It seems like he’s been around since the Hoover administration, but the baby-faced lefty who Jim Duquette traded for Victor Zambrano is still only 33. (I swear I thought it was Steve Phillips, but Mr. Google tells me I’m wrong.) For the last three years, according to Similarity Scores, his most similar pitcher by age has been Ubaldo Jimenez, and his top four pitchers by overall similarity score are Yovani Gallardo, Francisco Liriano, Wilson Alvarez, and Tim Lincecum. He looks young, but his arm’s already fallen off once, and being associated with those names would seem to suggest that it’s liable to do so again some time soon.
As Jeff Pearlman recounts it, it’s heartwarming fun to revisit the trade:
It has been nearly six years to the day since Duquette, in his only season as New York’s GM, famously dealt his team’s top prospect, the 20-year-old Kazmir, to Tampa Bay for a pitcher who, in 2003, led the American League in walks, wild pitches and hit batsmen. Not that Zambrano didn’t have an upside. He threw hard, his fastball had some wicked movement and, at age 28, he was still in the prime of his career.
“The feeling is that we still have a chance (this year),” Duquette said at the time. “We’re still in the mix. Let’s go for it. With these guys added to the rotation [the Mets also acquired Kris Benson from Pittsburgh] we have a chance to win every night.”
The trade was a disaster.
At the time, New York was seven games behind Atlanta in the NL East standings and 7 1/2 back of San Diego for the wild card. It was a listless, heartless, ill-fitted collection of players. Mike Piazza missed 94 games the year before, 2003, which was an utter disaster (66-95) from the start as opposed to a season that eventually spiraled into hopelessness the way 2004 did. In 2004, Piazza was healthy but woefully miscast at first base. Jason Philips was the great bespectacled hope behind the plate, Kaz Matsui was butchering balls at shortstop, a person named Eric Valent somehow accumulated 270 at-bats and the overmatched Art Howe was managing. With or without two new starting pitchers, the Mets were wretched. They finished the year 71-91, a whopping 25 games behind Atlanta and 21 out of the wild card.
Kazmir’s basically had two careers: through age 24, he was a fireballing two-time All-Star in Tampa Bay, with 9.7 K/9 and a 123 ERA+. He was awful the next three seasons and missed all of 2012 due to injury. But he made a remarkable comeback, and from 2013 to 2016, he pitched in a different city every year and mustered 8.3 K/9 and a 103 ERA+: he had basically gone from Tim Lincecum to Kirk Rueter. But considering that Lincecum himself couldn’t do that, it was pretty remarkable. And then he missed all of 2017 due to injury, too.
Expectations for Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy in 2017 should be more or less exactly the same as they were for Jaime Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and R.A. Dickey in 2016. As countless motivational posters have cheerfully exclaimed, expect nothing, and you’ll never be disappointed.
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