By Dan Mennella @ MLB Trade Rumors
The 2003 season ended in heartbreak for the Red Sox, whose hopes of capturing their first World Series since 1918 were dashed in Game 7 of the ALCS, when Aaron Boone channeled his inner Bucky Dent and inherited a new nickname: Bleepin’, as in Aaron Bleepin’ Boone.
You certainly couldn’t blame Pedro Martinez for the Red Sox‘s shortcomings that year, though. Boston’s longstanding ace was worth nearly 7.9 wins above replacement across 186 2/3 innings, pitching like a guy who really wanted his $17.5MM contract option picked up for the next season.
Thing is, his option had already been exercised — on this day in 2003.
That’s right: Boston picked up Pedro’s option — the highest single-season salary for a pitcher in MLB history — about seven months prior to what would have otherwise been a November deadline. In addition to the usual risks (injury, decline) of exercising an option before it’s necessary, consider that Martinez would turn 32 later that year and had already taxed his slender frame for nearly 1,900 career innings.
While we could debate the process, the result must be considered a success for Boston.
The Red Sox rebounded from the disappointment of 2003 to finally capture that elusive World Series title in 2004, sweeping the Cardinals. Martinez did, in fact, begin a steady decline in 2004 (at least relative to his mid-career production), but the beginning of his decline phase was still worth an excellent 5.7 wins above replacement — or $17.7MM, according to Fangraphs.
Talk about an even exchange.
The Red Sox allowed the legend to walk via free agency after 2004 in a surprisingly unsentimental move for a team that was all too eager to keep one of the most popular players in franchise history only a year and a half earlier. They apparently knew that it’s better to burn out than it is to rust, as the Mets absorbed the brunt of Pedro’s iron-oxide accumulation in the form of a four-year contract from 2005-08.
That bold decision proved prudent, as did the bold move the Red Sox made on this date in 2003.
The funny thing is, people forget just how damn good this guy was at the height of his career.
Even before we knew about Roger Clemens steroids, even in a era that featured one of the most dominant starters ever (Randy Johnson) and in a period that saw Greg Maddux take his PhD in pitching all the way to 300 plus wins…this dude was the best pitcher I ever saw.
In 1999, Pedro had the most storied season of his career. He went 23-4, won the AL Cy Young, was robbed of the AL MVP, and tossed 17 scoreless innings in the playoffs. He was, by far, the best pitcher in the major leagues, and he was set to pitch in Boston for another five seasons.
Of his seven incredible seasons with the Red Sox, however, none were better than his 2000 season, when he had one of the best seasons in the history of baseball in a league riddled with steroid use by hitters. He went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA and a minuscule .737 WHIP, which was the lowest for a starting pitcher in a single season in the history of baseball.
That year, his Adjusted ERA+, a stat which measures ERA up against other pitchers that year, was a stunning 291, the best number since 1880 (Tim Keefe, 295). Basically, Pedro was nearly three times as good as the average major league pitcher that season.
He was just that damn good.
Note: (Wanna know how incredible Mariano Rivera is? He has posted three season with an ERA+ over 308 lol).