COMMENTARY | On September 6, Scott Kazmir did something he'd never done before in his professional baseball career. Eleven years after being selected with the 15th overall pick of the MLB draft, Kazmir faced the team that drafted him -- the New York Mets.
He was in control on the mound for the Cleveland Indians, allowing four hits, no walks, and 12 strikeouts in six shutout innings. It's been a long road back to the majors for the southpaw; before he made the Indians' rotation out of spring training this year, he last pitched with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2011.
Watching him dominate the Mets earlier this month made me wonder what could have happened if former general manager Steve Phillips didn't trade him on July 30, 2004.
The Mets were on their way to another losing season (71-91 in 2004), yet Phillips was trying to hold on to his job. He traded Kazmir, New York's top pitching prospect, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, which brought Victor Zambrano to Flushing.
In parts of three seasons with the Mets, Zambrano went 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 201.2 innings pitched (39 appearances). Meanwhile, Kazmir spent most of his time in Tampa Bay anchoring the pitching staff. The southpaw went 55-44 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 834 innings pitched (144 starts).
From 2005-2009, Kazmir never posted a losing record (for mostly bad Tampa Bay teams), and enjoyed five straight seasons of double-digit victories. He also was dependable; he never started fewer than 20 games when he started the season for Tampa in the starting rotation.
His performance against a tough American League East division got me thinking about what could have been for the Mets if they held on to him. Most notably, the seasons in which New York had potential to compete for a World Series were from 2006-2008.
In 2006, they were among one of the best teams in baseball; second-year manager Willie Randolph watched his squad go 97-65 during the regular season. Unfortunately, they fell a game short of reaching the World Series, eventually won by the St. Louis Cardinals.
What would have happened if Kazmir was a part of the rotation? The 2006 squad was great, but it didn't have a true ace. Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and Orlando Hernandez were all aces at one point in their careers, but 2006 wasn't that year. They formed a strong unit during the regular season, but both Martinez and El Duque dealt with injuries come October.
If Scott Kazmir was on the squad, Randolph wouldn't have had to name John Maine (a rookie) to be the National League Division Series Game 1 starter after El Duque went down with an injury. Having him could have changed the entire playoff picture for New York.
The collapse in 2007 is a well-documented horrific event in Mets history. Losing a seven-game lead with 17 games to go is never fun. The starting rotation was the same group of hurlers from 2006, but a year older. If Kazmir started the last game of that season instead of Tom Glavine, maybe New York would have made the playoffs.
The 2008 season brought some change; former general manager Omar Minaya made a blockbuster trade to acquire Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins. Santana gave the Mets the true ace they had been lacking for a few years.
Santana led the league in ERA (2.53) and games started (34) in 2008, but it wasn't enough. They fell one game short of the playoffs for the second straight year. Mike Pelfrey had a good season (13-11 record, 3.72 ERA), but there wasn't enough solid starting pitching to overshadow the glaring weakness that was the bullpen. Having Kazmir in the rotation would have helped mask that a little better.
Hindsight is 20/20, and it's easy to look back and say the Mets should not have made that trade. The team was going nowhere, and the Mets traded away their prized pitching prospect for someone that would never compare. We can only play the "what if" game looking back on this. Watching him mow down the Met hitters a couple weeks ago in Cleveland brought those rough memories back to the forefront of my mind.
Matt Musico's Mets opinion has been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue, Mets Merized Online, and Rising Apple. He currently serves as the Executive Editor of MetsMinors.net. You can follow him on Twitter: @mmusico8.
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