On July 31, 2004, the New York Mets traded Scott Kazmir, ranked the No. 12 prospect by Baseball America before the 2004 season, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for pitcher Victor Zambrano. At the time, the Mets were in fourth place in the National League East, eight games behind the Atlanta Braves. With a record of 49-54, the Mets were 8.5 games behind the San Diego Padres in the NL Wild Card Race.
The Mets would finish that season with a record of 71-91, finishing 21 games behind the Houston Astros in the NL Wild Card race and 25 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. However, more importantly, they mortgaged the future to try and win during a season in which their playoff chances were slim. Zambrano ended up making only three starts for New York that summer, going 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.286 WHIP in 14 innings. He lasted parts of just two more years with the Mets, finishing his tenure in Flushing by going 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.493 WHIP in 39 games, 35 of them starts. He never threw another pitch in the major leagues after the 2007 season.
Scott Kazmir made 117 starts for Tampa Bay from 2005 through 2008. He went 45-34 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.351 WHIP. Kazmir threw 689.2 innings in that span, averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings and striking out 2.39 hitters for every walk. Even though he has not been the same pitcher since then, Kazmir could have been an important part of New York’s rotation during those years. The 2006 Mets were a game away from the World Series, losing in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. The ’07 and ’08 Mets blew huge divisional leads late in September to miss the playoffs in both years. With Kazmir in the rotation during those years, the Mets may have been able to win a World Series in 2006 while also at least making playoff appearances in ’07 and ’08.
The 2011 New York Mets have been an interesting story. David Wright and Ike Davis have played in only 39 and 36 games, respectively. Chris Young was 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts before going down with an injury. Ace Johan Santana has yet to throw a pitch this year, and the Mets have gotten almost no production from $16.5 million per year man Jason Bay, who is hitting just .237 with a .320 on-base percentage, .336 slugging percentage, four doubles, six home runs and 28 runs batted in in 65 games. Stories have swirled about the Mets’ financial troubles, due to owner Fred Wilpon losing millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. Wilpon also criticized star players Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran in a May issue of The New Yorker.
Yet, even with the things that have not gone the Mets way, New York has overachieved throughout the first half of the year. A monster year by Reyes (.354/.398/.529, 22 doubles, 15 triples, 3 homers, 32 RBIs, 30 stolen bases), who is leading the NL in hits, batting average, triples and runs, as well as a bounce-back year from Beltran (.285/.377/.503, 28 doubles, 13 home runs, 58 RBIs) has helped the Mets offense rank fifth in the NL in runs (399), third in batting average (.262) and second in on-base percentage (.333). Combined with a very good bullpen and an above-average rotation that features R.A. Dickey (18 starts, 4-7, 3.61 ERA, 1.317 WHIP, 2.23 K/BB ratio in 114.2 innings) and pleasant surprises Jonathon Niese (18 starts, 8-7, 3.88 ERA, 1.356 WHIP, 2.63 K/BB ratio in 111.1 innings) and Dillon Gee (14 starts, 8-3, 3.76 ERA, 1.195 WHIP, 1.76 K/BB ratio in 88.2 innings), the Mets are in third place in the NL East, with a record above .500, at 46-45.
The Mets are actually closer to a playoff spot right now than they were in 2004 when they traded for Zambrano. New York may be 11 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for first place in the NL East, but they are 7.5 games behind the Braves in the NL Wild Card race. However, the Mets cannot make the same mistake they made in 2004. The Braves own the fourth-best record in baseball and it is unlikely that the Mets can chase them down, even with Wright, Davis and Santana returning from injuries in the second half of the season. The Mets must look to the future and trade away as many high-priced veterans as they can to rebuild a farm system that is widely-regarded as one of the 10 worst in baseball.
New York should do whatever possible to get minor league talent for Beltran, starting pitcher Chris Capuano (17 starts, 8-8, 4.12 ERA, 1.354 WHIP, 2.90 K/BB ratio in 102.2 innings), closer Francisco Rodriguez (42 games, 2-2, 3.16 ERA, 23 saves, 1.406 WHIP, 2.88 K/BB ratio in 44.2 innings) and relievers Jason Isringhausen (38 games, 1-0, 3.14 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, 1.62 K/BB ratio in 28.2 innings) and Tim Byrdak (39 games, 1-0, 3.91 ERA, 1.478 WHIP, 2.55 K/BB ratio in 23 innings). Beltran, Capuano, Isringhausen and Byrdak are all in the last years of their respective contracts, while Rodriguez has a $17.5 million option for next year if he finishes 55 games. Trading away those veterans would also free up money for the financially-troubled Mets to re-sign Reyes this offseason, who will most likely be seeking a contract worth over $100 million. Even though Reyes is in the final year of his deal, the Mets should look to keep him unless they get an offer that blows them away, as Reyes is the face of the franchise and his style of play is important for much-needed ticket sales during the rest of the season.
By becoming “sellers” at the trade deadline, the Mets are saying goodbye to their chances in 2011. However, trading for minor league talent will allow the Mets to establish a young supporting cast around Jose Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis. Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson has a great opportunity to increase payroll flexibility and replenish New York’s farm system within the next three weeks. The right decision to surrender this season will make the future look that much brighter.