In 2004, general manager Jim Duquette thought the Mets were a playoff contender, as the team was just three games out of first place on July 22. But one week later, the Mets were seven games off the pace and falling fast. Not wanting to give up on the season, Duquette traded away the team's top pitching prospect, Scott Kazmir, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for pitcher Victor Zambrano.
The Mets finished the year with a 71-91 record, a full 25 games behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves. Kazmir went on to become a two-time All-Star (2006, 2008), strikeout champion (2005) and helped lead the Rays to an unexpected American League pennant in 2008. Duquette was replaced by Omar Minaya by the end of the 2004 campaign.
Fast forward seven years later. The San Francisco Giants were the defending World Series champions and had a 4½-game lead in the NL West on July 20. A week later, the lead was down to three games. At the time, Pablo Sandoval was the only player on the team with more than nine homers. The Giants were also last in the league in runs scored. They needed an offensive upgrade, and they needed it fast, especially with the high-scoring Arizona Diamondbacks closing ground. They thought they had that upgrade when general manager Brian Sabean acquired Carlos Beltran from the Mets on July 27. To complete the trade, Sabean sent the Giants' top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, to New York.
Beltran performed well for the Giants, batting .323 with 20 extra-base hits in just 44 games, but his teammates did not. San Francisco went 25-32 over the final two months of the season to finish eight games behind the Diamondbacks.
Both Jim Duquette and Brian Sabean parted ways with their best young hurlers, each of whom were former first-round draft picks, to acquire players they thought would help them in the short term. Neither move worked. But they did work for the teams who dealt for the minor leaguers.
Although Kazmir's wildness cost him a job in Tampa in 2009, he finally made it back to the majors this year with the Cleveland Indians. Kazmir is 7-7 with his new team and is posting the lowest walk ratio (3.0 BB/9 IP) of his career. He is also playing for a team that has remained in contention for a postseason berth all season. Meanwhile, Wheeler is off to a fast start with the Mets, going 7-3 with a 3.36 ERA in his first 14 starts. Wheeler has been particularly effective over his last five starts, striking out 31 batters and walking only six. The Mets have won four of those five games.
On Friday night, the Mets will be traveling to Cleveland to take on the Indians in their final interleague series of the season. Barring injury or bad weather, the pitching matchup for the series opener will be Scott Kazmir vs. Zack Wheeler. Yeah.
Kazmir will be making his first start against the team that traded him before giving him a chance in the majors. Wheeler will be taking his unblemished 5-0 road record (and 2.19 ERA) to Cleveland to face the Mets' former hotshot prospect.
Scott Kazmir was once traded away by the Mets to acquire a player who was supposed to help the team make a playoff run. That move failed for the Mets. Seven years later, the Mets fleeced the Giants by sending them a player who was supposed to help them defend their World Series title. That moved failed for the Giants.
Friday night, both storylines will collide in Cleveland, when the phenom the Mets traded away in 2004 faces the phenom the Mets traded for in 2011. Huey Lewis used to remind us in song form that "the heart of rock n' roll is in Cleveland". Well, from what I see for Friday's pitching matchup, I believe him.
Scott Kazmir vs. Zack Wheeler. It will truly be a rock n' roll pitching matchup Friday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland.