Red Sox throw money at ace P. Martinez jumps atop baseball salary chart with 6-year, $75M deal

December 11, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Boston Red Sox rankled their faithful but frustrated fans a year ago when they allowed local hero Roger Clemens to become a free agent and sign with the Toronto Blue Jays. Now, the club apparently has gone to the opposite extreme to lock up new pitching ace Pedro Martinez.

The 1997 National League Cy Young Award winner said yesterday that he has agreed to a six-year deal worth $75 million that would make him the highest-paid player in baseball. If that's true, Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette has taken another tremendous gamble, one that could create an even bigger backlash than the departure of the most popular pitcher in Red Sox history.

Martinez is coming off a career year. He went 19-7 and led the National League with a 1.90 ERA. He clearly is one of the best pitchers in either league, but he had never won more than 14 games before his breakthrough performance last year.

"I'm a little ashamed to say how much I signed for," Martinez told Radio Universal from his home in the Dominican Republic yesterday.

No matter. The Red Sox will pay him more than the Atlanta Braves recently agreed to pay four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux ($11.5 million per year), or the White Sox agreed to pay perennial MVP candidate Albert Belle ($11 million). And a whole lot more than they would not agree to pay Clemens.

In fact, the club could have signed Clemens last off-season and free-agent center fielder Kenny Lofton this off-season for less than they will guarantee a guy who has yet to prove he can be so overpowering in the offense-oriented American League.

The signing has wide-ranging implications for the Red Sox and the industry. Red Sox fans, who watched from afar as Clemens turned in one of the best seasons of his career in his first year with the Blue Jays, have to be happy that the club has cracked open the cash register to stabilize the pitching staff, but they are savvy enough to realize that there is great risk in committing nearly a quarter of the club's annual payroll to one player -- especially a starting pitcher of relatively slight stature.

The Red Sox front office, under fire for its handling of the Clemens situation and -- more recently -- a long-running contract dispute with first baseman Mo Vaughn, now must find a way to sign Vaughn and put the finishing touches on a postseason-or-bust ballclub. Duquette has to realize that no playoffs in '98 could mean there will be a different front office hierarchy in '99.

The industry still is reeling from the ill-advised spending spree that carried the Florida Marlins to a world title this year, but also put them in such sorry financial straits that owner H. Wayne Huizenga put the franchise up for sale at midseason.

Some owners have been grumbling privately that the inexperienced ownership of the two new expansion teams has pushed up the price of doing business with several ill-advised free-agent signings this off-season, but the leaders of baseball's cost-control movement have become the biggest culprits in the latest salary surge.

It was Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, thought to be the driving force behind ownership's hard-line stance in the last labor dispute, who sent the salaries reeling out of control again when he signed Albert Belle to a record five-year, $55 million contract last November.

Huizenga took the next step with the six-year, $61 million contract that he gave Gary Sheffield last spring. Barry Bonds soon set a new single-season salary record, then Maddux passed him and now Martinez has moved to the head of the class, with a deal that reportedly includes two option years that could make the total package worth $92 million. Lest anyone forget, Red Sox CEO John Harrington was another influential member of the hard-line clique that battled the Major League Baseball Players Association for four years in an attempt to slow payroll growth.

Perhaps it is a bit odd that Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who was considered a union sympathizer during the labor dispute, has emerged as a champion of large-market fiscal restraint, signing stars Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina and Brady Anderson to long-term contracts at what now appear to be bargain-basement prices. Mussina's career credentials are much more impressive than those of Martinez, but he signed earlier this year for little more than half what Martinez will get per year.

The Red Sox acquired Martinez from the Montreal Expos for top pitching prospect Carl Pavano on Nov. 18, the deal announced just hours after the club had lost another top prospect (Jeff Suppan) in the expansion draft. Martinez was one year away from free agent eligibility, but there was enormous pressure to get him signed to a long-term contract.

Money players

Highest-paid players in the four major team sports:

Lg. ..... Player .......... Sal* ..... Yrs

NBA ..... M. Jordan ....... $36M ..... 1

MLB ..... P. Martinez ..... $12.5M ... 6

NHL ..... J. Sakic ........ $7M ...... 3

NFL ..... B. Favre ........ $6M ...... 7

* -- Average annual salary, including signing bonuses

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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