Just in time for the holiday season, Mets 101's Seven in Seven series returns as our gift to you. Each week, the Mets 101 staff will begin a countdown of topics related to the New York Mets (i.e. best third baseman, worst defeat, etc.). We will begin our countdowns with the number seven and work all the way to number one. This week's Seven in Seven list is a blockbuster, as we will break down the biggest off-the-field moves that stole the headlines throughout Metropolitan history. We continue the countdown with our sixth biggest move of all time in the winter of 2004, when Pedro Martinez shocked the baseball world by signing in Flushing.
The end of the 2004 season marked a regime change for the New York Mets. General Manager Jim Duquette had been fired and replaced by Omar Minaya. Manager Art Howe was let go and replaced by Yankees bench coach Willie Randolph as the team's skipper. While Duquette had been looking to build a winner using principles of Moneyball, Minaya embraced the big city lifestyle and looked to make a big splash in his first few months on the job. After convincing owner Fred Wilpon to open up his checkbook, Minaya went out and delivered an early Christmas present to Mets fans on December 15.
Headed to the Mets:
That present took the form of star pitcher Pedro Martinez, who was fresh off winning a World Series with the Boston Red Sox. Martinez spurned a three year, 40.5 million dollar offer from the Red Sox to sign in Queens for a four year, 53 million dollar contract. The move was a big gamble as Martinez had a history of shoulder problems, but his swagger and championship pedigree made him instantly popular with fans and the New York media. Martinez chose to come to New York after being convinced over Thanksgiving dinner by Minaya, who made the star starter a cornerstone of the club's rebuilding project.
How the Mets Fared:
Martinez's arrival did bring instant credibility to the Mets' rebuilding efforts and is believed to have played a huge role in Carlos Beltran's decision to sign with the team later that offseason. Martinez then delivered in spades on the field, exciting the fans every time he took the mound at Shea. Martinez went 15-8 in 2005 with a 2.82 ERA and 208 strikeouts. Martinez electrified the Shea faithful and made the All Star team as he teamed with Tom Glavine to form a formidable 1-2 punch in the rotation. 2006 started out even more swimmingly for Pedro, as he was on top of his game early on and sparked the team's strong start in a year that would eventually lead to a division crown.
Martinez, however, got bit by the injury bug and it severely impacted the Mets' fortunes. Fate turned against him on May 26 in Miami, when umpires ordered Martinez to change his undershirt during a start. Martinez slipped on his way to the clubhouse and injured his hip, which impacted his performance for the rest of the year. Martinez eventually went on the disabled list with a calf injury before returning late in the year. Martinez was ineffective at that point and had to be shut down for the season after MRI's revealed a torn rotator cuff. Martinez's injury, along with the loss of Orlando Hernandez right before the playoffs, helped doom the Mets' chances in the 2006 postseason.
Martinez missed most of 2007 while rehabbing from rotator cuff surgery before returning in September. Martinez recorded his 3,000th strikeout in his first start back, and he ended up making five starts that appeared to signal his triumphant return to the front of the Mets' rotation. The injuries returned in 2008, however, as Martinez ended up getting hurt four innings into his season and missed two months with a hamstring problem. Martinez returned but was never truly effective again and departed Queens after the conclusion of his contract in 2008.
Hindsight is 20/20:
The meteoric rise and fall of Pedro Martinez in New York is symbolic of the team's fortunes in the mid 2000's. Martinez ended up with a 32-23 record to go along with a 3.88 ERA for his Mets tenure, but 15 of his 32 wins came during 2005. Martinez was never the same pitcher after he injured his hip that fateful night in Miami, and compensating for the hip pain likely contributed to the calf and rotator cuff injuries that followed. Anyone around baseball at the time knew that Martinez was at an increased injury risk due to his small stature, but a breakdown of his magnitude really hurt the team's chances of making playoff runs. Martinez's injury effectively wrecked the 2006 playoff campaign and his constant injury absences prompted Minaya to trade for Johan Santana a few years later. While there is no guarantee the Mets would have won the World Series in 2006 (or 2007 and 2008 for that matter) if Martinez was healthy, the fact that his tenure was so ruined by injury leaves many Mets fans to wonder what could have been.
Check back tomorrow for the fifth biggest blockbuster in Mets history as our Seven in Seven series continues!
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