Last night was an ironic match-up for the Mets, with Zack Wheeler facing Scott Kazmir. In 2004, Scott Kazmir was Zack Wheeler. We all know the story, the Mets traded him for Victor Zambrano, who was ineffective and ultimately injured. Kazmir, of course, promptly became a front line starting pitcher. It was all very dumb and painful, you can’t really find a Mets fan who supported the trade.
But later on looking back at that trade, I couldn’t get too upset. Although in isolation it remained idiotic, it led to a chain reaction of positive events. One of those was a Division title, which sure gets glossed over a lot now, like that is some easy thing. It’s so easy that since 1988 the Mets have done it one time. By 2006 I looked at trading Kazmir as a sacrifice for the greater good. It’s fun to speculate how much better that team would have been with Scott, but it’s naive to think we would have had that team if the Kazmir trade had never happened. In case you have forgotten, here are the events that proceeded the trade.
It had been four years since Mike Piazza led the Mets to the World Series. Nelson Doubleday sold his interest in the team, and for the first time there was nobody to keep the Wilpon family in check. Steve Phillips made a series of bad moves and was let go as GM in 2003. His replacement was a good organizational man, Jim Duquette, who was not a strong personality. Fred brought in some old scouts to have lunch with, Al Goldis, and Bill Livesey, and a committee-like approach was put into place for running the team. And Jeff got very involved.
The big offseason move prior to 2004 was to sign Kaz Matsui and shift young star Jose Reyes to second base. Fred slashed the payroll from 2003 levels. That meant Duquette could only make a half-hearted, useless run at Vladimer Guerrero, who signed with the Angels. And our manager was Art Howe, babbling about battling and showing himself two steps behind every night.
But in spite of all this, the 2004 team was not playing terribly. There was still talent, including a young Reyes and Wright, and the team hovered around .500. But you looked at how they were being run and at the talent on hand, and knew this was not a playoff team. Worse, it was hard to imagine the management team ever improving the situation.
Then came the bombshell Kazmir/Zambrano trade, remarkably bad on many levels. It didn’t take years for people to dislike this deal, it took minutes and the outcry was loud and immediate. The team nosedived and the press savaged everyone involved in the deal. That included Jeff. Fred, the protective parent, needed to do something to put a stop to that, and boom, heads began rolling. Duquette was replaced as GM by Omar Minaya. Goodbye, Goldis and Livesey. See you, later, Art Howe. Next, the Wilpon wallet was re-opened.
So yes, in 2005 the Mets did not have Scott Kazmir and that was bad. But as a result of the new direction of the franchise, we had Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. We won 89 games and made a playoff run. In 2006, as I stated above, we won a Division, and the last games were brutal in 2007 and 2008, but not the teams.
I don’t see any of that happening without the Kazmir trade. We were on a slow train to nowhere, bad enough to not be real contenders, good enough for the Wilpons to have stayed on course. The Kazmir trade, and the resulting backlash, was a quick derailment. It was painful, as accidents are, but we rebuilt quickly, and built a better railroad.
Eventually Madoff happened, our owners went broke, and the team collapsed. But it was fun while it lasted, and with broke owners lean times were going to come. I’m sure happy we partied while we could.
So when I think about the Scott Kazmir trade I smile and think of the good times his trade engineered.
Hopefully we see those good times again someday.