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Victor Zambrano: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

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by user DNL

Black Friday, as it is called in Mets circles, is known to the rest of the world as July 30, 2004. For some reason—or some drug-addled hallucination—then-Mets GM Jim Duquette shipped off uberprospect Scott Kazmir, for a ne'er-do-well project named Victor Zambrano.

The immediate reaction was both swift and harsh. The 2004 Mets were not truly competitive; their minor uptick in the standings was a function of luck and variance. Even if they were competitive, a nearly-ready Kazmir was probably as good, if not better, than a mediocre and inconsistent Zambrano. Nevertheless, the Mets pulled the trigger on what immediately went down as one of the worst deals in Mets history. (And remember, this is a team that gave away Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi and Tom Seaver for a bag of mice.)

Zambrano, in his defense, is not a bad pitcher. He's decent. A career ERA of 101. At age 30—even if he has only been in the Bigs for four years—we probably know what we are going to get out of him—150 to 180 IP and a 4.20 ERA, artificially low due to Shea's ballpark effect, but factoring that in, league average stuff. Certainly an acceptable fifth pitcher; maybe even a #4.

Unfortunately, both the Mets and their fans are comparing him, understandibly, to Kazmir. Kazmir is also an acceptable back of the rotation starter—but he has the upside of a true #1, is still in his pre-arbitration years, and is significantly younger. Oh, and he's a lefty.

For Mets fans, this comparison means than, unless Zambrano suddenly turns into Carlos, he's persona non grata at Shea. For management, well, it means that VZ is going to be an integral cog in the Mets system come hell or high water—and maybe even then.

As such, the Kazmir-for-Zambrano faux pas keeps costing the Mets. The pigheaded management strategy ("We'll show you," they said, shaking their fists) has, to date, given us Mets fans two further presents under the Zambrano tree, in addition the Kazmir in a D'Ray uniform we've all come to know and loathe.

Jae Seo, Los Angeles Dodger: Duaner Sanchez may turn out to be a big asset for the Mets, but the fact is that a solid starting pitcher—especially one at Seo's price point—is worth more than a solid relief pitcher. Seo was traded partially to make room in the rotation for Aaron Heilman. But this lack of room problem is a fiction. The Mets rotation, before the trade (and assuming that the Kris Benson deal would have occurred anyway) was Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, Zambrano, and Seo. Zambrano, however, is an inferior pitcher to both Seo and Heilman. The way to make room was obvious—move Zambrano to the pen. Or, rather, keep him in the pen—VZ spent most of the end of last season there.

Perhaps Mets management simply panicked, fearing that Billy Wagner could not hold down the fort by himself. Moving Heilman into the rotation in favor of Zambrano would further weaken the pen. So, the trade may be slightly justifiable. But only slightly, especially when one considers how foolishly short-sighted it was, as demonstrated by the Third Zambrano Gift.

Aaron Heilman, Relief Pitcher: Brian Bannister, Starting Pitcher, is probably a good thing. Worst case scenario, he gets bombed a few times and returns to Tidewater Norfolk. Ideally, he suddenly makes us forget all about that Roger Clemens guy. Most likely, though, Bannister is a decent back of the rotation starter for a full year. That is, he's Victor Zambrano, plus some upside. Kind of like Jae Seo, but maybe not as good.

And again, that's a good thing. The problem is that he's replacing the wrong pitcher. Zambrano should go to the pen (or another team); Heilman should get the #4 spot in the rotation. After all, the Seo trade makes the pen strong enough where Heilman's presence isn't needed (and no, I'm not buying the "but we lost Juan Padilla" baloney).

Now, Heilman is disgruntled, and probably will creep toward demanding a trade. Even worse, a pitcher who may be one of our top three is penned up. It makes one almost wish for an injury to a starter not named Pedro. After all, none of us want to see Heilman in a Devil Rays uniform, as one ArmchairGM contributor has rumored to be in the works.

Indeed, the Mets irrational love affair with Victor is turning into an ever-growing lump of coal, insofar as fans are concerned. At some point, Mike Pelfrey and Phillip Humber will be available. Let's home that management finally decides to cut its losses, before those two young guns can be

added to the list.


Fri 03/31/06, 7:50 am EST

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