This blog originally started in the next paragraph, or depending how long I ramble on here it’s probably easier if I just say the paragraph that starts with “This year is 2017”. Well, now the year is 2018 and probably the same month and I’m just refreshing the blog, particularly because it was a “Time sensitive” piece. Not time sensitive in the traditional meaning, but it was just about how much time has passed since a certain lousy event in Met’s history.
For the record, and see told you so on the rambling before getting to the “Start” of this blog, I’m refreshing all the baseball blogs this year. What? OK, here goes. Last year, around this time, I started quietly writing a weekly baseball blog. I posted 34 blogs in total during the course of the long baseball season. I say quietly, because though the blogs were public, they weren’t advertised and really only sent off to about five people to read. This year I’m going to reissue the blogs one at a time while trying to go viral with an audience.
The blogging evolved over the season and started with this short one on Kazmir, which was OK at best. As the blogs went on they got better, longer and some of them are flat out phenomenal. That said, I find it very necessary to “Clean up” each weekly blog before the reissue. This will include adding some new content, refreshing ones that have the sensitivity around the time and just some general polishing. The blogs will be released on the same cadence of last year, which is around once a week.
Real quick, it’s now 2018 and Scott Kazmir is still pithing in the major leagues! Granted he had an injury plagued season last year, but he’s still going and now it’ with the Atlanta Braves. He’s down in camp as we speak battling for a spot in the starting rotation. Who cares? Well, his longevity it’s the basis and crux of this blog! Enjoy, and I hope to see you for the next 30 weeks or so.
The year is 2017 and spring training is in full swing. The Dodgers just reported that starting pitcher Scott Kazmir will be out the next few weeks nursing a quad injury. The time-frame to recovery and actual injury might not be exact, but close enough. What’s remotely interesting about this is that Kazmir is another example of a Met trade gone terribly wrong.
The in depth part will be a look back at what went wrong, how and why. Depending how old you are there is a reasonable possibility that you had no clue that Kazmir was once part of the Met’s organization. It’s reasonable because you may not have born yet. If you’re reading this you probably were, but you get the Clutch point.
On the surface, and without digging our heels into the details this doesn’t seem like too big a deal. Back a couple of decades ago the Met’s traded away the jewel of their farm system for a veteran. It happens all the time, and usual around a pennant race. There is typically nothing to see here other than the team getting the youth giving up a little more with the aged proven player. This is often because the old guy is at the end of contract and holds less than comparable value.
On the flip side of that, the team obtaining the youth is the team usually taking the larger gamble. The minor league asset is almost always unproven, even if they are considered a high prospect. That’s because the key word there is prospect. Until that player does it at the major league level they are an unknown. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule where the player is a lock or guarantee to succeed at the next level. In Kazmir’s case he was closer to the lock than the risk.
For time capsule purposes it is March of 2017 and Scott Kazmir is still an effective pitcher on a major league baseball team. He is currently in the midst of his second run with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a starting pitcher. This will be his 14th year in the bigs, which is quite an accomplishment for any professional athlete in any sport. Kazmir spent many seasons with the Rays, and how he got there is the crux of this blog, and then a few southern and western teams.
Kazmir was drafted mid first-round by the Met’s in 2002 and was touted as the next great pitcher to come up the ranks in the organization. There are only a few things finer than having a left-hander with a 90+ MPH fastball and variety of other useful pitches in the wings. Scott moved up in the minors relatively quickly, certainly quicker than most, and was posting great numbers in AA ball in the spring of 2004. Yeah, that was just a short 13 seasons ago.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that most players in the minor leagues never make it. It’s nothing against them or their abilities, but more of a numbers game. There are only so many major league baseball jobs available, and only a select few will fill those positions. The others will be in perennial tryout mode, hoping to make it until the dream finally fizzles. As mentioned, certain players rise above and the minors are considered more practice than a tryout.
Many coaches and scouts believe that AA ball is “The next best thing” to major league baseball. Though technically it’s one level below AAA ball, AAA is sometime touted more as a dumping ground for players who are just not good enough to make it one more level up to the big leagues. That said, I you can perform well in AA you are likely a candidate to one day play on a major league roster. If you perform really well in AA then you are probably ready to go to the big club on a days’ notice.
As we all know, and if you don’t you will now, the Met's traded the then “Phenom” minor-leaguer in 2004 for Victor Zambrano to help with a playoff run. They (The Met’s) needed an extra starting pitcher to help with the pennant race, and thought the obtaining one would increase the possibility of making the playoffs. It’s the old “Win now” mentality that caused a trigger to be pulled.
“Win now”, besides the obvious definition, is a policy of sorts where a team feels they are in position to win in the current season if they add a last piece to a puzzle. Why it’s even a thing, let alone a policy, is that in major league baseball it is flat-out hard to win. Making the playoffs is tough, and sifting through that to the World Series is even tougher. If a team is feeling like they are in position to make it – they do whatever it takes to push that through.
Before we get going on why this particular “Win now” transaction was not a good one, let’s note that Victor Zambrano, the key cog of the trade to the Met’s, wasn't even the best "Zambrano" in the league that year, let alone a really good pitcher. The better one was Carlos, who was a fire-baller for the Chicago Cubs. Now If the trade was for Carlos Zambrano, the Met’s would have been hailed as heroes, though it is notable that his career would be shorter than that of Scott.
So let’s go – the Met’s traded Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, now affectionately known as just the “Rays” because someone(s) were upset that a team had the word “Devil” in it, for V. Zambrano. The Tampa Bay team name change, and reason for it, will possible be the subject for another blog another day. The reason the “Win now” required this trade was that the Met’s felt that Kazmir, though a budding star, wasn’t ready to pitch effectively at the major league level.
1. The Rays (Devilrays back then) called Kazmir up from the minors immediately. Why didn't the Met's just do that? Kazmir won 2 games in 2004...Zambrano? "0".
2. Kazmir through a gem yesterday for the Dodgers...12 years later. Zambrano? Had a sub-par year in 2005 and then pitched 40 more innings combined in 2006/7 before hanging up his cleets. Where he is now? Parts unknown, weight unknown.
3. General note on the quirks and misunderstandings of baseball (This might be my next book). In ALL other major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, etc.) a player competes in the big leagues when selected in a draft (either out of college, or high-school these days). They are ready to compete there and then. The only exception is MLB - where players need to be groomed for several years in the minor leagues, especially pitchers. I never quite understood that. The only recent exception to this is the NBA D-League where un-drafted players and castaways can fight their way to or back into the light. Even there, the D league is not pre-school for future NBA players. It's just a place to keep some reasonable talent fresh in the event that a current player twists an ankle. For the NBA - the pre-school is called college. That's another Clutch rant for another day.