Pedro Martinez(notes) once famously referred to the New York Yankees as "my daddy'' after losing a game to them, prompting 50,000 fans in Yankee Stadium to mock him with a "Who's your daddy?'' chant during a subsequent appearance in the 2004 postseason. Martinez ranks as one of the top villains in Yankee lore – having sent Derek Jeter(notes) and Alfonso Soriano(notes) to the hospital in the same game after he hit them with pitches and tossing Joe Torre's beloved bench coach, Don Zimmer, to the ground during a brawl.
Yet Yankees fans soon could be cheering Martinez as one of their own, according to a source close to the 37-year-old right-hander. The source said the Yankees are one of four teams planning to watch the three-time Cy Young Award winner throw in the Dominican Republic on Friday.
The Tampa Rays, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels are the other teams planning to watch Martinez throw. On Wednesday, Martinez said he had spoken with the Cubs and Rays and "there's a good chance I'll be signing soon, but there still isn’t anything firm."
Martinez also said he is only interested in teams with a chance of advancing to the postseason. All four teams scouting him Friday fit that criterion, if barely. The Yankees and Angels are in second place in their respective divisions, the defending AL champion Rays have struggled until recently, and the injury-riddled Cubs are mired around .500 but expect to make a run in the National League Central when healthy. They led the NL in victories last season.
The Yankees could overcome their long-held antipathy toward Martinez because of their need for starting help, especially in light of the ongoing struggles of Chien-Ming Wang(notes) (0-5, 12.65). Phil Hughes(notes) remains an in-house option, but the division-leading Boston Red Sox have a clear advantage over the Yankees in pitching depth – and a healthy Martinez might help to redress that imbalance.
The Cubs scouted Martinez in the World Baseball Classic this spring, and at that time had "quasi-interest" in him, a club source said Thursday. But his contract demands – Martinez reportedly sought an incentive-laden deal with $5 million guaranteed – put them off, as they evidently did other clubs.
"But we're obviously keeping tabs,'' the Cubs source said. "We wouldn't be doing so just to waste our time.''
The Cubs would seem to need a hitter more than a pitcher, though Martinez would give manager Lou Piniella's rotation depth behind injury-prone Rich Harden(notes) and rookie Randy Wells(notes). Cubs general manager Jim Hendry also is handcuffed financially by the fact the team does not yet have an owner, as negotiations of the club's sale continue to drag out.
The Rays reportedly sent director of Dominican operations Eddy Toledo to watch Martinez pitch last week. With left-hander Scott Kazmir(notes) on the disabled list, No. 5 starter Andy Sonnanstine(notes) struggling and rookie David Price(notes) experiencing growing pains, Tampa would seem to be a logical landing spot. The Rays' bullpen is also badly depleted, with the loss of closers Troy Percival(notes) and Jason Isringhausen(notes), so they could approach Martinez about becoming a reliever. But Martinez's interest in the Rays could also be impacted by whether he believes Tampa Bay can vault past the Yankees or Red Sox in the tough AL East.
The Angels began the season with three-fifths of their rotation – John Lackey(notes), Ervin Santana(notes) and Kelvim Escobar(notes) – on the disabled list. Escobar has gone back on the DL with shoulder problems and Santana was scratched from his last start with forearm tightness. Though an MRI on Tuesday showed no structural damage, according to the club, Santana has not come close to regaining his 16-win form of last season.
Assuming Martinez returns to the big-league diamond, his .684 winning percentage (214-99) would rank first among active pitchers. After leaving the Red Sox as a free agent following the 2004 season, he won 15 games in his first season with the New York Mets. But he won only 17 over the next three seasons, all of which were marred by injuries – the most serious of which led to rotator-cuff surgery following the 2006 season.
The Mets let Martinez go after his contract expired at the end of last season and have shown no interest in bringing him back, despite their own pitching problems. That could make life uncomfortable for Mets GM Omar Minaya if Martinez comes back and pitches well for the Yankees.