Mets deal Kazmir, other prospects

Updated: July 31, 2004, 8:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Pitchers Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano were traded to the New York Mets on Friday, boosting a rotation that had relied all season on three aging starters.

Kris Benson
Starting Pitcher
New York Mets
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
G IP W-L BB SO ERA
20 132.1 8-8 44 83 4.22

A day before the non-waiver trading deadline, the Mets got busy in a big way -- and took a huge gamble.

To get Zambrano and minor league pitcher Bartolome Fortunato from Tampa Bay, the Mets sent their best pitching prospect -- Scott Kazmir -- and minor league pitcher Jose Diaz to the Devil Rays.

"In my new home, they're waiting for me," Zambrano said before the Devil Rays hosted Toronto. "I'm just going to go and do my 200 percent I can do there. I'll be happy to go there."

"All I can say, I appreciate the opportunity that they gave me. I'm just waiting to get to New York," he said.

Devil Rays GM Chuck Lamar told ESPN Radio Friday night that he lamented giving up Zambrano, but felt Kazmir was too good to pass up.

"It was a good trade for us, and I think it was a heck of a trade for the New York Mets," Lamar said. "Victor Zambrano has been here a long time. ... You hate to give him up but we've spent a lot of time and effort and money of getting a nucleus of our young position players. We knew this day was coming that we needed to start getting our hands on some pitching that can truly beat the Red Sox and Yankees in this division, and we think Scott Kazmir has that kind of ability."

For Benson, eligible for free agency after this season, and minor league infielder Jeff Keppinger, the Mets traded infielder Ty Wigginton, highly touted minor league pitcher Matt Peterson and infielder Jose Bautista to the Pirates. The Mets got Bautista earlier in the day from Kansas City for minor league catcher Justin Huber.

Victor Zambrano
Starting Pitcher
New York Mets
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
G IP W-L BB SO ERA
23 128.0 9-7 96 109 4.43

"It's kind of a relief just to get it over with. It's been a tough day," Benson said before the Pirates played at Miller Park. "If there was a team I'd be excited to go to, it would be them.

The Mets sent a private plane to Milwaukee to bring Benson to Atlanta, and he planned to start Saturday night against the Braves. He would be facing Atlanta for the third straight time.

"We're getting younger and transforming our roster that a year ago or two years ago was one of the oldest in baseball," Mets general manager Jim Duquette said. "Both of these pitchers are 29 years old, they still have a lot of mileage ahead of them, pitching-wise."

The Mets, led by starters Al Leiter, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel, entered the day trailing the Braves by six games in the NL East. New York, which started a weekend series in Atlanta, also are in the wild-card race.

Zambrano, who turns 29 next week, is 9-7 with a 4.43 ERA. The right-hander also is 10-1 lifetime in interleague play, having pitched well against NL teams.

Kazmir was the Mets' first-round pick in the 2002 draft, and was pitching at Double-A Binghamton. He has struck out 259 batters in 203 1-3 innings during his minor league career.

"I think we're getting one of the fine left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. I won't be surprised if he's not here come September," Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar said.

"We get our hands on a quality left-hander and have some financial flexibility, too," he said. "It's a move that's not easy to make at anytime, but we felt like it was the right time."

Zambrano was eligible for salary arbitration after this season.

"He's pitched well enough to deserve what the system says he's going to get paid," LaMar said. "He's arguably the best pitcher this organization ever had, somebody who could still improve at the major league level. But if not, he has proven he's an outstanding major league pitcher. He's had great success and I think that success will continue."

Benson, 29, is 8-8 with a 4.22 ERA. The top pick in the 1996 draft has had injury problems, but the Mets hope he can give them a late push.

"He's certainly a talented guy who came into the industry with high expectations and they probably didn't play out the way everybody wanted it to," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. "But Kris had a variety of injuries, too, and he's pitched well this year and pitched very well in the recent past."

Littlefield said Peterson joins the organization with a lot of potential, as did Benson.

"He's a talented guy and he's performed well up to this point. But, in general, we're glad to get another strong-looking right-armed pitcher in the system," he said.

Wigginton was in the Mets' original starting lineup Friday night, playing second base and batting sixth. He was hitting .285 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs.

"I guess I blocked it out the whole time. I never expected a deal would go down," he said. "You hear all the talk every year. I guess all I could think about was going out and playing the game hard and showing respect for the game of baseball."

Wigginton had a mixed reaction to the trade.

"Excited. At the same time, I'm kind of sad," he said. "I felt we had a good thing going over here. In the long run it looks like it will be a better situation for me on a personal side over there."

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