Steve Phillips’ Folly: A Retrospective

Alright you guys. We all know where this is going. The 2004 New York Mets were something of a hilarious train wreck. A combination of injuries, a dumpster fire of a bullpen, and Steve Phillips’ incompetence created the perfect storm for long-term laughs and great personal satisfaction. On July 10th, Phillips pulled the trigger on a trade to land the top pitcher on the trade market, Victor Zambrano. On the surface, you could almost rationalize this decision. Scott Metsmir On July 9th, the Mets were a mere 2 games back in the division, but only 3 games over .500. In a couple of weeks they had shaved a 7 game deficit down to nothing. They had six guys in their lineup with respectable slash lines, including up and comers David Wright and Jose Reyes, and a rotation fronted by 2004 All-Star and future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. They would finish 25 games back with a 71-91 record. July 9th would be the high-water mark, as they would never be more than 2 games over .500 the rest of the way. Behind the mid-summer glamour were a bevy of injuries. Only one regular–Mike Cameron–would play over 130 games. Behind Glavine, Steve Trachsel, Al Leiter, and Jae Weong Seo would all post FIP’s above 4.75 over almost 500 innings. In the ‘pen, Dan Wheeler, David Weathers, Aaron Heilman, and former Braves whipping boy Tyler Yates chucked 159 combined innings with a 5.26 ERA. They were dead before they started, but that didn’t keep Phillips from trading his top pitching prospect for a mediocre starter. The Scott Kazmir – Victor Zambrano trade is a landmark moment in my life. Not because I cared. But because it proved Steve Phillips and the Mets suck. Steve PhillipsThe Mets didn’t come close to the playoffs that year. In 2005 and 2006, Victor Zambrano would pitch to 4.27 and 6.33 FIP’s before succumbing to injuries. After leaving the Mets in 2007, he’d come back from his minor league rehab stints to throw 23 very bad innings. He would bounce around the minors, but less than three years after being traded for one of the top prospects in baseball, Victor Zambrano’s major league career was over. Scott Kazmir’s career turned out pretty okay. He was called up in August of 2004 to make his first major league start, and proceeded to be one of the best starters in baseball for a pathetic Rays team. From 2004 until he was traded in 2009, Kazmir posted 16+ fWAR for Tampa. It’s unfortunate that the Rays didn’t become a threat until his arm began to give out on him, but during those five years he owned an electric fastball and one of the deadliest sliders in the game. Reports of dead arm surfaced in 2008 and thoroughly derailed his 2009, as his K’s fell and his already questionable control began to become a serious issue. He was shipped off to the Angels mid-season for a group of prospects, including a player to be named later. That PTBNL was Sean Rodriguez. Rodriguez has spent the entirety of his Major League career with Tampa as a utility guy, filling in at every position except catcher and pitcher. Despite never being a regular, he’s posted 6+ fWAR over his 5 years with the Rays, and Rodriguez was a key contributor in 2010/2011 as the Rays began their run of dominance in the AL East. All told, the Rays got over 22 fWAR from the Victor Zambrano trade, while Zambrano himself was abysmal, contributing only 1.5 fWAR in his time in Flushing. Dreaming about what the Mets could’ve done with another arm to compliment Glavine only adds insult to injury. The ’05/’06 teams could’ve been loaded with Wright, Reyes, Glavine, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran, Cliff Floyd, Piazza/Lo Duca, Pedro Martinez, and in ’06, Carlos Delgado and surprisingly competent campaigns from Jose Valentin and Xavier Nady. The bullpen shaped up a bit with Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano, and a little more experience under Heilman’s belt. There’s a reason (besides the Barves collapsing) that the 2006 team won the division and took the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals to 7 games. That’s a legitimately deep, scary, talented core. Adding Kazmir to Glavine/Pedro would’ve only made them that much more dangerous. As a baseball fan, it sucks to not have been afforded the opportunity to see Kazmir pitching meaningful baseball in his prime. As a Braves fan, I continue to revel in Steve Phillips short-sighted stupidity and laugh at their grand misfortune. While Zambrano was done, Kazmir and Rodriguez’s careers continue. Kazmir reinvented himself, no longer armed with the ability to crank his fastball up to 97, and his slider missing the bite that made it absolutely lethal. Rodriguez keeps trucking away in Tampa, one decent bench season at a time. I was going to end this after reflecting on what could have been with the Mets, but then I learned that SCOTT KAZMIR IS ONLY 30 YEARS OLD. Did I know he broke in when he was 20? Yes. Did it compute with me that he’s still only 30? No. That’s insane. It’s like finding out LeBron is in his 11th year, but is only 29. Except Scott Kazmir has been through the kind of ups and downs/injuries/surgeries/reinventing of himself stories that are normally reserved for old guys. He’s still relatively young and is part of one of the most lethal rotations in baseball. Steve Phillips has given us the greatest gift. He gave us almost a decade of laughs at the Mets’ expense. And he’s given us Scott Kazmir–Tampa’s first legitimate ace, Angels batting practice pitcher, Indians reclamation story, and 4th starter in a killer rotation on the best team in baseball.


I loathe Nick Markakis

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