On the eve of the baseball winter meetings in Anaheim, Calif., Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino plan to meet with Pedro Martinez tomorrow morning in the Dominican Republic, though Lucchino insisted last night that the call is more social in nature and negotiations will not necessarily take place.
The third member of the ownership troika, chairman Tom Werner, is scheduled to fly to Florida tomorrow for meetings with Henry and Lucchino upon their return from the Dominican, where they are headed to observe the one-year anniversary of the opening of the team's academy there, and also to pay a visit to star slugger David Ortiz.
Lucchino said he could not say with certainty whether Martinez's agent, Fernando Cuza, would be present, and while Cuza did not return a message yesterday, there's a strong likelihood he will be with Martinez and the Sox brass will make a concerted push in some fashion to persuade the free agent pitcher to return to the club.
"I don't have a time frame in mind," Lucchino said when asked if he'd like to sign Martinez before the start of the winter meetings Friday. "We're hopeful that we're able to sign Pedro, but beyond that I don't want to make any public comments about the negotiations."
The Sox also plan to offer salary arbitration today to all four of their front-line free agents -- Martinez, catcher Jason Varitek, shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and pitcher Derek Lowe -- ensuring that the club will receive draft choices as compensation in case any of the four (all Type A) signs with another club. For any Type A free agent signed by another team, the Sox are ensured of receiving a first-round "sandwich" pick -- a selection made after the first round but before the second, plus the signing club's first- or second-round pick, depending on where it finished in the standings.
The Sox are not expected to re-sign Lowe, who was not part of the team's rally last night in Fort Myers, the team's Florida spring training home and the place where Lowe maintains his offseason home. After an initial mixup, one club official said, Lowe was invited to attend but declined. Last spring, Lowe rejected a three-year, $27 million offer from the Sox. An official with another club said yesterday that Lowe is seeking a four-year deal for an average $12 million a season, which would parallel the deal the Angels gave Bartolo Colon last season.
Boston's primary competition for Martinez at this stage remains the New York Mets, and there are indications Mets GM Omar Minaya also will meet with Martinez and his agent tomorrow.
The Mets reportedly have offered the 33-year-old righthander a guaranteed three-year contract worth $38 million, with an option for a fourth year that would make the total value close to $50 million. The Sox originally offered Martinez a Curt Schilling package: two years, $25.5 million, with an option for a third year that pushed the value to $37.5 million. It's the same deal the Sox gave Schilling after acquiring him from Arizona last winter. The Sox have since made the third year of the Martinez deal more easily attainable as a vesting option, but there is debate internally about making the vesting option a virtual gimme, and no inclination at this time to add a fourth year.
"We love and have enormous respect for Pedro. But he needs to understand it takes to two to tango," Lucchino said last week. "We are undeterred in our efforts to keep him."
One industry source close to Martinez insisted that the St. Louis Cardinals are also in the mix, but that has not been confirmed. The Cardinals were exploring a trade for Arizona lefthander Randy Johnson and also were trying to re-sign star shortstop Edgar Renteria, a free agent.
At almost the same time last year, Henry met with Alex Rodriguez in Miami and made a contract proposal to him in what ultimately was a futile quest to obtain the All-Star shortstop from the Texas Rangers.
If the Sox fail to re-sign Martinez -- and an industry source with knowledge of the Mets' pursuit said negotiations are at a "delicate stage" -- they are expected to shift their focus to free agent Carl Pavano, who was once Sox property and now has a host of suitors, including the Yankees, Orioles, Mariners, Angels, and Tigers.
The Sox remain $2 million a year apart in negotiations for Varitek, having offered him a four-year, $36 million package, with Varitek and agent Scott Boras countering at four years, $44 million, having lopped off a demand for a guaranteed fifth year. The Sox remain unpersuaded by Boras's contention that he has at least one other team willing to give the 32-year-old catcher a five-year deal in excess of $50 million.
The Sox have had conversations with Cabrera's agent, Dan Lozano, but are waiting to see how the market for shortstops shakes out. Reports yesterday had the Chicago Cubs on the verge of signing Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year deal in the $8 million range, a fraction of the four-year, $60 million proposal the Sox made to Garciaparra in the spring of 2003. Cabrera rejected a four-year, $30 million deal from Montreal before the Expos traded him to the Sox, and the Sox are unlikely to be interested if Cabrera is seeking a contract in the neighborhood of five years at $9 million per. Renteria may set the market, depending on what he receives from the Cardinals, but most of the big-market teams -- the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, Cubs (if they re-sign Garciaparra), and Orioles -- are set at shortstop, raising a question about how much leverage Cabrera will have.
Because of the compensation system, teams losing free agents don't go away empty-handed, but compensation picks have a spotty record making it to the big leagues. For example, the two players the Sox received in the 1997 draft as compensation for losing Roger Clemens to Toronto, outfielder Mark Fischer and shortstop Aaron Capista, washed out before making it to the big leagues. Neither of the two players the Sox drafted in 1999 with compensation picks for losing Mo Vaughn to the Angels, outfielder Rick Asadoorian and reliever Brad Baker, is with the organization, though Baker was used in the trade that brought reliever Alan Embree from San Diego and is now on the Padres' 40-man roster.
But in 1996, using a pick they acquired for losing pitcher Erik Hanson to Toronto, the Sox drafted pitcher Chris Reitsma, now a key member of the Atlanta Braves' bullpen.
Free agents offered arbitration have until Dec. 19 to decide whether they will accept. If they do, they are considered signed players and belong to the Red Sox for the 2005 season. If they reject arbitration, the Sox still have until Jan. 8 to sign them. If the club fails to do so by that date, it loses the right to negotiate with those free agents until May 1, generally a concession that the players will sign elsewhere. . . .
A Sox official downplayed reports of the team's interest in Japanese second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, who is free to sign with any major league team. Iguchi, 30, was likened yesterday by one former big leaguer who also played in Japan as comparable in ability to Kaz Matsui, who last season left Japan to play for the Mets. Iguchi hit .333 with 24 home runs and 89 RBIs for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks last season and has 30-plus stolen-base speed, the former player said. The Sox said they are merely doing due diligence with Iguchi, who earlier in his career played shortstop . . . The Sox claimed righthander Tim Bausher off waivers from the Colorado Rockies. Bausher, 25, has not pitched in the majors but has struck out 203 batters in 177 career minor league innings, while walking only 63.