A couple years ago, I came up with an outline for a fake oral history about a 40-something Barry Bonds hitting against a 40-something Pedro Martinez for three hours every day on pay-per-view. The gag was that it ruined baseball, and the sport was replaced with Bonds vs. Martinez, but I couldn't make it work. A couple of the ideas were folded into a fictional home run derby piece, and I moved on.
Until now. Because I realized that Bonds vs. Martinez for eternity is fun, but Bonds and Martinez on the same team during the height of their powers would be even better. And thanks to David Laurila of FanGraphs, we get to do that. From his latest Sunday notes column:
In November 1997, the financially-challenged Expos traded Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox. Before doing so, Montreal GM Jim Beattie paid Pedro the courtesy of asking him which teams he’d prefer going to. The future Hall of Famer named four, including the well-heeled Yankees. The others were the Orioles, Indians and Giants.
If, at this point, you want to lean back and fan yourself, it is encouraged that you do so. And I realize that some of you weren't around for peak Pedro, so I'll describe him like this: He could throw the nastiest pitches in baseball wherever he wanted. We're talking Jacob deGrom's fastball, Chris Archer's slider, Felix Hernandez's curve, and Zack Greinke's change ... just better and with more command. Take everything Greinke does and make it 25 percent better, really.
Just because Pedro liked the idea of Dusty Baker and staying in the National League doesn't mean the Expos were keen on just dumping him to make him happy. So we have to ask the very important question:
Did the Giants actually have a chance to trade for Pedro Martinez?
Probably not! That's a guess off the top of my head, but we'll explore. The Red Sox gave up the following prospects:
- Carl Pavano
- Tony Armas, Jr.
Wait, that's it? I remembered a much larger haul for the Expos. Still, it was a big deal at the time, considering that Pavano was supposed to be the Next Greg Maddux. Before the 1997 season, he was the #17 prospect in baseball according to Baseball-Reference, and before the 1998 season, when Martinez was dealt, he was the #9 prospect. The Giants did not have a top-10 prospect. The best they could do was Jason Grilli at #54, but he was drafted in 1997 and ineligible to be traded for another eight months.
Still, they could have overwhelmed the Expos with quantity. It might have worked! Joe Fontenot was the #66 prospect in baseball, and he was traded for Robb Nen on the same day Pedro was traded. Dante Powell had a down year in 1997, but he reached the majors that year and was a top-100 prospect the year before (one spot ahead of some Carlos Beltran dude). Russ Ortiz was a recent convert to the rotation after striking out 14 batters per nine innings (!) as a reliever in Class-A and Double-A.
Or the Giants could have done the unthinkable. They might not have had a whole lot of top-100 prospects, but they had a 24-year-old All-Star who won 19 games in his first full season. In retrospect, of course you trade Shawn Estes for a year of Pedro Martinez and the chance to lock him up to the same contract the Red Sox offered him. At the time, though, all you were buying was a year of Pedro, no guarantees. There's no way the Giants were going to trade Estes for that. Not when he was just going to get better and better and ...
So, yes, the Giants could have traded for Pedro Martinez. Estes would have trumped the Carl Pavano package, and that's if the Expos didn't prefer a Fontenot/Powell/Ortiz deal. The real question is if they could have extended Martinez and kept Bonds at the same time in the Candlestick era. The Giants already had the 11th-highest payroll in baseball in 1998, but they didn't even draw two million fans that year. Keeping Bonds for the new ballpark was obviously the plan, but it's not likely that they would have doubled down on the stars, especially after trading Matt Williams away explicitly because they didn't want two players to take up half of the payroll.
With the benefit of hindsight, yes, it probably would have been a good idea to have Barry Bonds and Pedro Martinez on the same team. Close your eyes and think of it for just a few seconds.
Ahhhhh. The 1998 Giants missed the postseason by a single game because they didn't have a single starting pitcher with an ERA+ better than 93. With Pedro, they make it. There probably wouldn't have been a difference in '99, but in 2000, Martinez might have beat the Mets twice. In 2001, the Giants wouldn't have wasted 73 freaking home runs. In 2002 ... oh no ... no no no no no.
That's the power of hindsight for you. Now bask in the power of unintended consequences. Imagine the Dodgers after the 1998 season, sensing they're in the middle of an arms race. They would have signed the best starting pitcher available, Randy Johnson. He would have helped them win at least one World Series, which would mean that they wouldn't have a ...
... 27-season championship drought. When Pedro left after the '04 season, the Giants would have received a compensation pick. The Red Sox used theirs on Clay Buchholz. If the Giants had Buchholz, he would have come up in 2007, the same year as Tim Lincecum. They would have won an extra game because of it. That extra game would have pushed them to the seventh or eighth pick of the draft.
If the Giants had Pedro Martinez, they might have drafted Yonder Alonso or Gordon Beckham instead of Buster Posey.
Yeah, now you're shivering. Be careful what you wish for. Pedro and Barry on the same team would have been magic, but if there's one thing Giants fans can't do, it's complain about the way everything has played out for their favorite baseball club. Just be grateful Bonds was here in the first place and that we got to watch it. Be grateful the Rays wanted Tim Beckham. Just be grateful, dammit.
A peek into that alternate universe with Pedro and Barry can't hurt, though. Just a peek. The best part would have been watching Pedro Martinez and Barry Bonds on the Giants.