WASHINGTON -- Trailing the Atlanta Braves by six games in the NL East standings in 2004, the New York Mets impulsively traded Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano in an ill-fated pursuit of a postseason berth.
The Mets could overpay now, too, assistant general manager John Ricco said. But there is no trade available to the organization at the moment that would materially affect the direction of the season without compromising the future, he added.
So general manager Sandy Alderson and the front office essentially are powerless to assist in a bid to halt the Mets' skid -- at least until closer to the July 31 trade deadline -- despite a glaring need to shore up the bullpen.
The Mets enter Thursday's series finale at Nationals Park on a six-game losing streak and winless since the All-Star break. They are in danger of going 0-6 on a road trip for the first time since 1999.
"We're watching every day the same thing people are," Ricco said Thursday morning. "But you also can't fool yourself into thinking that there's one guy that is going to be the be-all and end-all solution to all of our problems. You can fall into that trap and make some big mistakes. It's one of the good things about having an experienced guy like Sandy. He's been down this road before."
As for balancing the present versus the future, the Mets seem to be tilted toward the latter.
"It's not even every day; we're constantly weighing both those things and having a lot of discussion about it," Ricco said. "But, at the end of the day, it's not completely in our control. There's the [other] teams. And they see the same thing. They know that, 'OK, we have to make a deal now.' So they're going to try to hold somebody over a barrel. And then it comes down to, 'Do we feel it's close enough that we can make that move?' And so far we haven't hit on it."
Alderson said Tuesday he cannot foresee trading any prospect who could have an impact at the major league level in 2013 or 2014, which basically means the Mets are only willing to part with farmhands in Class A.
An extra wild-card team in each league has made trade acquisitions more difficult as well, Ricco added. Essentially, any team within five games of the wild card cannot justify dismantling. The few sellers are overly demanding, at least 12 days from the trade deadline.
"It's a pretty small universe of sellers," Ricco said. "So the sellers that are out there are kind of playing it as, 'Hey, we're going to be aggressive.' So on a couple of deals, or teams that we've been talking to, the price right now is higher. I think you've heard it from Sandy: He's aggressive. He's making phone calls. But there isn't anything right now that fits what we want to spend."
One thing seems clear: Even if the Mets drift further from wild-card contention before July 31, they do not intend to sell pieces.
Outfielder Scott Hairston, who crushes left-handed pitching, and left-handed specialist Tim Byrdak would be marketable pieces. But a team official noted the Mets did not part with Jose Reyes at last year's trading deadline in part because they did not want to fully dismantle and leave the remaining players in the clubhouse without a chance to compete.
As for the aftermath of the infamous July 30, 2004, trade that swapped Kazmir for Zambrano, the Mets proceeded to be swept at Turner Field that series. They finished the season 71-91.
Kazmir made two All-Star appearances with Tampa Bay before his career unraveled, which somewhat lessens the historical ignominy of the trade. Kazmir actually is due to pitch Saturday night for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in Mets country, at the Long Island Ducks.
Ricco said there are contemporary versions of the Kazmir-Zambrano swap available now.
"Exactly," Ricco said. "But that would be a complete deviation from the plan we laid out. And we're not prepared to do that right now for anything that's on the table. We're not going to overpay."