Item: The Boston Red Sox and pitcher Pedro Martinez reached agreement on a record six-year, $75-million contract that can climb to $92.5 million over seven years.
Question: Is big brother watching?
Will Ramon Martinez be thinking in similar terms when his $15-million deal with the Dodgers expires after an option year in 1999?
"Let's hope Ramon pitches well enough that he puts himself in that position," said Fred Claire, the Dodgers' executive vice president.
The Dodgers, of course, hope that the oldest of the three Martinez brothers can pitch, period.
Coming back from his partial rotator cuff tear of last summer, Martinez has been throwing at the club's training facility in the Dominican Republic.
"I talked to Ramon the other day, and he's very positive, very excited about the way he feels," Claire said.
"As honest as he is, if there was a concern this would be the time he'd want to address it because he's under contract for the next two years."
Pedro could be under contract until 2005, when he'll be 34 and prime for another contract.
Baseball sources say the first option year, or the seventh year overall, carries a stunning salary of $17.5 million.
The average annual value of the six years is $12.5 million, eclipsing the $11.5 million of Greg Maddux's previous record. Maddux had won the Cy Young Award in four of the five years before '97, when Martinez won his first.
"Outer space," said Claire, thinking about $75 million.
"You put the numbers on the board, and whether it's a pitcher or position player, baseball immediately wants to play a game of leapfrog and put a new number up. I don't know where it ends."
Leapfrog? Well, the Red Sox are still faced with re-signing Mo Vaughn, who was insisting on topping Sammy Sosa's $10.62-million average salary and now may be thinking in terms of teammate Martinez's $12.5 million.
"Pedro Martinez is a superb pitcher, and they're lucky to have him," said Vaughn's agent, Tom Reich. "However, it would be disingenuous to say that [Martinez's contract] won't affect the Mo Vaughn negotiations, because it will."
The Red Sox are looking at $22 million to $25 million a year for two players, and that's before arbitration-eligible John Valentin and a multiyear deal for rookie of the year Nomar Garciaparra.
This is a club operated by John Harrington, a member of baseball's power elite, chairman of several of the most influential committees and a proponent, during the long labor dispute, of a salary cap. Now Harrington seems to be sending mixed signals to his allegedly troubled industry. If Boston can make it work given the limited resources of cozy Fenway Park, how valid are the industry's widespread claims of losses?
"Every club has to make its own decisions," Claire said.
Perhaps, but in a game of leapfrog, every decision affects every other club, which is why Claire knows he is in tough as he contemplates an extension for Mike Piazza, who will make $7.5 million in 1998 and is a candidate for $13 million or more in 1999--and why not?
If Pedro Martinez, who pitches every fifth day, has 67 major league wins and is coming off the first big season of his career, can make $12.5 million a year, what do you pay a 29-year-old catcher whose statistics overshadow any catcher in history?
Amid speculation that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were thinking of making Dodger first baseman Eric Karros the first player selected in the expansion draft, it now surfaces that the Devil Rays received word from the Karros camp that he was adamantly against changing leagues and moving to the East Coast.
The Devil Rays were told Karros would exercise his rights as a player traded with a multiyear contract and demand a trade after his first year in Tampa Bay. The Devil Rays, in that case, would have had to trade him or allow Karros to leave as a free agent. The risk for Karros in becoming a free agent at that point was that the two years and $10 million he would have had left on his contract would have been voided.
"Money is not a major issue for me," Karros said in reflection. "If I don't play another day, I'm OK financially. Whether I was or wasn't going to be drafted by Tampa Bay, I don't know, but I've made it clear that my focus and desire is to remain in Los Angeles. I mean, that's why I signed a four-year contract with the Dodgers. I want the opportunity to win, and I think I have a good chance of that here."
The Devil Rays, aware of his thinking, backed off Karros and made Florida Marlin pitcher Tony Saunders their first choice. The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Dodger outfielder Karim Garcia on the first round, and Karros was then protected for subsequent rounds.