Watching the Angels starting pitcher get rocked by the Red Sox on the MLB Network last night, I couldn't help but think that it's time to debunk one of the biggest myths and rants about the Mets organization:
How could the Mets trade away a "stud" like Scott Kazmir?
Simply put, I've been saying from day one that Kazmir is one of the most over-hyped Mets farmhands EVER. And the "career" he has had so far is EXACTLY what I thought his best-case scenario was - an oft-injured, what-if pitcher. I'm not a professional major league scout nor talent evaluator, but I think it's fairly logical that a petite lefty fresh out of high school that throws close to one hundred miles an hour has a definite "shelf life" to perform at that level. A Met writer "in the know" told me during the height of the Kazmir frenzy that he was the second-coming of Sandy Koufax or Billy Wagner. I countered that the Mets would be lucky if he ever became Mike Hampton. Your honor, I rest my case.
On July 30, 2004 - the day Kazmir was traded to the Rays - I told every Met fan who would listen what a great job the Mets organization did in getting a quality return for him. Of course, I was laughed at by all. To remind everyone, at the time of the trade Bartolome Fortunato was a fireballing bullpen stud who was on the mend from surgery. And I took the former Mets pitching coach at his word that he needed less than an hour to "fix" Victor Zambrano. None of us could know that the physical condition of both pitchers - since the Rays LIED about them. Major League Baseball reacted immediatlely after the trade by changing the medical disclosure rules between clubs - call it the "Zambrano/Fortunato" rule if you'd like. The reality is that on paper, the trade was solid, despite what any "scribe" or "fan" thought then - and now.
So here we are eight baseball seasons after Kazmir's high school graduation, and his meteoric rise to the Major League level in less than two years. As of today, his 59 major league wins put him 11 games over .500 in his big league career. He's pitched 896 innings, striking out 922 and walking just 408. Yes, he's had flashes of brilliance - but he's also had extended stints on the DL with shoulder and elbow problems. Not hard to figure out for a player "listed" as six feet tall and 175 pounds. Until they attach a bionic implant below where his left shoulder currently is - I think it's safe to say we've seen his best.
I was in attendance at Kazmir's first professional game in Coney Island, and his career could have possibly ended that night. After uncorking a wild pitch, he strolled towards the plate and cluelessy "hung around" as the catcher attempted to come up with the ball near the backstop. Meanwhile, a baserunner flew down down the line - spikes glistening in the fading sunlight. When asked after the game what he was doing anywhere near home plate, Kazmir mumbled a comment of never having had a runner on third base to that point of his career. It was that moment that when I realized he was a "thrower" and that becoming a "pitcher" was still ahead of him. I can only surmise that Mr. Peterson and the pitching instructors employed by the Mets came to that same conclusion, and decided that the his lack of physical assets coupled with his limited baseball smarts made him expendable.
The perception that things would have been different had he not been traded to the Rays - and instead been holding down a spot every five days in the Mets rotation all these years is baseless. Perhaps that theory held true for Nolan Ryan, who also was a hard-throwing Mets farmhand. Arguably, the Mets gave up on Ryan too early when they traded him to the Angels for veteran Jim Fregosi. Comparing Ryan to Kazmir now is a pipe dream.
The reality of Scott Kazmir is that he is a 10 win, 150 inning lefty who strikes more batters than gives up hits. The Mets have a guy JUST LIKE THAT on their roster right now. His name is Oliver Perez, and you can look it up.