Nineteen days after he issued an informal promise to never sign with the New York Yankees, Pedro Martinez yesterday listened as George Steinbrenner tried to persuade him otherwise. Martinez left his home in the Dominican Republic to sit down with Steinbrenner at the spring training headquarters of the Yankees, Legends Field in Tampa, but he departed the complex the way he arrived -- as a free agent.
For his part, Steinbrenner considered the conversation such a coup in itself that he took the unusual step of issuing a press release.
"We had a good meeting," Steinbrenner said, without elaborating.
Joined by several of his chief aides, Steinbrenner almost certainly laid the groundwork for pursuing Martinez as aggressively as he did Gary Sheffield last winter when the Boss worked independently of New York general manager Brian Cashman. Martinez would not have considered the meeting productive unless Steinbrenner gave some indication he would guarantee him at least a three-year contract, and Martinez's agent, Fernando Cuza, was quoted by the Associated Press as echoing Steinbrenner's relatively sunny assessment of the session. "I think it's the same way, it was good," Cuza said of the meeting.
The meeting was significant not only because of Martinez's vow to steer clear of the Yankees, which he made the morning after the Sox won the World Series, after a sleepless night and amid the euphoria of a championship. It also reflected Steinbrenner's apparent willingness to sidestep Cashman and other team officials who have not publicly expressed as much interest in Martinez as the Boss. Yankee officials reportedly are sharply divided over the wisdom of pursuing Martinez.
Steinbrenner was aware he would need to outbid the Sox, who offered Martinez a two-year, $25.5 million contract with a $13 million option for 2007 and $2 million in performance bonuses. But the fact that Martinez was willing to sit face-to-face with the Boss indicates that the three-time Cy Young Award winner was open to an offer that could unite him with such leading adversaries as Sheffield, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter.
The Yankees would no longer be his "daddy," as he described them in his frustration after losing a second straight game to them in September. They would be his family.
Sox general manager Theo Epstein declined to comment on the development, but there was no indication that the meeting in Tampa reflected a breakdown in negotiations between the Sox and Martinez. The sides remain in contact, though the landscape has changed with Steinbrenner in the picture.
Several other teams are expected to court Martinez, including the Angels and Cardinals. Vladimir Guerrero, who won the AL MVP award yesterday and considers Martinez "like a brother," said he would relish enticing Martinez to join him in Anaheim.
"There is no doubt that if I can try to convince him to play for the Angels, I'll try my best," Guerrero said. . . .
Despite his freedom to negotiate with any team in the majors, Jason Varitek gave every indication last night that he is focused on trying to work out a deal to remain with the Sox. He said he participated in a discussion by phone with Sox officials several days ago and will do so again this week.
"I can say that things are working," Varitek said before he received a Champions Award from Children's Hospital at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. "We're communicating pretty well and things are positive. We need our people and their people to continue communicating."
Though he declined to discusss specifics of the talks -- he has asked for $55 milllion over five years with a no-trade clause -- he made it clear he considers a long-term contract crucial.
"We have discussed multiple times how important staying in one place is and being able to take that home to my family," he said. "This is your only shot to be able to do that. I'm not going to bash back and forth, but they know how important that is to me." . . .
The Sox will take the World Series trophy to Connecticut today for stops in New Haven and Hartford. Kevin Youkilis will join team president and CEO Larry Lucchino at a reception at Yale Law School in New Haven at 10:30 a.m. They will attend a public rally on the New Haven Green at 11:30 a.m., and will accompany the trophy to the Old State House in Hartford at 3 p.m.