentive clauses after mistakenly approving Schilling's, the Sox offered Martinez a deal in which he could vest the 2007 option and max out on the bonus money based on the number of innings he pitches and how he finishes in the Cy Young balloting.
Martinez and Cuza were expected to waste little time after the Sox explained the rationale for their two-year offer before they presented the reasons why they believe the three-time Cy Young Award winner deserves a contract that guarantees at least three years of security.
Martinez has said he would accept a pay cut from the $17.5 million -- a record for a pitcher -- he earned this past season as he completed a seven-year, $90 million contract with the Sox. But he has made no secret that he expects to be compensated as well as other pitchers of his caliber, which are few. And those pitchers generally have received guaranteed contracts that span at least three years.
Anything less could be a deal breaker, though the Sox were expected to have shown some flexibility, even if it meant asking Martinez to make a concession or two.
The major talking points almost certainly were deferred while Martinez and Sox officials touched on -- and most likely traded a few one-liners about -- the pitcher's meeting with Steinbrenner. The Sox brass has a rich history with Steinbrenner since Henry once owned a minority share of the Yankees and Lucchino has long clashed with the Boss, developing an animosity that peaked when Lucchino began referring to Steinbrenner's prized organization as the "Evil Empire."
Martinez himself has expressed little love for the pinstriped tradition, which made the Sox officials as curious as most other observers about his celebrated meeting with Steinbrenner. Martinez could have abruptly ended a jocular review of his meeting with the Boss, of course, if he indicated the Yankees were open to guaranteeing him three or more years at a salary close to the one the Sox offered.
At 33, Martinez believes he is healthy enough to maintain -- or improve -- the way he performed last season, when he went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA. But the Sox have questions about his future durability, which led to their two-year proposal, though Epstein has said he would try to find common ground with Martinez.