Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Mets' nadir: trading Kazmir

Any Met fan who regularly reads Blooming Ideas knows I have two very distinct gripes with the Mets: 1) Omar Minaya's trade of Kris Benson for Jorge Julio (and now in turn for Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez) and John Maine in February; and 2) Jim Duquette's trade of Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano during the 2004 season. Both Benson and Kazmir are pitching well for their respective teams, the Orioles and the Devil Rays. Imagine a Mets rotation of Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Kazmir, Benson and Steve Trachsel. Instead, we've seen a procession of rookie call-ups and retreads starting in this year's rotation. It's the reason the Mets aren't running away with the division.

Today's New York Times addresses the Kazmir trade in Lee Jenkins' article, "Kazmir Deal a Debt the Mets Still Owe." Jenkins doesn't pull punches. He calls the trade the Mets' worst since they exchanged Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi in 1971. Of course, Ryan went on to become a Hall of Fame pitcher and set the all-time strikeout record. Kazmir is 7-3 in his 3rd season with the Devil Rays.

"Kazmir has become the star pitcher the Devil Rays never had," Jenkins writes. "The last time he pitched at home, against the Florida Marlins on May 21, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden took his children to the game because they wanted to see Kazmir, who worked 8 scoreless innings and racked up 11 strikeouts. 'It wasn't even fair,' says catcher Josh Paul of the Devil Rays. 'I would put down my glove and the ball would go exactly where I wanted it.'

"A former wild child, Kazmir [who is 22] has learned to sacrifice velocity for control. He is still capable of throwing 97 miles an hour, but is satisfied throwing 93 on the outside corner," Jenkins adds.

So why did the Mets move this future all-star lefty hurler? Duquette, who as Mets' GM engineered the trades of both Kazmir and Benson and now as the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations convinced Minaya to swap Benson for Julio, blames it on the Mets having "too many cooks in the kitchen" when he was attemnpting to run the club. "In that situation...the loudest voices are the ones that get heard. It does become sort of like a mob mentality."

The July 31, 2004 interleague trading deadline was fast approaching, so the Mets - 6 games behind the NL East-leading Braves - decided to shore up their pitching and make a playoff run. With Davd Wright poised to take over 3rd base, the Benson-for-Ty Wiggington deal was a no-brainer. But Duquette unfortunately didn't stop there. He called Devil Rays' GM Chuck LaMar, who he'd been chatting with about a possible trade. "Do we have a deal?" he asked.

Duquette tells Jenkins that "approximately 10 club employees — scouts, coaches and executives — were on the line. A couple of vocal members endorsed the trade. No one raised a strong objection."

That still doesn't explain why the Mets were so keen to unload their top pitching prospect for a crafty veteran, who happened to have a bad arm. "The Mets knew at the time of the trade that Zambrano had tendinitis in his right elbow," Jenkins points out, "but they understood he was being treated with a basic anti-inflammatory. When Zambrano joined the Mets in Atlanta on July 31, they learned that he had been taking more severe medication. The first red flag was raised."

"It's clear when Zambrano arrived, his elbow was hurting a lot more than what the doctors in Tampa told us," Duquette says. "It was obvious that they had not given us all the information."

To which LaMar responds, "Everything was revealed at the time. There was nothing to the injury factor with us or that anything was withheld. The Mets know that."

Clearly, the Mets got snookered by the lowly Devil Rays. And they've been licking their wounds ever since. Zambrano's injury (torn tendon in his right elbow), sustained on May 7, shelving him for the season, poured salt on the wound. And each time Kazmir tosses a shutout and strikes out 10, the Mets can only wonder what might have been had Duquette not made that fateful call.

"It's unbelievable they are still talking about it," says Kazmir, who will face Duquette's Orioles tomorrow night. "It's still going on."

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