OAKLAND, Calif. - Today, rookie pitcher Scott Kazmir makes his second big-league start, and judging by the reaction to his first he might be the best thing in baseball since night games.
From Tampa Bay to New York, the trade of Devil Rays ace Victor Zambrano to the Mets for Kazmir looks like Babe Ruth-for-cash. That's because of what has happened since.
Zambrano landed on the disabled list with a bum elbow, while Kazmir pitched five shutout innings the Rays' 9-0 victory against the Mariners on Monday.
It doesn't take the New York media or fans much ammunition to stir up controversy, but the Kazmir trade is going over like sour milk in the Big Apple, partly because expectations for Kazmir were so high among the Mets and their fans. And, don't forget, just a year ago the Mets deemed Kazmir as "untouchable."
Writers from three New York newspapers covered Kazmir's debut, only fanning the flames in New York. In addition, the Mets called up rookie Aaron Heilman, their 2001 first-round pick, from the minors on the same night, and he was bounced around by the Padres in a loss.
Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, though, isn't ready to concede that the Rays fleeced the Mets.
"This is not a three-week trade," Peterson told the Daily News of New York. "It's a deal that can't be evaluated for three years."
It's hard to criticize the Mets for trading Kazmir. At the time of the deal, they were trying to win now. They picked up Pirates ace Kris Benson at the same time. Peterson explained the Mets needed starting pitchers now and wanted a rotation set for next season. As good as Kazmir might be, it was too much to expect him to be ready for the Mets next season. Heck, it might be asking too much for him to be in the Rays rotation next season.
So the Mets took a risk. The Rays? Well, it was really no risk at all.
Zambrano was the ace, but that isn't saying a lot. It wasn't as if the Rays were giving up a Curt Schilling. Zambrano would not be the ace on most teams, and even on a struggling team such as the Mets he's no more than a No. 4 starter. Still, the Rays likely were faced with paying Zambrano as much as $10-million in a couple of seasons, way more than a team such as the tight-budgeted Rays would want to pay a pitcher of Zambrano's productivity.
In the long run, Peterson is right: It's a deal that can't be judged for a while and certainly not after three weeks. Still, judging by Kazmir's debut, it looks like a solid long-term deal for the Rays. And if Kazmir pitches today like he did Monday, the deal looks pretty good right now, too.
YOUNG ARMS: With Kazmir's emergence and Dewon Brazelton's flashes of greatness, manager Lou Piniella is intrigued by the potential of his pitching staff: "I tell you what. This is a good young staff we're starting to put together here. I like the potential that I see." Kazmir is 20. Brazelton is 24. Jorge Sosa is 26. Doug Waechter is 23. And though Mark Hendrickson is 30, he played in the NBA for a few seasons and has a young arm. This is only his second full season in the majors.
GETTING THE CALL: Major-league teams can expand their rosters starting Wednesday, but don't look for the Rays to call up too many minor-leaguers. "Just four or five, maybe," Piniella said. "After all, we already have a bunch of (young players) here right now."
At midseason, most expected players such as B.J. Upton and Jorge Cantu to get a September callup, but they already are here. The Rays also called up Kazmir. Plus they will soon get back Waechter and Rocco Baldelli from the disabled list.
Expected to be called up are outfielders Joey Gathright and Matt Diaz and pitchers Franklin Nunez, Chad Gaudin and maybe Seth McClung if the Rays don't shut him down as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.