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Martinez developed into elite hitter for Mariners

MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

To understand the financial condition of the Mariners in their early years, consider that in addition to managing the franchise's Class A Short-Season Bellingham affiliate in the Northwest League, Jeff Scott was also the top assistant to Hal Keller, who was Seattle's scouting director and farm director.

The Mariners couldn't even afford to run an extended spring program, much less get overly involved in the pursuit of players out of Latin America.

To understand the financial condition of the Mariners in their early years, consider that in addition to managing the franchise's Class A Short-Season Bellingham affiliate in the Northwest League, Jeff Scott was also the top assistant to Hal Keller, who was Seattle's scouting director and farm director.

The Mariners couldn't even afford to run an extended spring program, much less get overly involved in the pursuit of players out of Latin America.

However, in back-to-back offseasons, Seattle made low-level signings that turned into high-profile results -- Edgar Martinez out of Puerto Rico in December 1982 and Omar Vizquel of Venezuela in April 1984.

The combined bonuses that scout Marty Martinez gave the two added up to $6,500 -- $4,000 for Martinez and $2,500 for Vizquel.

How tight was the budget? Well, after signing Martinez, he didn't even come to the United States until Bellingham's workouts began in June 1983. Bellingham, which played in a league designed more for older players, was the franchise's only Short-Season affiliate.

"We did get a Rookie League team in 1984, and a lot of my proposal dealt with needing a place for the young shortstop from Venezuela [Vizquel] to play," Scott said. "We had it for one year. The next winter, [owner] George [Argyros] said Vizquel was being promoted, so we didn't need that team anymore."

Fast forward more than 30 years, and look at what has evolved.

Martinez could become the first designated hitter voted into the Hall of Fame, and he's already been recognized by MLB with the naming of the Edgar Martinez Award, given to the best DH each season. Vizquel is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this December -- a long shot for election this year -- and his support could grow over the next few years because of his defensive wizardry.

"I always tell Marty, I deserve half the credit for signing those two, because I was the one who had to sign off on the $6,500," Scott said.

However, Martinez deserves the credit for what he accomplished on the field, Scott said. Martinez was an "older" Latin American signing, having turned 20 just 23 days after he was signed, four years older than the age of most players signed out of Latin America. He did not make his big league debut until April 1987, his fifth year in professional ball, and it wasn't until '90 that he spent a full season in the Majors.

"He got caught in a numbers game," Scott said. "We had some pretty good third-base prospects, including Jimmy Presley and Danny Tartabull, and while if you watched Edgar, you could see his offensive potential, he wasn't a power hitter."

Martinez never hit more than 15 home runs in a season during his seven yeras in the Minor Leagues, despite playing for Triple-A Calgary and Class A Wausau in hitter-friendly ballparks.

"You watched him, and you could see his potential as a hitter, even if it didn't always show up in numbers," Scott said. "After that first year in Bellingham [when he hit .173], I told Hal we needed to take him to instructional league. You just felt what he needed to do was play and the ability would take over. We had him in the Northwest League, which was mostly college players, not high-school kids."

Martinez finished his career with 309 home runs, hitting more than 20 eight times during a nine-year stretch from 1995-2003, including 37 in 2000.

"It was just a matter of him learning to lift the ball, which he did," Scott said. "He always had a real good swing."

Scott is also quick to point out that Martinez was no defensive liability at third base before becoming primarily a DH in 1995.

"He was a plus defensive player and could have easily played first base, but he wound up as a DH, and I don't think he gets the credit he deserves for his ability to play in the field," Scott said.

In January, Martinez will find out if the Baseball Writers' Association of America considers him one of the game's elite players when its members decide if he is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

Seattle Mariners