M’s jump to keep baseball’s premiere DH

  • LARRY LaRUE / The News Tribune
  • Thursday, November 2, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By LARRY LaRUE

The News Tribune

The option was a formality – the Seattle Mariners weren’t about to let the most productive designated hitter in history walk away after the best season of his career.

For Edgar Martinez, however, the decision on whether to come back hung on more than whether the Mariners would pick up the 2001 option on his contract, which they did Thursday.

“Lou’s coming back, that played a big role in my decision,” Martinez said. “He loves to win, and I’ve been with him a long time now. I see what he means to this team and this organization. He has few rules. You play hard, do things right, that’s all he expects from you.”

Martinez played more than well, batting .324 with a career best 37 home runs and a major-league leading 145 runs batted in. Along with Martinez, the Mariners picked up the option year for outfielder Stan Javier, and announced that infielder Mark McLemore, with 481 at-bats last season, had triggered his own option to return in 2001.

The Mariners declined to pick up the options on reliever Jose Mesa and outfielder Rickey Henderson, but did accept the option for 2002 on closer Kazuhiro Sasaki.

The flurry of activity came the day before general manager Pat Gillick and his staff fly to Florida for baseball’s annual GM meetings, which begin Saturday on Amelia Island. Much of the agenda for the week will be taken up by business meetings.

Gillick, however, cleared the decks in Seattle, and now is free to begin the work of trying to re-sign free agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez and improve the team’s offense.

“We talked to Alex all season, though not about the contract, and we’re going to wait and let some other people show what they have to offer him,” Gillick said. “It’s not a question of whether we want him back. He knows that.”

And, in the past few days, the Mariners have made moves that could help in spurring an A-Rod return. On Tuesday, Piniella said he’d be only too delighted to telephone Rodriguez and make a pitch to get him back.

On Thursday, Martinez said he’d be doing the same.

“I’ll talk to Alex soon, and I’ll try everything I can to make him think about coming back,” Martinez said. “I know what he means to the team.”

Gillick said much the same thing about Martinez.

“I think Edgar’s the best hitter in the American League, certainly the premiere DH,” Gillick said. “If he had a little better running speed, there’s no doubt in my mind he’d lead the league in hitting. Right now, this is a one-year contract, but he’s the longest-serving Mariner and I can’t think of him not ending his career in Seattle, whenever that may be.”

At 37, Martinez had the most productive year of his career, putting together a season that didn’t make the Mariners think long about paying him close to $6 million next year.

Similarly, the 36-year-old Javier, despite nagging minor injuries, batted .275 with five home runs and 40 RBI in 105 games last season. He’ll earn $1.6 million next season.

McLemore, 36, hit only .245 in his first year as a Mariner, but Martinez said he was glad to have him back.

“McLemore did a super job on defense, and he brings a lot of experience to the clubhouse,” Martinez said.

The team, however, bid farewell to right-hander Mesa, who tied the then-club record for saves in a season in 1999 with 33 – then lost his job last year to rookie Sasaki, who saved 37 games.

Mesa, 34, was 4-6 with a 5.36 ERA last year, and in his two seasons with Seattle went 7-12 with 34 saves and a 5.18 ERA. He would have been paid nearly $4 million next year.

As for Henderson, the 41-year-old was a viable stop-gap leadoff hitter after being claimed on waivers in May. But after batting .238 in 92 games as a Mariner, the team elected not to pick up his $3 million option for 2001.

“I have the feeling we’re going to do a lot of the right things in the off-season,” Martinez said. “We got close last year, and that leaves you thinking you can make it next year. You can taste it. I didn’t want to leave the Mariners being this close.”

And if Piniella had taken a job elsewhere?

“I’d have waited to see what the next move here was,” Martinez said.

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