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BILL PLASCHKE

Dodgers should bring back Pedro Martinez

They could sign the three-time Cy Young Award winner, a 37-year-old free agent, and make amends for trading the right-hander in a ridiculous 1993 deal.

March 12, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

FROM PHOENIX — Fifteen years is long enough.

Two-hundred and fourteen wins and three Cy Young Awards is stuff enough.

The ghost of Delino DeShields has haunted enough.

It's time to bring Pedro Martinez home.

One year after an opening day in which the Dodgers ceremonially connected with their past, they could do it for real by turning a humongous mistake into a homecoming king.

Bring back the giant they thought was too small. Bring back the fighter they thought was too brittle. Bring Ramon's little brother home.

Martinez is available; he's a 37-year-old free agent coming off three injury-plagued seasons with the New York Mets.

Martinez is accessible, he wants to pitch for a contender in the National League, and wouldn't mind being reunited with his buddy Manny Ramirez.

And, once again, Martinez is artful.

Did you see him pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic? In a span of four days, he pitched twice: six innings, zero runs, one hit, six strikeouts.

Yes, both times he was facing a group of bat-wielding speedskaters from the Netherlands. But he still threw 75 pitches in four days, 58 strikes, and dominated a team that beat the Dominicans twice.

Scouts were impressed. Teammates were impressed. His manager was awed, and Felipe Alou has been around far too long to be easily awed.

"I could sign him if I had the money," Alou said.

Well, the Dodgers actually could sign him, and truly do need him.

I brutally realized this need in Arizona on Monday, when Jason Schmidt threw a bunch of still-life fastballs to the pounding Texas Rangers.

Even though Schmidt gave up three runs and two hits in two innings, Manager Joe Torre said Schmidt was the default leader for the fifth starter spot.

But after two shoulder operations, Schmidt needs to learn to pitch with reduced velocity. He is no longer the same guy who once blew batters into McCovey Cove.

Can he make the adjustment?

"We'll have to see," Torre acknowledged.

So why not sign a guy who has already made the adjustment? It is clear that Martinez has figured out a way to pitch with a rebuilt arm, and questions about his endurance have been answered with his frequent WBC work.

Would he be a distraction? Not on a team with Ramirez.

And unlike Ramirez, Martinez's baggage never involved quitting -- but playing too hard.

He is famous for inciting a playoff brawl between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in which he was charged by aging Yankees coach Don Zimmer. He is famous for once saying that he wished he had a chance to drill Babe Ruth.

Like Ramirez, Martinez is a character. But if his body works, he wants the ball, and he wants to pitch it inside; he might be worth having if only to teach this stuff to Chad Billingsley.

The two biggest fears about Martinez are the lack of interest by the pitching-needy Mets, and his interest in a guaranteed $5-million deal.

But if the Dodgers could get him for a low-base contract filled with incentives, well, they should at least start talking about it.

"He's somebody we're curious about," General Manager Ned Colletti said. "We know how great he has been, and we know how popular he is in Los Angeles."

If you didn't know better, you might be surprised at who else is curious about Martinez's return.

"Pedro is a wonderful, gifted athlete, and it would be great to see him back with the Dodgers," said Fred Claire, the former Dodgers general manager who traded him away. "I know Pedro, and if he feels he can still pitch, believe me, he can still pitch."

One of the classiest, most honorable executives in Dodgers history, Claire said Wednesday that the Nov. 19, 1993, trade of Martinez to the Montreal Expos for DeShields was a mistake.

"It was a bad trade," he said. "It turned out to be a very bad trade for the Dodgers."

In 1993, at age 21, Martinez was stunning as a middle reliever, posting a 10-3 record with a 2.61 earned-run average and 119 strikeouts with only 57 walks.

For the last 15-plus years, the stand-up Claire has taken the heat for trading Martinez, refusing to share even an ounce of blame even though there were several factors that led to the deal.

First, the Dodgers were stuck without a second baseman after free agent Jody Reed, in arguably the biggest negotiating blunder in baseball history, refused their offer of three years and $8 million. (A couple of months later, Reed signed a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers for $300,000.)

And there was also a confidential opinion issued by the club's medical guru, Dr. Frank Jobe, who didn't think Martinez's small frame could withstand the prolonged rigors of pitching. The Dodgers' field personnel seemed to agree, starting Martinez only twice despite a rotation that included Kevin Gross and Tom Candiotti.

No matter who was to blame, Martinez was soon gone. Here's hoping the Dodgers don't let him get away again.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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Follow Plaschke on Twitter at twitter.com/latbillplaschke.

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