Mets court Martinez, Giants sign Benitez

Posted: Wednesday, December 01, 2004

NEW YORK While Mets fans discussed whether their team has a chance to land Pedro Martinez, former New York closer Armando Benitez found a new club, agreeing Tuesday to a $21.5 million, three-year contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, retained a key part of its rotation, agreeing to re-sign ex-Met Paul Wilson for $8.2 million over two years.

Martinez isn't close to making a decision on where to sign, a person close to the free-agent ace said on condition of anonymity, and is likely to wait until the New York Yankees determine their level of interest. That could hinge on whether they acquire Randy Johnson from Arizona in a trade that could send Javier Vazquez to the Diamondbacks.

The Mets, trying to make a splash in the free-agent market, offered a $37.5 million, three-year contract last weekend, an agent with knowledge of the proposal said, also on condition of anonymity. The offer contains an option for a fourth season that could make the deal worth $50 million over four years, the agent said.

Boston has offered a two-year deal to retain Martinez and must decide by Dec. 7 whether to offer salary arbitration, which would extend the window for the World Series champion Red Sox to re-sign him until Jan. 8.

Martinez's agent, Fernando Cuza, would not comment on the Mets' proposal, which was first reported Tuesday in several New York and Boston newspapers. New Mets general manager Omar Minaya declined comment.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner met with Martinez in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 18, and Martinez also met in Florida with New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

But the Yankees' primary interest in recent days appears to be Johnson, the 41-year-old left-hander who would prefer to leave the rebuilding Diamondbacks and play for a contender. The Yankees and Diamondbacks have been discussing a trade involving the five-time Cy Young Award winner for several weeks, but talks haven't gained any momentum, several baseball officials said.

Steinbrenner met in Tampa with top aides Mark Newman and Billy Connors on Tuesday.

Benitez bounced back from a subpar 2003 season to save an NL-leading 47 games in 51 chances for Florida last season and lead major league relievers with a 1.29 ERA.

''He's the prototype,'' general manager Brian Sabean said. ''He has been and will be a dominant force at the end of the game. ... He's a guy we had our eye on.''

Since Robb Nen was sidelined with a serious shoulder injury following the 2002 World Series, the Giants have pieced together their bullpen. Tim Worrell closed in 2003 before leaving for Philadelphia as a free agent and San Francisco struggled at the end of games last season.

Matt Herges started the year as closer before being replaced by Dustin Hermanson in August. Hermanson saved 17 games but couldn't hold a three-run lead on the final Saturday of the season against Los Angeles, helping cost San Francisco a playoff berth.

''I'm excited he's on our side,'' manager Felipe Alou said. ''We had to make a change in the middle of the season and it was not easy. Our guys did a tremendous job saving the games. ... We have a guy who has been very successful and an intimidating closer.''

Benitez gets a $7.4 million signing bonus, of which $1.6 million is payable in 2005, $2.6 million in 2006, $1.6 million in 2008 and $1.6 million in 2009. He gets salaries of $2.5 million in 2005, $4 million in 2006 and $7.6 million in 2007.

Wilson, 31, was the most dependable starter on a pitching staff that had the highest ERA in team history at 5.19. He went 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA in his last four starts.

''We have a great offensive team and a good defensive team,'' Wilson said. ''I think with our young guys, the attitude is we're going to be aggressive and not be scared of doing our job. I think we have a lot to accomplish, but we can do that.''

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