The Mets weren't particularly close to a playoff spot on the morning of July 30th, 2004. They were in fourth place in the NL East, six games out of first and ninth in the Wild Card race. That didn't stop Mets GM Jim Duquette from trading for Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson in a pair of trades that evening. For Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato, the Mets gave up Jose Diaz and Scott Kazmir.
Kazmir hadn't pitched in the majors yet, but the 20-year-old Texan already had a profile. The Mets selected him in the first round of the 2002 draft and Kazmir dominated minor league hitters, striking out 259 in 203.1 innings.
Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar called Kazmir one of baseball's best left-handed pitching prospects and told ESPN he couldn't pass up the chance to acquire him.
"We needed to start getting our hands on some pitching that can truly beat the Red Sox and Yankees in this division," LaMar said."We think Scott Kazmir has that kind of ability."
LaMar turned out to be right. Kazmir contributed to the Rays' 2008 division title and run to the World Series past the Yankees and Red Sox. Overall, he had a 3.92 ERA in parts of six seasons with the Rays. He struck out more than a batter per inning (9.4K/9) and allowed less than a hit per inning (8.4H/9) in 834 frames, though he was susceptible to walks (4.1BB/9).
No matter how you measure it, Kazmir has been worth the $10MM or so the Rays paid him. (In case you're wondering, FanGraphs says his performance in Tampa would have cost about $70MM to replace on the free agent market.) The Rays flipped Kazmir to the Angels this summer, but they obtained Alexander Torres, Matthew Sweeney and Sean Rodriguez, so the 2004 trade still shapes today's Rays.
They made the deal with the future in mind, but Duquette thought the Mets could win in 2004. He acknowledged to the New York Times that the deal was "more of a current trade rather than a long-term trade." Five years later, that's quite the understatement.
Zambrano, who was pitching through elbow soreness at the time of the deal, appeared just three times for the Mets in 2004 due to the injury. Two years later Zambrano was recovering from Tommy John and flexor tendon surgery, and the Mets non-tendered the righty. He posted a 4.42 ERA in just over 200 innings with the club; he continued to be plagued by control problems when healthy.
The Mets finished 20 games below .500 with a walk-prone injured 29-year-old who was about to become expensive. The Rays finished 21 games below .500 with one of baseball's top pitching prospects under team control for six years. As any Mets fan will tell you, It's hard to find a more lopsided trade.