Jobless Martinez hungry to pitch
Several free agents using WBC as springboard to major league jobs
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- While walking toward the team bus that would take him back to the hotel from Hiram Bitorn Stadium, free-agent pitcher Pedro Martinez was asked whether he knew if he was pitching for the Dominican Republic in the first round of the World Baseball Classic.
"I'm ready to pitch every day," Martinez said.
"Every day?" the interviewer asked.
"Hey, whatever it takes," Martinez said.
Such are the sacrifices that must be made for veterans, such as Martinez, who still ache to play in the majors but have no firm contract offers. Martinez is one of several former stars who find themselves in a tryout of sorts while competing in the WBC. Though it's the All-Star Game that carries the moniker "This One Counts," it's the WBC that really counts for some players.
Puerto Rico's Bernie Williams has said he would consider a return to the majors under the right circumstances.
"I'm in good physical condition," Williams said. "I believe I can still play the game."
Ivan Rodriguez, who will likely split time at catcher for Puerto Rico with Yadier Molina and NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto, said he hopes Manny Ramirez's recently finished contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers means that Scott Boras can now concentrate on getting him a job.
"Right now there are teams that are interested," Rodriguez said. "But there is nothing firm. It's something I don't like to talk about until there's something more concrete or closer. Teams are calling my agent."
Martinez may prove to be the most curious case. One report stated the Cardinals were interested in Martinez as a late-inning reliever, even though he hasn't pitched in relief since 1999. As of now, it seems unlikely that Martinez would start any of the first three games for the Dominican Republic, so perhaps he will get an opportunity to showcase himself as a reliever.
Manager Felipe Alou said Edinson Volquez would pitch Game 1, Johnny Cueto gets the ball in Game 2 and Ubaldo Jimenez is likely to start Game 3. What works against Martinez is that he was not at a major league camp prior to joining the Dominican team and is physically behind players who threw in spring training games for their teams.
Though not a star, Sidney Ponson is a major league veteran looking for an opportunity. He is scheduled to start Game 1 for the Netherlands.
A good performance for any of these major leaguers could lead to a job.
"I think it's going to be big for me," Rodriguez said of playing in the Classic. "I think as far as physically, I feel great. I feel 100 percent. I'm playing for the Puerto Rico team. That is my main focus. After that it's also going to help me for my future in the major leagues."
Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.