Revisiting the 2004 Scott Kazmir Trade

When the Mets traded Scott Kazmir to the Rays in 2004, the trade was puzzling to say the least. The Mets sent away their top pitching prospect to the then struggling Devil Rays in a deal that netted them the duo of Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato. At the time of the trade, the Mets were only six games out of a playoff spot and eagerly seeking to boost their starting pitching in order to make a push towards the playoffs.

However, the Mets fell apart in the second half of the season and to make matters worse, Victor Zambrano was a complete bust. Thanks to a variety of arm injuries, Zambrano only made three starts for the Mets in 2004 and never developed into the front line starting pitcher that the Mets envisioned. In fact, while Zambrano was able to put together a respectable 2005 season for the Mets, he only won one more game in the majors after the 2005 season and has been out of baseball since 2007.

On the other hand, Kazmir quickly developed into the ace that so many around baseball thought he would become. By the end of 2004, Kazmir was in the major leagues and quickly asserted himself as one of the top young left-handed pitchers in baseball. From 2005-2008, Kazmir was one of the best starting pitchers in the American League thanks in part to his ability to strike out hitters. By the middle of the 2008 season, Kazmir was one of the Rays premier talents and the club’s all-time leader in wins, strikeouts, starts, and innings. Despite the fact that Kazmir only pitched 200 innings once in his career, the Rays gave Kazmir a 3 year/$28 million contract extension in 2008. The Devil Rays had every reason to feel good about locking up Kazmir: the left handed pitcher was a strikeout machine, one of the most talented pitchers in the AL, only 24 years old, and seemingly destined to becoming one of the top pitchers in AL for years to come.

While Scott Kazmir developed into an ace, the Mets took lots of heat for the deal. For good reason. How could they give away such a young, prized prospect and get so little back in return? How could former GM Jim Duquette and his staff have screwed up so badly? As weeks, months, and years passed by, the trade seemed destined to go down alongside the infamous Nolan Ryan trade as one of the worst trades in Mets’ history.

There is no doubt that this trade was a colossal mistake for the Mets and then GM Jim Duquette, who eventually lost his job as General Manager in part because of this deal. You can make the case that if the Mets had Kazmir around from 2005-2008, then their collective fortune would have been much different:

At the end of the 2004 season, new GM Omar Minaya sought to restore credibility to the Mets in the wake of the Scott Kazmir disaster and made two impact moves right off the bat: he signed Carlos Beltran to a 7 year/$119 million deal and despite all the warnings, he signed Pedro Martinez to a 4 year/$53 million contract. While Pedro was able to give the Mets one solid season in 2005, he eventually got hurt, was forced to undergo major shoulder surgery, missed significant time, and from 2006-2008, he was never the ace the Mets paid for. Would the Mets have splurged on Pedro if they had not traded away Scott Kazmir? Maybe.

Would the Mets have won the pennant or even the World Series in 2006 if Kazmir was on their roster? Impossible to say, but remember that because of injuries to Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, the Mets starting rotation entering the playoffs consisted of John Maine, Oliver Perez, Steve Trachsel, and Tom Glavine. There’s no doubt that the young and electric Kazmir would have been an upgrade over all of those guys.

Would the Mets have collapsed in 2007 if Kazmir was on their roster? Again, impossible to say. But keep this in mind: from July 2007 to September 2007, the Mets’ starting rotation compiled a collective ERA north of 5. Down the stretch, it seemed as though no one in the Mets rotation, not even Pedro Martinez or Tom Glavine, could stop the bleeding for the free falling Mets. It was clear that what the Mets lacked was an ace, who in this case would have been Kazmir.

The following winter the Mets pulled off one of the biggest trades in franchise history by acquiring Johan Santana, who was supposed to fill the large void atop the Mets starting rotation. The Mets committed a then record $137.5 million dollars to Santana, which today stands as one of the most lucrative contracts ever given to a starting pitcher. Would the Mets have acquired Johan Santana if Scott Kazmir was still on the roster? Your guess is as good as mine. Also, the 2008 Mets missed out on the playoffs by a single game for the second consecutive year, but if the Mets had Kazmir in the rotation alongside Johan Santana, it’s hard to imagine the Mets missing out on the playoffs.

As I’ve noted, the Scott Kazmir trade had a huge impact on the Mets franchise and should go down as one of the worst in franchise history. The Mets deserved and still deserve to face criticism about this deal. But as Scott Kazmir’s star has fallen and many begin to wonder if he will ever become the bona fide ace we all thought he would be, this deal needs to be looked at in a different light…at least for right now. Even with his victory on Saturday night, Kazmir’s stats this season are ugly. His ERA stands at 6.09; his BB/K ratio has bottomed out at 1.43; his K/9 is at a career worst 6.7; and his 1.579 WHIP is equally as unimpressive. The bottom line is that through eight starts this season, Scott Kazmir has been terrible.

Since it is early in the season, it would be unfair not to proceed without a level of caution. Maybe Scott Kazmir will turn things around in a big way over the next four months and re-establish himself as one of the premier left handed pitchers in the American League. But given the fact that Scott Kazmir has been struggling for almost a solid year and a half now (aside from six starts with the Angels last year), maybe this is who Scott Kazmir is. Not so much the strikeout machine ace we all thought he was, but more of a middle to back end of the rotation starter, who throws too many pitches, doesn’t throw enough innings, and doesn’t strike out enough hitters anymore.

In the end, it does not matter if Kazmir is unable to perform like an ace ever again, this trade is already a disaster for the Mets. Kazmir gave the Rays four solid (and at times, ace level) seasons and the Mets got almost nothing from Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato. But at the same time, it’s not fair (right now) to compare the Kazmir trade to the deal that sent Nolan Ryan from the Mets to the Angels or many other infamously bad deals.

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Comments

  1. Don Mynack said...

    No mention of the players the Rays got for trading Kazmir to the Angels, and how that trade may have set them up for this year (by subtracting an overpaid and ineffective Kazmir) and beyond? The article seems to be written entirely from the Mets perspective…

  2. Mark S. said...

    The article misses the entire point of why Mets fans were pissed at the Kazmir trade. The question isn’t whether or not the Mets should have traded Kazmir. There were good reasons on both sides. The real question (and this is where Mets fans get angry) is why trade for Victor Zambrano.

    Zambrano was 29 at the time of the trade (not exactly young) and had career MLB numbers of 6.7 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9. So he wasn’t dominating the majors at the time.

    Kazmir was a top 20 (or so) prospect by most scouts and the Mets traded him for a scuffling 29 year old. That’s why Mets fans were pissed about the trade.

  3. kevin said...

    The article significantly exaggerates Kazmir’s performance. At his best, he was a Top 15 pitcher in the league, but with far fewer innings than an ace. He stunk in 2009 and so far this year. Was it a good trade for the Mets? Obviously not.  But there’s no reason to think that the fragile Kazmir would have produced 200-plus innings of work during the Mets’ division race seasons.

  4. Trevor said...

    @Don
    Well, seeing as how this article is revisiting the trade that sent Kazmir to the Rays from the Mets, I don’t think it’s appropriate or necessary to include what the Rays got from the Angels in the subsequent trade.

    @Mark
    You bring up a good point, but this isn’t about why Mets fans were or were not pissed about the trade, this article is looking at the aftermath of the trade and evaluating things in hindsight.

    @Kevin
    I fail to see your logic on this.  You say yourself that “at his best, he was a top 15 pitcher in the league” and we’ve already established that Zambrano was a complete bust.  I think you’re making the same mistake of the previous commenter in that you’re missing the strict timeline of the article.  It doesn’t matter that “he stunk in 2009 and so far this year,” what matters is that the Mets received next-to-nothing for giving away Scott Kazmir and they could have used his production during the Mets division race seasons.  As the article states, “from July 2007 to September 2007, the Mets starting rotation compiled a collective ERA north of 5.”  Maybe he couldn’t throw enough innings to keep the ship from sinking that year, we’ll never know, but the point is, the Mets certainly could have used someone who was a top 15 pitcher in the league.

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