Pedro for Cardinals closer?

Did Pedro Martinez switch pitching hands to save wear and tear on his arm?

Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch suggests the St. Louis Cardinals may be considering making a run at signing the 37-year-old right-handed starting pitcher to be their 2009 closer. There is a meeting scheduled Thursday morning between the coaches and front office to discuss the state of the roster and this topic may be on the agenda, Strauss suggests.

I can only hope the group can focus on more than one subject since in my opinion, the need for dependable relief from the left side is a higher priority than another closer candidate, especially one with the checkered injury record and mercurial attitude of Martinez.

While Pedro was once the best pitcher in the game, the first thing that entered my mind when I read the column was “Here we go again with another Izzy situation.”

From whatever club he joins, Pedro’s history affirms that he will expect to receive entitlement appropriate for a veteran of his stature. In other words, if things do not go well, before the plug is pulled, he would likely expect and be granted too many chances to fail – to the potential detriment of the team.

The most extreme case would be that Pedro would be left to pull the plug himself, as did former closer Jason Isringhausen via his highly-rated May, 2008 television boxing match. (I don’t mean he was actually exercising his pugilistic skills on TV. After an ugly stretch of blown saves, Isringhausen punched a television that helped explain a trip to disabled list, even though he appeared in three more games after the incident occurred.)

In its worst implementation, the arrival of Martinez could become a mini-Manny sideshow that could draw attention away from the team goal. The Cardinals have been relatively distraction-free in recent seasons. Pedro could change that.

The most positive outcome could be a Dennis Eckersley late-career move into the ninth inning role that could allow the three-time Cy Young Award winner to recapture some of his glory prior to retirement and give the Cardinals a one-year bridge to their young closer candidates.

Despite Tony La Russa having suggested during the winter the idea of the Cardinals signing a veteran starter and converting him to relief, there has been no visible activity by the club in support of that. In addition, until Tuesday, I had been unable to locate any reference to Pedro being willing to consider such a change.

In the P-D article, the 16-year MLB veteran left the door open slightly, but was not exactly enthusiastic about the prospect either, meaning any decision that involves a role change would probably not be coming quickly.

“I would prefer to try it first and see how my body responds because I haven’t done it in a long time,” said Martinez, who might be used in a relief role during the World Baseball Classic. “It’s something you really have to endure and really try first before you know if your body can do it.”

Having missed considerable time during the last three seasons, Martinez has endured a lot of injuries – the most challenging being a rotator cuff tear repaired in October, 2006. He made it back for a brief appearance in September, 2007. Last season, Pedro went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts for the Mets. He fanned 87 in 109 innings, but had uncharacteristic control problems, walking 44.

One thing is clear. Pedro’s home since 2005, the New York Mets, did not ask him back despite the player publicly stating that as his preference. As recently as January, reports were that Martinez was looking for a one-year, $8 million contract to start. The Mets did not offer Pedro arbitration and eventually settled on Livan Hernandez and returning Oliver Perez to fill out their rotation.

While Billy Wagner’s injuries opened up the Mets’ ninth-inning role, the club instead traded for one closer, J.J. Putz, to set up and signed another from the free agent rolls, Francisco Rodriguez, aka K-Rod, to be their 2009 closer.

Martinez has been throwing for several weeks in preparation for the World Baseball Classic, where he will represent the Dominican Republic and audition for a new contract. Team Dominicana is training at the Cardinals facility in Jupiter, FL.

Reports are that Martinez has ramped up to 55-60 pitches per outing and is throwing 88-92 mph. He pitched Wednesday against the Baltimore Orioles and went two innings, allowing three hits, a walk and collecting two strikeouts. The Dodgers and Indians are among the teams recently reportedly interested in him.

Signing Pedro may not be easy for another reason. As recently as earlier this week, he made it very clear in a New York Daily News report that he is not interested in an incentive-laden contract with a low base salary – precisely the kind of deal any responsible club would offer him. Instead, Martinez said he would retire to his fishing boat.

Specifically asked if he would consider a deal like his former Mets teammate Tom Glavine took with the Atlanta Braves for a $1 million base, Martinez quickly went thumbs down on the idea.

“If I wanted to pitch that bad, I probably would,” Martinez said about agreeing to a low guarantee comparable to Glavine’s. “But I don’t think I’m in that stage. I believe I’m very comfortable. I’m not going to let anybody disrespect my abilities or the way I am. I wouldn’t say I would want to pitch that bad.”

The “disrespect” word says it all. Martinez is out of touch with his current situation and may be better off tucked safely in his vessel, sailing off to calmer waters elsewhere.

Now Mo, how about that lefty?