Ah, the year 2000. Y2K panic had subsided, Sony had launced the Playstation 2, and Pedro Martinez and Chan Ho Park were among the most productive pitchers in their respective leagues. Martinez was 28 years old and in the middle of one of the most dominant stretches of pitching in the [Juiced Ball, Steroid, Expansion] Era, having posted a 1.74 ERA with 284 strikeouts in 217 innings of work. Park was 27 and well on his way toward establishing himself as the most prolific pitcher to come from the Far East, having posted a 3.27 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 234 innings.
Nine years later, the two pitchers could be teammates, perhaps as soon as today when Martinez is scheduled to take a physical that could seal his signing with the Phillies.
And so the debate rages: Will Martinez prove to be a valuable midseason addition, one who can summon enough of his magic to bolster the Phillies rotation for the stretch run? Or will he wind up as a desperate mistake, a five-inning starter who will tax the club's weary bullpen even further?
Here's a thought: What if the answer is neither?
Let me explain:
This offseason, the Phillies signed Chan Ho Park and promised him a chance to start. They gave him that chance, but after seven starts it became clear to the club that he was better suited for the bullpen. Park still had good enough stuff to bedevil major league hitters. But he had problems maintaining that stuff for an extended stretch. The Phillies put him in a relief role, saying they believed his arsenal of pitches would "play up" if he only had to pitch a handful of innings at a time. And, thus far, they have been right. Park's velocity has risen, his pitches have looked crisper, and he has been one of the key factors behind the Phillies finishing the first half 10 games over .500.
What if Martinez is the same?
Let's be clear: the Phillies say they are interested in the future Hall of Famer as a starter. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said so last week. In fact, it is one of the few things he has said about the potential move.
But the Phillies have also made it clear that they will continue to look to upgrade. Privately, they say they are still interested in going after Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, or another starter who can inherit the innings load that they lost when Brett Myers was lost for the season.
Seeing as though Martinez will likely need at least two minor league starts, maybe more, before he is ready to join the rotation, the Phillies won't know exactly what they have by the time the trading deadline arrives on July 31. Which means they will continue to look to upgrade.
Now, let's say the club does add another pitcher. And let's say Martinez passes his physical and joins the team. That will give them six starters for five rotation spots. Unless the Phillies take the unlikely step of moving to a six-man rotation, somebody will be the odd man out. Jamie Moyer has a 5.99 ERA. But he also leads the team in wins. And he is owed roughly $9 million over the next year-and-a-half. That makes for an expensive long man. Besides, his skill set is not one of a reliever.
Martinez will get his shot at starting. And by the time he is ready to pitch, the Phillies will likely only be asking him to make, at the most, 12 starts. The conventional wisdom suggests that if he struggles in his first four or five starts, the experiment will have been a failure.
But what if the Phillies decide to make a Park-like move, and slide Martinez back into the bullpen? He might not be in favor of such a move, but once he is signed he might not have a choice. What if the Phillies include in his contract a number of relief-bases incentives that would handsomely compensate him if the they decide to use him as a reliever? And if his No. 1 goal is really winning a National League pennant, thereby vanquishing his former team in New York, maybe he would be open to such a move.
Let's not forget that he broke into the big leagues as an electric set-up man for the Dodgers. In 1993, one year before Park made his debut in L.A., Martinez was 10-5 with a 2.61 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 107 innings. Only two of his 65 appearances that season were starts. Granted, he has pitched in relief just three times since then. But Martinez, like Park, has the skill set that would enable him to not only be a reliever, but be a damn good one.
Just this spring, Martinez pitched six scoreless innings of relief for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. He struck out six. He allowed one hit.
Let's say the Phillies give Martinez a contract with a base salary of $1.5 million. Let's say that contract includes another $1 million in incentives that can be reached as a starter, and another $2 million that can be reached as a reliever.
I'm not saying this will happen, or that it is even likely.
I'm just saying that judging the success and failure of the Martinez move -- assuming it happens -- might not be as black-and-white as many people are painting it.
Below, I've listed some situations. Ask yourself which would justify the Martinez move:
I said earlier the Phillies will likely be counting on Martinez for 12 starts. But for comparison's sake, let's make our hypothetical sample size 11 starts, which is the number he made for the Mets last season starting Aug. 1, when he re-joined the team after a 28-day layoff that included stints on the disabled list and bereavement list.
1) Martinez replicates his performance last season, going 2-4 with a 5.18 ERA in his final 11 starts. He throws 64 1/3 innings, an average of just under six innings per start. He allows 38 runs, just under four runs per start.
2) Martinez goes 2-1 with a 3.83 ERA in his first seven starts, as he did in his first seven starts in August of last season. He throws 42 1/3 innings and allows 19 runs, an average of 6.0 innings and 2.21 runs per start. But he struggles through four September starts and enters the playoffs in the bullpen.
3) Martinez struggles mightily in his first four starts, then is moved to the bullpen, where he proves to be a valuable reliever who can throw 1-3 innings every two to three days.
4) In two starts, Martinez pitches seven innings and allows three or fewer runs. In four starts, he pitches six innings and allows three or fewer runs. In three starts, he pitches six innings and allows four to six runs. In three starts, he fails to make it through the fifth.