Aug 28, 2009, 4:33 PM EDT
A deal rumored in July was surprisingly near completion Friday, as the Angels reportedly acquired Scott Kazmir from the Rays for prospects Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney.
As a 25-year-old lefty with a 55-44 record, a 3.92 ERA and 874 strikeouts in 834 innings, Kazmir hardly seemed to be a likely candidate to be part of a waiver deal. However, since it was the Angels picking him up, he only needed to get through 11 American League teams. That meant no interference from the Yankees. The Red Sox, Tigers and Rangers all could have thrown a monkey wrench into the Angels’ plans, but the price tag scared them all off.
That is the problem here. Kazmir isn’t currently the same pitcher he was two years ago, and he’s owed $8 million next year, $12 million in 2001 and either $13.5 million or a $2.5 million in 2012. This could turn out as badly as the Dontrelle Willis acquisition and signing (more so the signing) did for Detroit.
When Kazmir was at his best in 2006, he averaged 92 mph with his fastball, 84 mph with his slider and 82 mph with his changeup. These days he’s at 90.7 with his fastball, 81 mph with his slider and 79 with his changeup. The slider just doesn’t have the same snap it used to, and he’s never developed better command to help make up for the diminished stuff.
It’s very possible that Kazmir will be an injury-prone No. 3 or No. 4 starter going forward. The Rays couldn’t take that risk when he’s due so much cash, so shedding his contract was the right move. It’s the timing that’s questionable, as the club is still just 3 1/2 games back in the wild card chase. However, Andy Sonnanstine is ready to move back into the rotation and Wade Davis is deserving of an opportunity. The Rays may well be better off without him.
At the same time, it’s hard to blame the Angels for making the move. They’ve needed another starter since way back in spring training, and while the lousy bottom of the rotation hasn’t prevented them from compiling the AL’s second-best record, it could kill them come playoff time. Now they have choices. They won’t necessarily have to stick Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana in their postseason rotation if they struggle next month. And if either Saunders or Santana goes down again, they won’t have to face the scary possibility of making Trevor Bell or Sean O’Sullivan their fourth starter in the postseason.
In order to acquire Kazmir, the Angels parted with a couple of prospects who ranked between fifth and 10th in their system. Torres, a 21-year-old southpaw, has helped his stock a bunch by going 13-4 with a 2.74 ERA, 116 H and 149/80 K/BB in 147 1/3 IP between Single- and Double-A this year. He projected as a reliever going into this year, but he’s now a very intriguing rotation possibility. Sweeney has power potential, but he’s been held back by injuries and he’s not going to last at third base. The 21-year-old has hit .299/.379/.517 in 211 at-bats for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga this season. There’s a chance that he’ll make it as a starting first baseman someday.
Neither prospect is on the 40-man roster, so waiver rules won’t apply in this case.
The Rays may well be blasted for making this trade while still in contention, but in the end, they’ll probably be better off for it. Losing Kazmir doesn’t necessarily hurt their playoff chances at all, and by dumping his salary, they’re giving themselves greater flexibility for next year. Perhaps that means Carl Crawford will stick around after all.
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