The Red Sox ace, preparing for contract talks as he approaches the final season of his seven-year, $92.5 million bond with Boston, left little doubt in his first press conference in the capital of his native land in two years that his days in the Hub could be numbered by next October, if not sooner. Even at his rural home in the tropical countryside, Martinez felt the reverberations from the team's jolting decision to place Manny Ramirez (and the $95 million balance of his contract) on irrevocable waivers. And Martinez made clear he is keenly aware the new Sox owners "are not afraid to make changes" as they face the prospect of paying him $17.5 million next year -- more than any pitcher in baseball.
Once so powerful he could all but call his shots, he now is content to leave his fate to others.
"It would hurt leaving Boston," Martinez said 22 days after his pivotal role in Boston's wrenching loss to the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. "But it's in their hands. If they want me, they can keep me. If they don't want me, they can trade me. It's up to Boston. I can't stay with a woman who doesn't love me."
Since money is likely to speaklouder than love in the front offices on Yawkey Way -- and because the market seems to have dropped in the three years since Ramirez signed for a whopping $160 million through 2008 -- Martinez has adjusted his expectations since he won his third Cy Young Award in 2000. He is unlikely, for example, to rival the two-year, $33 million deal that Arizona's 40-year-old Randy Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner, commanded last year.
Martinez, who turned 32 Oct. 25, has logged the best winning percentage in Sox history, going 101-28 with a 2.26 ERA, though his power and stamina gradually have declined.
"I have to understand that if I'm not putting up the same numbers I put up from 1997 to 2000, I'll probably get a little decrease in salary," he said. "But it's still good money, so I'll just settle for whatever the market has to offer and enjoy the game."
The new Sox owners have not discussed Martinez's future with him since the season ended, though principal owner John W. Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and team president Larry Lucchino are scheduled to meet with him Dec. 9-10 when they open the franchise's new baseball academy in the financially wracked Dominican. The sides were unable to reach an agreement on a multiyear extension last spring before the club exercised the $17.5 million option for next year.
"The way we left off, we were going to get together in the offseason and discuss it," said Martinez's agent, Fernando Cuza. "That's still in play."
The Sox owners have indicated they want to keep Martinez in Boston, though it remains to be seen how closely, if at all, their estimate of the ace's market value meshes with his. Placing Ramirez on irrevocable waivers was foremost a message to Ramirez that no one wants his exorbitant contract, even the Yankees, the team of his dreams. But Martinez sensed an additional message.
"It was a message to the market, for the market to get lower," he said.
In a prelude to his pending contract talks, Martinez attempted to thaw his icy relations with the media by speaking to reporters in Boston by conference call and sitting for an interview in Santo Domingo with ESPN after his freewheeling news conference at the Clarion Santo Domingo.
"That's what this is all about, getting this relationship with the press back on track," Cuza said, "and putting people who are unaccountable in check."
Martinez, who refused to speak publicly much of the season, cited two episodes in particular as the cause of his media relations turning sour. First, he said a small number of reporters misinterpreted his comments and unfairly portrayed him as ungrateful after the Sox picked up his extension in April.
"They said I was selfish," Martinez said. "They made me look bad and feel bad, so I shut up so I wouldn't be misunderstood."
The incident was particularly painful, he said, because he and the Sox had held extensive, good-faith talks that ended cordially with the team's decision to exercise his option.
Then came Martinez's invitation to light the torch for the Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo in July. He said it was incorrectly reported that he left the team earlier than he did to attend the ceremony. And he said he has repeatedly been ridiculed for making a contribution that was as historic in Latin America as Muhammad Ali's lighting of the Olympic torch was on a larger scale.
"These things just go on and on and on," Martinez said. "I don't want to deal with the jerks anymore. I only want to deal with the people who behave the way they should, people who are professional."
Depending on the outcome of the contract talks, Martinez could be dealing with reporters elsewhere if the Sox trade him before the 2004 season ends or he becomes a free agent afterward. When he was asked where he would like to finish his career, he said his first two choices would be Boston and Montreal. He pitched four seasons for the Expos before the Sox acquired him in a trade for two minor leaguers after the 1997 season.
"Those are the two teams I love the most," he said. "Those are the teams I have feelings for."
And if he had to choose between leagues (Martinez can reject any trade because he has played at least 10 years in the big leagues and at least five years with the Sox), he said he would return to the National League. He spent his first two seasons in the majors with the Dodgers before he was traded to Montreal.
Describing himself as "a son of the National League," Martinez said, "Baseball in the National League is more fun and faster. I could play in the American League, but I would go back to the National League without thinking about it."
Much of the uncertainty about Martinez's future may have been tempered if the Sox had overcome the Yankees and advanced to the World Series for the first time in 17 years. But as Martinez tired in the eighth inning of Game 7 -- and manager Grady Little made the fateful decision to leave him in the game -- the Sox ace blew a 5-2 lead and departed amid a 5-5 tie before the Yankees won, 6-5, in the 11th inning.
Martinez said it was a wonder he went as far as he did considering the pressure-laden circumstances surrounding the game, including New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's assertion that Martinez would have been charged with a crime if he had pushed Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer as Martinez did when Zimmer charged him earlier at Fenway Park. Martinez also cited a New York columnist's warning that fans could pelt him with batteries in the bullpen before the game.
Ultimately, Martinez said, Little should not have been blamed for leaving him in the game. But the Sox ace also said this: "After the seventh inning, even if I feel great, I felt like a robot at that point. It's difficult for us as competitors to say we're tired. That's why we have coaches. I said I was a little tired and told them to get the guys ready in the bullpen."
The rest is history. And since history is irreversible, Martinez's future is fuzzy, despite his fondness for Boston.
"I still have the same passion for Boston and the fans and New England," he said. "I have as a challenge to win [the World Series] with Boston and be part of the team that is going to have their names all over the place, especially [on the wall inside] the Green Monster. Until I play my last day in Boston, I'm not going to sign that wall. Hopefully, I'll sign it along with the whole team that won it in Boston."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.