Thursday, April 15, 2010

Top Ten Destinations for a Pedro Martinez Return in 2010

Philadelphia Phillies Starting Pitcher Pedro Martinez Pitches Against Philadelphia Phillies

Pedro Martinez whet his appetite with one pitch to kick off the 2010 Major League Baseball season and hopes to throw many more before the campaign concludes. Donning a Red Sox uniform, Pedro tossed the ceremonial first pitch in Bean Town a week ago Sunday.

Afterwards, the future Hall of Famer made it known that he still desires a real gig this season. Similar to last season, Martinez is looking for the right situation to continue his stellar career after the Philadelphia Phillies did not re-sign him at the end of 2009.

Prior to joining the Phillies in late August, the free agent pitched for the Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox, and Mets. When injuries and the death of his father contributed to his worst campaign in the big leagues in 2008, the Mets allowed him to become a free agent until his well publicized return late last season.

Martinez supplanted veteran Jamie Moyer in the rotation and played an important role down the stretch. Pedro posted a 5-1 record with a 3.63 ERA using a masterful combination of movement and change of pace. He also demonstrated surprising life on his fastball, touching 93 mph on the radar gun.

After sitting out the NLDS, Martinez pitched brilliantly in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers and then battled his way to a solid performance in World Series Game 2 against his former arch rival. With the temperature halving that of balmy L.A. a couple weeks earlier and antagonism running high in Yankees Stadium, Martinez appeared to have nothing left in the tank as he tried to keep the Phillies alive in Game 6.

Perhaps that scared off potential suitors, but Pedro remains convinced that he could help a team in need of pitching. Considering that he prefers to play on the East Coast for a National League contender and be in a starting role, here are the top ten landing sites for Martinez in 2010.

10 Colorado Rockies

After winning the National League Wild Card slot in 2009, the Colorado Rockies are widely considered the division favorite this season. The team is counting on lefty Jeff Francis to fill the 5th spot in their starting rotation, but he landed on the DL when he experienced shoulder pain at the end of spring training.

This situation bears watching, particularly since Francis missed all of the 2009 season after having shoulder surgery. The Rockies remain optimistic that he will be able to return believing that the injury is merely a minor shoulder strain.

Although the geography and stadium might not be high on Pedro's list, he might be wooed by the appeal of playing for an acknowledged contender. This will be a moot point if Francis returns to action with any semblance of his previous form.

9 San Francisco Giants

Similar to Colorado, Martinez would likely prefer more favorable baseball weather than in the "City by the Bay." However, the San Francisco Giants are a team on the rise and may be in need of a fifth starter to add to an otherwise strong rotation.

Todd Wellemeyer is currently in that role by virtue of a strong spring training showing, but if he struggles as he did in 2009 (7-10, 5.89 ERA)— he could find himself on the outside looking in. Young lefty Madison Bumgarner is currently the team's "Plan B", but a battled tested veteran such as Martinez might be a better fit in the heat of a pennant race.

8 Milwaukee Brewers

The "Brew Crew" features some exciting young players and could exceed expectations with decent starting pitching. An offense led by Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Casey McGehee should put a lot of runs on the board—surely a large carrot for Pedro.

Overall, the Milwaukee Brewers rotation is tenuous when you go beyond the first two starters. Martinez could easily fit in the rotation and be a stabilizing force.

The biggest obstacle would seem to be that it is doubtful that the city is on Pedro's "A" list and whether he believes that they are legitimate contender. A fast start might make a midseason signing a possibility.

7 Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers are off to a quick start and should find themselves in a season-long battle with the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox for the AL Central Division title. With Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman occupying two slots in the rotation, it would be easy to see Martinez replacing one of them.

Although Willis has a large contract, the Tigers' patience in waiting for him to regain the form that made him a 22-game winner in 2005 is surely waning. All you need to know is that he has posted a horrific 7.77 ERA since coming to the team in 2008.

This is probably also a city that is not on Pedro's "A" list, but the team is in contention and there is a clear need for a starting pitcher. Pedro might see himself as the difference maker that could put the Tigers over the top.

6 Chicago Cubs

Many baseball pundits like the Chicago Cubs chances in 2010; however, the club has a great deal of question marks regarding its pitching staff. The team is counting on veteran Ted Lilly to return from arthroscopic surgery on his pitching shoulder and step into a middle slot in the rotation.

Lilly pitched well a year ago, but it is never good to assume that a player will pick up where he left off prior to surgery. Additionally, the Cubs are relying on a pitcher who has registered a 5-18 record over the previous two seasons in Carlos Silva as their fifth starter.

A "good-bye Carlos, hello Pedro" scenario could easily be envisioned. The Cubs are the type of high profile team in a large market that might appeal to Martinez. What a great story line it would be for him to help lead the long-suffering franchise to postseason success.

5 Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners hope to ride strong starting pitching to contention in 2010. Once Cliff Lee returns from the DL and subsequent five-game suspension, the Mariners will feature a pair of aces at the top of their rotation. Additionally, when Erik Bedard returns from shoulder surgery rehab, they will have a solid number three.

From there, things drop off considerably. The perennially underperforming Ian Snell, Doug Pfister, and Jason Vargas are currently holding down spots in the rotation; however, only one will remain once their teammates return to action.

The team might be able to wring one solid starter out of the three, but with an offense that will struggle to consistently score runs, the Mariners cannot afford any weak links in the rotation. Should that happen—enter Pedro.

The Pacific Northwest may not be his preferred residence, but joining a rotation with such star power could be a great deal of fun for Martinez.

4 Philadelphia Phillies

Although Ruben Amaro advised Martinez that the team needed to focus its off-season efforts on other areas, he never officially closed the door on a return. Similarly, Pedro has kept the door wide open and has made it known that he would love to give it another go in Philadelphia.

Strong Grapefruit League performances by Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick had appeared to lessen the prospects of that happening, but both pitchers struggled in their initial starts once the games counted in the standings.

With the additions of free-agent Placido Polanco and pitcher Roy Halladay, the Phillies' payroll appears to be currently max-ed out. Therefore, it does not appear likely that Amaro would pay Martinez for a full season's work, but if he remains available later in the season, he might become an irresistible bargain.

Should Moyer and Kendrick regain the form they demonstrated in spring training, a Martinez return to Philly drops in probability. Additionally, if Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ have strong seasons, the chances drop to almost nil.

3 Florida Marlins

The perpetually young Florida Marlins completed a trade with the Detroit Tigers for veteran pitcher Nate Robertson during spring training. Manager Freddy Gonzalez plugged the lefty into the fifth spot in the otherwise right-handed rotation.

Robertson battled back and elbow injuries that hindered his 2009 performance and then had offseason surgery to repair a torn groin muscle. He has appeared to be recovered this spring, but it remains to be seen whether he can stay out of the training room over the course of the season.

If he cannot avoid the injury bug or he reverts to last season's form, the door may be opened for Pedro Martinez. Should the Marlins stay in contention as they did a year ago, Pedro might be drawn by the excitement of a pennant race and, more importantly, the fact that he already owns a home in South Beach.

Of course, competing against two former employers who opted not to re-sign him in the National League Eastern division could provide additional motivation for Martinez. Another factor is that team management could use the help at the box office, especially with their new stadium under construction.

2 St. Louis Cardinals

With Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday anchoring the lineup, and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright anchoring the rotation, the St. Louis Cardinals appear to be poised for another successful season. Most experts see them as the leading challenger to take away the Philadelphia Phillies stronghold when the NL pennant.

Veterans Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny struggled a year ago, but should remain fixtures in the starting rotation. If the Cardinals were to add Martinez, they could send Kyle McClellan to shore up the bullpen.

The Cardinals have the type of rich history (not to mention warm weather) that would be appealing to Pedro. The prospect of going head-to-head against the Phillies in the postseason would add icing to the cake.

1 Los Angeles Dodgers

Life has a way of going full circle and the elements are right for that happening here. Pedro began his spectacular career in Los Angeles, so could a homecoming be in order?

The exit of Randy Wolf via free agency created an open slot in the rotation. Knuckleball pitcher Charlie Haeger won the spring training battle for the job, but is far from a lock to hold onto the position.

Manager Joe Torre witnessed Martinez's NLCS pitching clinic from the opposing dugout last year, so having him wear Dodger blue this season might be very enticing.

In order for this to happen, though, the price will likely have to be a bargain. The team's divorce muddled ownership situation would seem to strain finances despite indications to the contrary.

If the Dodgers find themselves firmly in contention, the allure of coming home to a major market filled with adoring fans might be too much for Martinez to resist.

The Final Word

After proving it to himself last season, Martinez believes that he still has some magic left. It may be less a matter of "if" he returns, and more I matter of "when."

Teams will likely wait to see how things unfold before taking a serious look at Pedro. Once the playoff races shape up and clubs further evaluate their existing staffs, the cell phone number of the pitcher's agent may become increasingly popular.

Expect to see Pedro back on a major league mound near you sometime this summer. Perhaps it will be on one of these ten teams, but even though they didn't make the list right now—don't ever rule out the Yankees.

Gary Suess is also a Featured Columnist covering the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles for the

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