Thursday, April 30, 2020

The One That Got Away

I knew when I started blogging again, I was going to have to get to this eventually. I almost returned to blogging in the winter of 2018-2019 to share my personal thoughts on the trade with the Mariners, but work was so crazy at that point that there literally wasn't any free time. Still, I found myself doing something that I actually did quite often during my decade blogging hiatus: composing a potential blog post in my head on the subject of the trade of Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz.

The final push to actually write this post today was this article by Joel Sherman in the New York Post yesterday. I did a double-take when I first saw the piece. I gulped and asked myself, is Joel Sherman already saying this trade is the equivalent of the Mets trading future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan for the dried-up husk of Jim Fregosi? While further reading actually contained some good points that I agreed with, the premise was so clearly a bridge too far that it made it very hard to just not look away in horror.

There is a whole genre of New York sports writing that involves constantly looking at any prospect the Mets trade away and throwing it back at Mets fans. I wrote about this back in early April, so I won't cover that ground again, but before I share some thoughts on trading Kelenic, I'd like to point out some little tidbits.

When I started blogging in 2005, that year's Kelenic was Scott Kazmir, who departed the Mets in 2004 in a virtually indefensible trade for Victor Zambrano. As a Mets fan, I was treated to constant updates from the local scribes on how Kazmir was doing with the Rays. You would have thought the young lefty was on a Hall of Fame path. It's been a few years since Kazmir last pitched in the majors, so, on an impulse, I looked at what he accomplished in his MLB career.

Do you want to guess how many times Kazmir surpassed 200 IP in his career? Those of you who chose "once" can pat yourself on the back for your correct answer. He went over 190 innings one other time and 180 innings two other times. His next highest IP was 158. He missed the 2012 season completely after pitching all of 1 2/3 innings in 2011.

If you take out his first MLB season where he only made 7 starts and his single appearance season in 2011, he averaged 165 innings pitched over 10 seasons. He made over 30 starts four times. ERA+ is a stat that compares a pitcher to the rest of the league and adjusts for his home ballpark. An ERA+ of 100 is average. Kazmir's lifetime ERA+ was 104, slightly above average. He had a good, solid major league career and was damn good early on in that career.

This isn't to excuse the trade. The Mets could have used a starter of his caliber in 2005 - 2008 when he was at his best. Even if they were committed to trading Kazmir - the club reportedly had questions about his makeup and potential durability - he should have brought back more than Victor Zambrano. But the way the local media constantly beat Mets fans over the head with Scott Kazmir was a joke. And when the kid's career stalled, they just stopped talking about him.

Fast forward 11 years to July 2015. The Mets picked up Yoenis Céspedes from the Tigers in exchange for pitchers Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa. This trade is, of course, rather easy to defend from the Mets' point of view compared with the Kazmir debacle. Céspedes led the Mets to the World Series that year.

There was a cost, however. The following season Fulmer debuted with the Tigers. He made 26 starts, showed electric stuff, and won AL Rookie of the Year. The next season Fulmer made 25 more starts and was an All-Star.

If you're a Mets fan, you probably know all of that because you heard about it constantly. The local press never tired of talking about Fulmer's success, ad nauseam. But you also may find yourself wondering, whatever happened to that kid recently? You can be forgiven for this because those same press guys who loved to bring up Michael Fulmer in 2016 and 2017 stopped talking about him.

FYI, Fulmer has gone through some tough times since 2017. A series of injuries and surgeries, culminating in Tommy John, has sidelined the kid repeatedly. He hasn't pitched since amassing 132 innings in a below-average 2018 season. Hopefully, he'll make it back, but he's got a tough road ahead. Fulmer stopped being a story locally when he stopped being a cudgel to beat Met fans over the head. And no, it gives me no pleasure that the kid has had so many problems. I hope he makes it all the way back, even if that means regaining his status as fodder for "let's punish Met fans" stories.

So now it's an absolute certainty that Kelenic is bound for Cooperstown. I guess I should just crawl into a corner and have a good cry over it. Supposedly he's become a nightmare for Mets fans like myself - although, to be honest with you, I don't recall him showing up in dreams, good or bad.

I honestly wish the kid the best, and I really, really wish that someone had talked Brodie Van Wagenen out of a very questionable deal that had more red flags than a Soviet military parade. But the way over-the-top comparison with the Ryan trade is just quite shameless hyperbole.

I've been writing too many novellas lately, and sharing my thoughts on the Jarred Kelenic deal is going to take quite a few more words. Let's call this a 2-part post and leave the rest for tomorrow.

Stay well, everyone. If Jarred Kelenic shows up in a nightmare for you tonight, just tell him to take a hike. See you tomorrow.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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