NY TimesNovember 17, 2004Steinbrenner and Martínez Meet: Let the Intrigue BeginBy JACK CURRY
edro Martínez, who has reveled in his role as a villain to the Yankees while pitching and chirping for the Boston Red Sox, met with George Steinbrenner yesterday in Tampa, Fla., in a potential bid to dramatically change his status in the Bronx and in Boston.
Some Yankee club executives adamantly oppose signing Martínez, who is a free agent. But if Steinbrenner, the principal owner, wants to make the splashy move, it does not really matter what anyone else thinks.
Martínez is three weeks removed from helping the Red Sox win their first World Series title since 1918 while Steinbrenner is busy working on restocking the Yankees so they can fight for their 27th championship. The notion that Steinbrenner, the most powerful Yankee, and Martínez, one of the most beloved Red Sox, could land on the same side would add a compelling twist to the fiercest rivalry in baseball.
"We had a good meeting," Steinbrenner said in a statement released by his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein.
But an executive from another American League team, who was told about the two-hour meeting, theorized that Steinbrenner and Martínez might be using each other. Even if Steinbrenner and Martínez are not genuinely interested in joining together, they probably figured that they could gain leverage in other negotiations by appearing to do so.
The Yankees' vice presidents - Mark Newman, Billy Connors and Damon Oppenheimer - joined Steinbrenner at the Legends Field meeting with Martínez and his agents, Fernando Cuza and Pat Rooney. A person who was briefed about the gathering said Steinbrenner had told Martínez, who hails from the Dominican Republic, how much he would enjoy pitching for the Yankees and how Martínez could perform in front of a legion of Dominican fans.
Steinbrenner's last foray into one-on-one negotiating was extremely successful. Smitten with Gary Sheffield, Steinbrenner negotiated with him last year and signed him to a three-year, $39 million deal. Sheffield, an outfielder, finished second yesterday to Vladimir Guerrero in the voting for the American League Most Valuable Player award.
Still, the Steinbrenner-Martínez meeting may be a way for both sides to get the attention of other teams. The Yankees are hoping to pry Randy Johnson from Arizona and may believe their interest in Martínez could persuade the Diamondbacks to accept less.
Though Johnson, 41, is eight years older than the right-handed Martínez, he is more durable and is the pitcher the Yankees would prefer because they want to add a left-handed starter. Johnson was 16-14 with a 2.60 earned run average and 290 strikeouts in 245 2/3 innings last season. Martínez was 16-9 with a 3.90 E.R.A. and 227 strikeouts in 217 innings.
Martínez is considering a two-year, $25.5 million offer from the Red Sox, with a $13 million option for 2007 and the chance to make $2 million in incentives. But he could be letting Boston know that he wants more by meeting with Steinbrenner.
The Red Sox offered Martínez an extension similar to the one that Curt Schilling signed after they obtained him from Arizona last November. But there is a difference. Schilling's option year and incentives became vested after the Red Sox won the World Series.
Agents routinely try to pull the Yankees into the negotiations for marquee free agents because their generous bidding can increase the contract the players eventually sign. Martínez may hope that the Red Sox will boost their offer if they think he might sign with the Yankees. The Yankees would not mind seeing the Red Sox pay more to keep Martínez, and Steinbrenner enjoys antagonizing them.
The Yankees and the Red Sox may compete for another free-agent pitcher, Carl Pavano, who is supposed to visit the Red Sox tomorrow. Naturally, in keeping with the rivalry that never sleeps, Pavano is also slated to visit with the Yankees after Thanksgiving.
"We will be taking them up on the invitation,'' said Scott Shapiro, the agent for Pavano. "I know Carl would want to talk to Mel Stottlemyre. He's going to want to talk to players and see some of their facilities."
Pavano, a right-hander who went 18-8 with a 3.00 E.R.A. for the Florida Marlins last season, has a three-year, $21 million offer from Florida. Shapiro said Pavano has also received an offer from the Philadelphia Phillies.
After the Yankees defeated Martínez and the Red Sox, 6-4, last September, he offered a memorable postgame diatribe. Martínez said he wished he could have buried himself on the mound, he wished the Yankees would disappear and he called the Yankees "my Daddy'' because of their success against him. Of course, Martínez heard "Whose your Daddy?" chants the next time he pitched at Yankee Stadium, in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
In July 2003, Steinbrenner was annoyed with Martínez after he drilled Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter with fastballs and caused both players to leave the game in the first inning for X-rays.
After the Yankees prevailed, 2-1, Steinbrenner stood beside the press box and wept. Martínez insisted he was not trying to plunk anyone, but Steinbrenner wondered if the pitches were intentional.
"If indeed - and I'm not saying he did it - but if he threw at them to deliver a message, he delivered the wrong message, in my opinion," Steinbrenner said.
Now Steinbrenner and Martínez have combined to send a message to the rest of the baseball world. There is at least a chance that the first installment of Pedro meets the Boss could turn into a marriage, a potentially fascinating marriage.Tyler Kepner contributed reporting for this article.