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What Have We Learned?

Posted By Greg Prince On July 30, 2005 @ 6:18 am In Main Page | Comments Disabled

I think I said something the other night about not overreacting to every trade rumor that comes down the pike, even those flying warp-speed down the Mass Pike. So until somebody's holding a press conference (or I'm convinced that my words will reach and impact Omar's war room — “Greg's OK with it…tell Theo it's a go” — I'm not going to waste a lot of typed breath on Manny for Cammy or whatever composition the rumor of the night will take by dawn. Trades are hard enough to judge after they're made, so it's highly unlikely one can make sense of them before they happen.

As the entire Western World and informed slices of Kamchatka, Madagascar and the Ukraine know, this is the one-year anniversary of the Kazmir/Diaz-Zambrano/Fortunato and Wigginton/Peterson/Huber-Benson/Keppinger deals. (Talk about the Mets taking a Risk.) As there was no Faith and Fear in Flushing or along the Ballogosphere in 2004, I dug into my e-mail sent box and found what I wrote to various fan-friends a year ago at this time.

Let's see how my logic let alone emotion hold up 365 days later.

INITIAL REACTION

Kazmir and Jose Diaz (from last year's Burnitz deal) for Zambrano. Justin Huber, the erstwhile catcher of the future, to KC for a guy who got packaged with Wigginton and Peterson for Benson. There were some spare parts sprinkled around as well.

Bravo! This team could not go on forever with two elderly lefties, one Trachsel and rolling the dice the rest of the week. It may be an uninformed, gut instinct kneejerk reaction, but I've lost patience with can't-miss pitching prospects after a lifetime of Hank Webb, Scott Holman, David West, Anthony Young, Bill Pulsipher, Aaron Heilman and the rest. I don't know if it's too late with this team for 2004 but if Benson gets signed for the years beyond (allegedly it's going in that direction), we have the makings of a rotation for 2005. I'll miss Wiggy, who may turn into a more affable Jeff Kent but is just as likely to become a beefier Joe McEwing. He'll always be remembered in the Dave Mlicki/Matt Franco wing of the Mets Hall of Fame. These two pitchers are upgrades over Seo and Whoever. This is a professional move. I'll wipe the egg off my face if Kazmir and Peterson become gems.

SEVERAL HOURS LATER

I'm in the minority who are enthusiastic, or at least not apoplectic, about these moves. Something had to be up with Kazmir for him to go from golden boy to Zambrano trade bait. I guess I've waited through too many “just you wait” pitching prospects who have never produced to any serious extent (or stayed healthy on the road to producing eventually) to be as stunned by this sort of thing as I would have thought. I have to question the scouting that chooses Scott Kazmir out of high school two short years ago as the No. 1 pick only to have the organization decide now he's either too small, too frail or too much of a Shane Spencer to keep around.

As for Benson and getting him in the winter as a free agent, that's a logical route to take, but so were any number of free agents the Mets haven't signed over the years. Granted, this is along the lines of “stop me before I don't sign again,” but I like grabbing him now.

I don't have many illusions about 2004. Even winning the final two games in Atlanta would make them a longshot for this year. But you have two guys (Zambrano's arm problem is just tightness, god I hope) who are under 30, know how to pitch and can be here for a couple of years. If we are to believe that Kazmir and Peterson were not going to be ready to be here on any serious basis until 2006, I don't know where this rotation was going. You can't go through life with 3-1/2 starters in a five-man rotation, which has been the case since last year.

Wigginton is an asset but I sense his value, à la Jay Payton when they traded him two years ago (that worked out well), isn't going to get much higher. I don't see him being much more of a hitter than he is now and he's a defensive liability. Good guy, hard-nosed player and there's nothing wrong with having him around, but his departure doesn't create a long-term void.

Most of all, I trust Jim Duquette. He hasn't steered us wrong, really, on any move he's made since becoming GM (let's assume Kaz was Wilpon's pet project). I'll also have to trust Rick Peterson. I'm a little shakier on that one.

THE FOLLOWING AFTERNOON

This is an organization that's consistently overvalued its own prospects and has been slammed for not wanting to trade them at any cost. Maybe there's a cold, hard eye at work with Duquette that sees a little more to the formerly untouchable pitchers. I'm happy they never traded Reyes or Wright. Pitchers are trickier creatures. Granted, this could easily blow up, and if it does, it's a terrible move. But please tell me the last time this organization developed a starting pitcher of any staying power, one who didn't have to go through, like Richard Nixon, My Six Crises to come up to the Mets, pitch consistently and stay for several years.

Bobby Jones is the answer, by the way. Look around baseball and find me the Met pitching prospect who got away and is making them look bad for it as a STARTING pitcher. Other than Paul Wilson, who the Mets patiently nursed along for four injury-plagued years, I can't think of a single one who is even working in that capacity.

I trust Duquette a lot more than I trusted the previous regime and thus far he hasn't made a verifiable awful move as GM. (Let's assume Kaz the Stupendous Shortstop was a Wilpon Family Production.) What I don't trust is the scouting department that takes Scott Kazmir out of high school as the No. 1 pick a year after taking Aaron Heilman out of college a year earlier as the No. 1 pick, with neither of them considered worthy of a serious Mets future two and three years later, respectively. That also speaks to ownership, but them's the only owners we's got.

ONE YEAR LATER

The thing that strikes me is how everything that's going at any given moment is so…current…that it defies the possibility that anything can ever be different from what it is “now”. Jim Duquette as Grand Poobah? Ty Wigginton as a potentially missable commodity? Kaz Matsui as ensconced shortstop? Aaron Heilman as unqualified disaster? Shane Spencer as topical point of reference? It's a year later and the world has seriously changed.

What hasn't is I stand by my first reaction. I'm not unhappy we made the trades. All right, technically that wasn't my first reaction. My first reaction was “Bravo!” I think I tend to get overly excited when I hear we've acquired players I've heard of. And, as mentioned previously [1] in this space [2], I've lost patience over the epoch of my fandom for that great prospect to come up and be lights out. It hasn't happened in twenty years and it hasn't come close to happening in ten.

I'm willing to concede that the timing of dealing your No. 1 pitching prospect in a deadline rush and not shopping him around if you were determined to move him wasn't a great idea. Could have we gotten more for him? We'll never know. What I'm not willing to concede is that Scott Kazmir will develop into Barry Zito or Ron Guidry or Steve Carlton or Warren Spahn (where is it written that every lefty prospect must be ideally compared to Sandy Koufax?). Maybe he will make the Mets look Nolan Ryan dumb. I doubt it. I doubt anybody gets out of Tampa Bay alive. What I've seen and tracked of him this year reveals a talented pitcher who shouldn't be in the big leagues yet except against the Red Sox whose number he surely has. His first Ray year hasn't revealed, at least to me, a can't-miss guy, somebody who will easily exceed what we've gotten out of Victor Zambrano.

This isn't about loving Zambrano, whom I think we would all agree has done a solid and occasionally splendid job after working out (for the most part) his early kinks. This is about, as was noted in one of those e-mails, living for something approximating the present and near future. In 2004, that near future was 2005. We have to play every season and I still can't wrap my head around the concept that the Mets must always build for two, three years from now. There is a segment of Metsopotamian who does it with every pitcher and hitter who is smart enough to have never played at Shea Stadium, thus remaining unspoiled in our dreams.

You brought up Escobar. You could've brought up Ochoa. Or Preston Wilson. Or Terrence Long. Those were guys we absolutely couldn't trade because what will we do without them? We did fine for the most part. When we didn't, it wasn't because they weren't here. Those players are having (or had) careers filled with ups and downs. Tonight's handwringing across the bandwidth over the possibility of losing Lastings Milledge seems characteristically quivery and, as ever, a tad premature in terms of what Milledge may mean way off in the distance.

Not every guy we've never seen is a superstar-in-waiting no matter how much we want him to be. There's a reason proven quantities are called that, and if you can get a good one in exchange for a quantity that you're not Reyes/Wright confident will move beyond unproven, you can't be allergic to at least thinking about moving him.

If that's true tonight, it was true one year ago tonight. We needed pitching not just for the last two months of 2004 but for all of 2005 and 2006. Zambrano filled that need. So did Benson. Yes, a free-agent contract had to be signed to keep Kris here but there's something to be said for a period of adjustment. In Newsday Friday, Benson all but told David Lennon [3] that he probably would've signed with the Braves had it not been for his trial run in New York last year. The Braves are hard enough to chase as is. Imagine them with Kris Benson and us without him.

As for who we gave up to get the pitcher, Wiggy, god love him, is in the minors. So is Peterson. Both have regressed. There's some hindsightful Huber humbug in the air because he's torn it up in triple-A. But his receiving star had seriously waned by the time he was traded and he's playing first in the Kansas City system. Haven't we already converted enough catchers to first basemen?

I could very well be wrong about embracing these trades then and now. The future might bear that out. We'll never know about the alternate reality, however. Would have Kazmir flourished here? Gotten the traditional Mets pitching prospect arm injury? Could a Kazmir-to-Boston trade last off-season netted us the young catcher we now seek? Would we have found somebody besides Benson? Would have Matt Ginter become a No. 2 starter? If some bad man hadn't said to Doc Gooden, “here, try this,” would I be looking for a Wi-Fi connection in Cooperstown this weekend?

There's one thing we do know about what happened in the aftermath of the Zambrano and Benson deals. As Ted Robinson reminded FSN-NY viewers, the Mets went right out after obtaining their new pitchers and succumbed to Atlanta, three straight. Whatever illusions they entertained about contending in '04 dissipated then and there.

Disgusting was my mother's word for anything she found the least bit disturbing. Friday night in Houston was disgusting. The Dirty Thirty after eleven games west of the Mississippi: 2-9. I keep harping on these road trips because they are the traditional trap of Mets pretenders and three of them were backloaded onto the second half of the schedule. A team that wants to contend wins when it travels at least half the time.

The evidence is this is not a team hellbent on contending in 2005. The next two games at Minute Maid are critical. Two more Wild Card contenders, the Brewers (barely) and the Cubs (legitimate) come to Shea. Then it's back over the Mighty Mississip' for more make/break if we're not already broken by then. Can Manny Ramirez reverse all that, not just now but next year and for the life of his luxury contract?

That's not a rhetorical question. I really don't know.


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URL to article: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2005/07/30/what-have-we-learned/

URLs in this post:

[1] mentioned previously: http://mets2005.myblogsite.com/blog/_archives/2005/2/21/342339.html

[2] this space: http://mets2005.myblogsite.com/blog/_archives/2005/4/28/630113.html

[3] all but told David Lennon: http://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/mets/ny-spminside294362550jul29,0,234677.story?coll=ny-mets-print

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