By Jon Heyman
March 16, 2009

JUPITER, Fla. -- While the Dodgers may be the most likely landing spot for Cooperstown-bound pitcher Pedro Martinez, the Mets can't quite be ruled out yet. And though one Mets person said a significant gap remains between Pedro's asking price and the Mets' target figure (probably $5 million vs. about $2 million), an NL executive said over the weekend, "I wouldn't be shocked (if the Mets get him) ... Omar loves him."

GM Omar Minaya does love Pedro, and more important, the Mets don't love their No. 5 starting options right now.

Steady, innings-eating veteran Livan Hernandez is the leader for now, although there are some in the organization who remain curious about top prospect Jon Niese, a left-hander with a superb curveball who probably has to become a more consistent strike thrower to wrest the job from Hernandez. There's still some question as to whether Freddy Garcia will be ready at the start of the year after 2008 shoulder surgery, while Tim Redding, who looked like a solid pickup at the time, came to camp with a sore shoulder and 20 pounds overweight. Redding has been shut down and is out of the running entirely, upsetting Mets higher-ups, since that $2.25 million could have been used elsewhere.

The Dodgers' situation at the back end of their rotation may actually be even more dire. "We need another starter," one Dodgers official said, flat out.

Right now Eric Milton, Claudio Vargas and James McDonald are among several candidates for the Dodgers' No. 5 starting job, but 20-year-old phenom Clayton Kershaw, who's penciled in to one of the four certain spots, so far is still "hit and miss," according to another Dodgers official. The Indians and Pirates are known to be two more teams monitoring Pedro's progress, and agent Fern Cuza said there are a couple others in the mix after Pedro looked great in three innings in the World Baseball Classic, but a person close to Martinez said that he would favor the National League and is insistent on playing for a contender, which may mean it'll come down to the Dodgers and Mets.

It's no surprise that the Mets and Dodgers are both interested in Martinez (the Dodgers were first mentioned as a possibility in this space at the beginning of last month), but so far both teams are only interested at their price, which might be as much as half of the $5 million deal that Pedro seeks (Martinez actually has told people that he's looking for $5 to $8 million).

Pedro obviously noticed that John Smoltz and Brad Penny received $5 million deals from the Red Sox. But that was well before teams stopped spending. Officials with both the Mets and Dodgers are adamant that they won't accede to Martinez's contractual requests. Perhaps that explains why Cuza said, "We're in no hurry."

If you thought Manny Ramirez's negotiations with the Dodgers were interesting and drawn-out this winter, just wait until next winter. Word is he's going to be shooting for at least three years, and this time he's going to mean it.

Ramirez is said to love the idea that it's his option at year's end whether to stay or go after making $25 million in 2009. In fact, some close to him suggest that the two-year deal including the second-year player option is actually better than the three-year deal the Dodgers wouldn't give him. A monster year could give Ramirez the three-year deal he seeks for big bucks, while the $20 million 2010 salary provides nice insurance in case he gets hurt, shows age or reverts to his Bostonian behavior. But of course there are no guarantees that the option will bring him extra riches.

The opt-out clause has in some cases become a major boon to the ultra-talented, such as Alex Rodriguez, who turned it into an additional $275 million (and quite likely $305 million), J.D. Drew, who turned it into another $70 million, and A.J. Burnett, who turned it into another $82.5 million. Manny hopes to repeat those stories. But while he has the talent to do it, a few factors are working against him. One is a reputation for quirkiness (Red Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon went so far as to call him a clubhouse cancer). Another is an economy that may not be much better next winter than it was this past winter.

Yet another issue is Manny's now well-known love for L.A. He made that abundantly clear at his Dodgers press conference after spending the season and winter being noncommittal about where he wanted to play. Although the New York teams will be viewed as other potential targets, considering Manny's negative comments about Boston (which is much more like New York in terms of intensity) and uniformly positive ones about L.A., it will be somewhat difficult to envision him easily leaving Mannywood now.

In Manny's favor is his popularity in Los Angeles. Should Ramirez have another huge season, the pressure will be even greater on Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to keep him. The incentive will be there, too. The Dodgers sold 12,000 more tickets the first day that single-game tickets went on sale, according to the Los Angeles Times, which attributed the boost to Manny, based on interviews with ticket buyers.

After a pregame interview on Sunday afternoon filled with negative questions the day after the U.S. team's embarrassing 11-1 loss to Puerto Rico, U.S. manager Davey Johnson good-naturedly implored of us, "Write something positive, will you?"

Well, the U.S. did beat the Netherlands 9-3 on Sunday night.

But hardly anyone came to see the game (the crowd looked only slightly better than Marlins vs. Nats). And those who did didn't seem to notice.

Worse, by the time the day was done, Chipper Jones was back in Orlando after aggravating his ribcage injury during pregame routines, Ryan Braun left the game with a sore right side and reliever Matt Lindstrom was pulled after suffering a sore shoulder. (Lindstrom is out for the rest of the WBC after an MRI on Monday revealed a strained right rotator cuff.) Not to mention AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, who left a day earlier with an oblique strain (very much like a ribcage or side).

While the WBC spin is that injuries are no more likely at these games, Braun conceded that there might be slightly more chance for injury playing nine innings all out in intense competition as opposed to low-key spring games, but he also said, very positively, "I don't think anybody would trade this experience for anything."

Lindstrom may actually have hurt his shoulder while throwing in anger well behind Netherlands batter Vince Rooi the pitch after Bryan Engelhardt hit a long home run off him. Though Lindstrom actually said he felt something while warming up. (But if that's true, then why enter the game?)

While Johnson had other explanations for Lindstrom's wildly errant throw one pitch after Engelhardt's long blast (the manager said the pitch slipped and was overheard insinuating that the injury may be to blame), Lindstrom himself basically admitted that he threw at Rooi. Said Lindstrom, who explained that he felt Engelhardt spent too long admiring his blast, "I was just trying to send a message." Lindstrom also excused the Netherlands' anger by saying, "We probably would have been angry if they threw at our guy," which is tantamount to an admission.

The long home run was hit in Lindstrom's home park, and perhaps he was feeling embarrassed by it. However, intentionally hurling a pitch at a Dutch batter in a blowout game is a much more embarrassing act in my book.

I love the WBC. Maybe I'm almost alone in this belief, but I do love it.

Yet, there's plenty wrong with the way the U.S. team goes about the games, inhibiting this series from being what it should be. Most of what's wrong with it is that the U.S. treats the games like an exhibition. They can say they don't do that, but in many respects they clearly do.

Perhaps the U.S. squad in future years can get together before spring training to ensure readiness by mid March. Because the way things stand now, they almost have to treat it like an exhibition. (Otherwise, even more guys may get hurt!)

Here's how we know the U.S. thinks this is mostly an exhibition:

• Many great U.S. stars aren't here. By one estimate, it took about 70 phone calls and invitations to get 25 guys (no one here verified that 70 figure, but considering the stature of some of the players on the U.S. roster, it seems very possible).

• Case in point: Rather than have Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan or Papelbon on the roster, there's a reliever from the Nationals (Joel Hanrahan) and one who was designated for assignment last year (LaTroy Hawkins).

Jake Peavy was left in to "get some work in," even though he had nothing vs. the Puerto Ricans. Johnson admitted the next day that Peavy had nothing and would have been gone had it been a playoff game, or even a regular-season game.

• The U.S. is alternating Brian McCann and Chris Iannetta at catcher, even though McCann is clearly the better player.

• When Jones was scratched on Sunday, Johnson simply put Derek Jeter into the No. 3 hole rather than rearrange things. While Jeter is a great player who has occasionally batted third for the Yankees, he hadn't previously been seen as a No. 3 hitter in the power-laden U.S. lineup.

• Johnson missed the workout and the first inning of Saturday's loss to Puerto Rico to attend his stepson's wedding.

• Coach Mike Schmidt skipped the workout for "personal reasons."

Clearly, the U.S. team is conflicted about whether to try to win or try to "get its work in."

• Even after its 9-3 defeat to the U.S. team, you've still got to give it up to the Netherlands team, which bounced the Dominicans, played a nice game against the Venezuelans and upset Lindstrom with the long ball.

• The Dominicans didn't help themselves. Reports suggest that they didn't take things seriously enough and were flying between Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico for parties.

• Dominican outfielder Jose Guillen threw a fit after seeing his room at the hotel in Puerto Rico and noticing that there was just a couch, TV and desk. That disappointment caused Guillen to kick his keys at an MLB official in disgust. However, he felt slightly better when it was explained to him that he needed to open a door to what was actually a suite.

Damaso Marte not only injured his shoulder while at the WBC in Puerto Rico, he was also briefly detained by the police at one point. Rough trip for him.

• Rough spring for Angels pitchers. Brian Fuentes suffered a back injury while on the bereavement list and never got to pitch in the WBC. Ervin Santana's elbow is being monitored back in Arizona. One thing about the Angels, though: They always seem to find a way.

• Puerto Rico's Jose Oquendo looks like a pretty good major league managerial candidate from here. One thing the WBC is proving: It's better to hire a young up-and-comer than hold on to history and hire some past-his-prime manager. Felipe Alou, who spent some time ridiculing his Dominican roster to reporters in side sessions, is a case in point.

Bernie Williams is serious about wanting to get back on the field. But his stint with the Puerto Rico team isn't helping, as he's been cast in a cheerleader role. I love Bernie, but it may be time to stick with the music career.

Alex Rodriguez is taking a lot of heat this spring for various things. But he should get credit for taking one for the team by having half his hip surgery now to get him back on the field by May, then the other half of the surgery later. Two hip surgeries in one year doesn't sound like fun.

• I don't care that Kevin Youkilis wants Peavy on the Red Sox. First of all, has Youkilis even been watching? This doesn't look like a good time to sink $63 million into Peavy, not the way he's pitching in the WBC.

Joe Crede made an interesting move going from the White Sox to the Twins, who happen to be one of the White Sox's chief rivals. But one White Sox person said he worries about Crede and his back on the turf. "He sometimes didn't play when we got to that turf in Minnesota," that White Sox person said.

• The Marlins have their usual complement of superb prospects. Outfielder Michael Stanton is an especially impressive specimen. "He's like a young Andre Dawson," said Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, citing the Marlins official who should be in the Hall of Fame but still isn't.

• It's going to be hard for the A's to make it up if ace Justin Duchscherer isn't right.

• According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Skip Schumaker experiment at second base isn't working out so far.

• Enough already with these stories that one team or another isn't interested in Barry Bonds. When someone finds a team that is interested, that's a story. Until then, let's cease and desist.

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