I don’t remember much about the summer of 2004. I vaguely remember turning 21 that June, taking an ill-advised trip to Atlantic City, and realizing that all casinos are not created equal. (Apparently you have to win twice at the Taj Majal, once at the table, and once again in the parking garage, successfully making it to your car without getting stabbed).
AC trips aside, I spent the majority of my summer life-guarding at a small apartment complex in Jersey. If that sounds boring to you, it’s because it was. Wake up at noon, open pool at one. Rescue children whose parents were too irresponsible to watch them. Unsuccessfully hit on mediocre chicks. Listen to Mike and the Mad Dog.
If my summer was a reality show, it would have been cancelled after the first episode.
Absolutely nothing of note happened over those three months. Nothing I can remember anyway. Except for one day. July 30. The day we traded Scott Kazmir.
A little after 4:00 P.M. a somber Eddie Coleman came on WFAN to announce that the Mets had acquired Kris Benson AND Victor Zambrano. Mad Dog, working alone that day, then asked, “So what’d the Mets give up Eddie?” “Well, they gave up a lot Chris.”Before going to work that morning I read a blurb in the Star Ledger about how the Mets were interested in Victor Zambrano. But that the deal was unlikely because Zambrano was complaining of elbow soreness and the Devil Rays were asking for Scott Kazmir. This made me laugh. The Devil Rays were known for making ridiculous trade offers. No way. Not happening.
For the first ten minutes I talked myself into the deal. I knew a little bit about Zambrano, that he had a good K/9, but control issues. I also knew Benson was a former number one pick, and at one time a top pitching prospect. So I tried to get excited about the trade(s). Then Chris took his first caller.
“Honestly Chris, what’s the point of being a Mets fan?”
That’s when it sunk in. Despair. Then anger.
Wait, did we really just trade the Mets’ top pitching prospect for Victor Zambrano?
Here’s eight thoughts on the deal.
Even if Scott Kazmir had blown out his arm, never pitched a day in the majors, and Zambrano won multiple CY Young awards, the trade still would have been a failure from a value standpoint. After the trade, Texas came out and said they would have considered trading Mark Teixeira in a Kazmir package. The Phillies mentioned that they would have parted with their slugging minor league first basemen, Ryan Howard, who was blocked behind Jim Thome at the time. Even if the reports were just heresay, there’s no denying the fact that on the day of the trade, July 30, 2004, Scott Kazmir was the top pitching prospect in baseball. A highly regarded, 20 year old lefty, with a high 90’s fastball and plus slider. He certainly could have brought back a lot more than a pitcher who was best known for leading the AL in walks, wild pitches, and hit batsmen. If Kazmir was worth a dollar, the Mets sold him for a nickel.
When Texas came out and said they would have entertained trading Teixeira for Kazmir, there were two messages being sent. The previously mentioned point that Kazmir was worth a lot more than what the Mets got. And the second, and one that’s equally important, is that no one knew Kazmir was available. Which probably means that Kazmir wasn’t available, at least not until the Devil Rays asked for him. This is fine of course. The problem that occurs is, once the Mets internally decide that they are willing to trade him, they never stop and think, “Hey maybe we can get someone better than Victor Zambrano for Kazmir?” A month earlier, the front office viewed Kazmir as the teams future ace, and virtually untouchable. Then, after a better than expected record in July, they send him packing without even letting other teams know he was available? The trade reeks of an impulse buy. Like the time a 19 year old me spent two thousand dollars on a set of 18’ Lexani Rims, after putting a total of 15 minutes thought into the purchase.
Mom: “I thought you were saving that money to study abroad?”
Me: “Um……well…….Um……..Look how shiny they are!”
WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?
Following the trade, rumors leaked that Jeff Wilpon, and not GM Jim Duquette, was in charge of roster decisions. Reports surfaced that Al Lieter hadn’t liked Kazmir, dating back to a spring training incident involving clubhouse music, and that Lieter and Tom Glavine were known to play golf with Jeff Wilpon. Were they an influence in trading Kazmir? And why was Rick Peterson, the teams pitching coach, allowed so much input regarding the trade? Did Peterson’s opinion trump Duquette’s? The question as to who was actually in charge became a big debate for the rest of the season. Only later would it be confirmed that the Mets had far too many voices making decisions about the roster. Or as Jim Duquette puts it in this 2006 New York Times article, “We had too many cooks in the kitchen, In that situation, if someone disagrees, he might not speak up. The loudest voices are the ones that get heard. It does become sort of like a mob mentality.”
INCOMPETENCE AND DISTRUST
Ever since the Kazmir trade there has been a distrust between fans and ownership. And rightfully so. Especially when you read articles like this. In the aftermath of the trade, a slew of rumors came out about the Mets and how they run their front office. Rumors the Mets denied. But as a fan, even the most optimistic, you couldn’t help but think that the people in charge of your favorite team were vastly incompetent. And to top it off, they were now lying about it. The whole thing came across like a bad corporate cover up. Even 8 years later, I still find myself doubting almost everything ownership says.
15 MINUTE RICK
Rick Peterson’s Met obituary is a short one. Six words to be exact. I’ll fix him in 15 minutes. When he retires from baseball, Peterson will be remembered for helping develop the big three of Mulder, Hudson, and Zito. Maybe people will also praise his many innovations in the study of pitching mechanics. But Met fans will most likely remember him for the influence he had in trading Kazmir for Zambrano. It’s not totally fair. The Mets could have said something like “Hey Rick, we’re gonna try to get Zambrano for you, but there’s no effing way we’re trading Kazmir for him.” Peterson never should have had the power to be so influential in the decision. But he was. And his arrogance, and subsequent failure to “fix” Zambrano, is what a lot of Mets fans will remember.
POOR VICTOR ZAMBRANO
I always felt kind of bad for Victor. It’s not like he was a free agent we gave big money to and didn’t perform (I’m looking at you, Jason Bay). I think he always knew who he was as a player. A fringe major league starter with control issues. It’s not like he told the Mets to make the deal. I can only imagine how the conversation went after the trade went through.
Rays Manager: Hey Vic, we just traded you to the Mets.
Zambrano: Oh… Did you get anything good back for me?
Rays Manager: Ha! Yeah we did… Scott Kazmir, only the best lefthanded pitching prospect in baseball! Don’t worry, no pressure Vic…
Kazmir s big league career may have never lived up to the expectations we all had back in 2004. For one season however, it did. In 2007 he led the league in strikeouts and made the All-Star team. His final numbers: 206 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 239 K’s. Do the Mets collapse in 2007 if Kazmir is pitching every 5th day? It’s a fair question to ask.
PEDRO, CARLOS, AND OMAR
After the 2003 season, Omar Minaya was offered the GM job to share with Jim Duquette. They would be co-general managers and have equal power. Minaya declined the offer. After the embarrassment of the Kazmir trade and another losing season, Wilpon offered Minaya the full time gig in the fall of 2004. Telling Omar, “ We’ve become totally irrelevant” (Don’t worry Fred, we still are). The rest is Mets history. Omar convinces ownership that they must spend money to compete in the New York market. Taking almost the opposite approach of Jim Duquette and his “we won’t sign anyone to more than a 3 year contract” method that ended up costing us Vladimir Guerrero the previous offseason. The Mets went out and spent big on Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, and traded for highly priced first basemen Carlos Delgado. If Kazmir comes up to Shea in 2004, does he create enough buzz that Fred sticks with Duquette another season? Do we not then sign Pedro and Beltran?
It’s been a little over eight years since the Kazmir trade, and in that time the sting has mostly worn off. Scott Kazmir never won a Cy Young or a World Series. He never became Nolan Ryan or Dwight Gooden. Time, will undoubtedly diminish the significance of the trade. The incompetence of it eventually fading away behind the Mets’ more recent incompetence. In 20 years when a young fan reads about it, he will see only the career stats of both pitchers. Never truly knowing what a colossal blunder the trade was at the time. Even now, I still wonder how Tampa was able to pry Kazmir from the Mets? How could they have ripped us off so badly? It’s as if Jeff Wilpon stumbled into the wrong casino, and there in the parking deck were the Devil Rays, holding a knife, asking for his blue chip.
This Fan Shot was submitted by MMO reader, Noah Rainwater. Have something you want to say about the Mets? Share your opinions with over 12 thousand Mets fans who read this site daily. Send your Fan Shot to GetMetsmerized@aol.com. Or ask about being a regular contributor, and share your opinions with an engaging community that loves to debate