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Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano: Revisiting One of the Worst Trades in New York Mets History

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COMMENTARY | Few trades in New York Mets history elicited as much negative reaction as the one that sent 20-year-old Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in July 2004.

In return for the young lefty, the Mets brought back Victor Zambrano, who was 9-7 with a 4.43 earned run average when the trade was made.

At the time, the Mets trailed the Braves by six games in the National League East so perhaps you could justify adding an arm to a rotation that included Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, and Steve Trachsel. But when you trade away your top prospect, you better get something real good in return. Zambrano was a bust.

As you can imagine, Mets general manager Jim Duquette was heavily criticized for trading Kazmir. Zambrano, who turned 29 a week after the trade, ended up going 2-0 for the Mets that year (he would go 8-14 over the next two years) before hurting his elbow. The Mets, who were also in the wild-card race at the time of the trade, finished the season 71-91.

Meanwhile, Kazmir put together a nice career starting with his first full season in 2005. He had five straight seasons of 10 or more wins and was a two-time All-Star. His best year came in 2007 when he won 13 games and led the American League in strikeouts (239) and starts (34). Unfortunately for him, he was injury prone, and by 2011 it appeared his career was over. Last season, Kazmir pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League and he also pitched in winter ball.

Why does any of this matter now? Well because today is draft day in Major League Baseball, and back in 2002, the Mets drafted him 15th overall. Two nights ago, Kazmir returned to New York, pitching for the Cleveland Indians against the New York Yankees. (Kazmir took the loss, pitching six innings and allowing four runs.)

In any event, seeing him on the mound rekindled memories of the Mets' 2004 trade, the one that created so much backlash, the trade that goes down as one of the worst in franchise history.

In 2003, Zambrano led the American League in walks, hit batsmen, and wild pitches. Is anyone really that surprised the trade didn't work out? Though Kazmir never ended up being a 20-game winner, he did have five quality seasons. Had he been a Met during those years (2005-09), he would have been part of the 2006 team that was one game away from the World Series, and the 2007 and 2008 teams that appeared to be playoff bound before collapsing in September.

The Mets were competitive back then. Maybe Kazmir could have made a difference.

Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

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