The Washington Times - March 21, 2009, 11:46PM

The Dodgers famously traded Pedro Martinez to the Expos after the 1993 season because Tommy Lasorda thought the slightly built righty would never hold up as a big league starter. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Martinez spent the next 12 seasons proving the former Slim-Fast pitchman wrong, winning a Cy Young award in Montreal and two more in Boston before enjoying a successful first season in the Big Apple. However, Martinez managed just 28 total starts for the Mets in 2006 and 2007 and looked like he was on his last legs in 2008, going 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA. He now finds himself unemployed with the season set to start in just two weeks.

The Dominican Republic fizzled out quickly in the World Baseball Classic, inexplicably losing a pair of games to a Netherlands team featuring Sidney Ponson and only a handful of other players that even the most ardent baseball fan has ever heard of, but don’t blame Martinez. The future Hall of Famer used the tournament to showcase the fact that he’s still got some gas left in the tank by pitching six scoreless innings in two relief appearances, fanning six and allowing just one hit. But a week and a half after the Dominicans were eliminated from the WBC, Martinez remains unsigned.

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Martinez’ inability to find a suitor is especially surprising given the fact that he’s been linked to several teams in the past few months. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in mid-January that the Pirates would be interested if the price was right. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch speculated earlier this month that the Cards might pursue him to serve as their closer. A couple days later, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Orioles were having “internal discussions” about him. ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reported on March 12 that the Dodgers were considering signing Martinez. Baseball Prospectus reported on March 17 that the Astros were on the verge of signing him, but GM Ed Wade denied so much as speaking with Martinez.

On Thursday, Newsday reported that Martinez’ “heart is in New York,” and that he still hopes to return to the Mets. However, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported March 10 that there was “no chance” Martinez would be a Met this season, and GM Omar Minaya said four days later that his team was not negotiating with Martinez. Pedro didn’t come close to giving the Mets their money’s worth after signing a four-year, $53 million deal before the 2005 season, so in that regard their decision to leave him sitting on the sidelines is understandable. On the other hand, Tim Redding has struggled with arm troubles and prospect Jonathan Niese has been sent to the minors, leaving Livan Hernandez - who posted a 6.05 ERA last season - as the favorite to serve as the Mets’ No. 5 starter. They’ll have to do better than that if they hope to overcome the World Champion Phillies in the competitive National League East.

Martinez’ WBC showing eliminated, for most, concerns that he’s completely washed up. Now it appears that his pride is his greatest obstacle in finding a team. After Cooperstown-bound lefty Tom Glavine inked an incentive-laden one-year contract with the Braves last month, the New York Daily News reported that Martinez wasn’t interested in signing a similar deal. “If I wanted to pitch that bad, I probably would, but I don’t think I’m [at] that stage,” he said. “I believe I’m very comfortable. I’m not going to let anybody disrespect my abilities or the way I am.” On March 10, FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported that Martinez was seeking a $5.5 million base salary with $5 million in incentives - numbers that likely scared off a few potential suitors. There’s little doubt that Martinez could find work if he lowered his asking price, but it’s hard to imagine him swallowing his pride and doing so. With a stalemate in place, the biggest remaining question to be answered this spring is whether or not Pedro Martinez needs baseball more than baseball needs Pedro Martinez.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Photo by the Associated Press