Scott Kazmir Rumors

Free Agent Profile: Scott Kazmir

Nine months ago, Scott Kazmir could not find a team willing to give him a Major League contract.  After all, the former phenom pitched (poorly) for the Sugarland Skeeters in 2012 and hadn't had big league success since 2008.  However, Kazmir's rise from the ashes began with rediscovered velocity in a bullpen session behind his house last summer, as chronicled by Howard Megdal of Sports on Earth, and now he's probably one of the 15 best free agent starting pitchers available.

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Strengths/Pros

Kazmir doesn't turn 30 years old until January, so by free agent standards he's still young.  His velocity has returned: he's averaging 92.5 miles per hour on his fastball, his best since his rookie season.  His fastball velocity is tied for fifth among all free agent starters, and only seven southpaw starters throw harder in all of baseball.  This year he's whiffed nearly 23% of the batters he's faced, a figure only three free agents have topped.

Additionally, this is the first year in his career Kazmir has walked fewer than three per nine innings.  The combination of strikeouts and control leads ERA estimator SIERA to peg him at 3.62, fourth best among free agent starters.

While Kazmir has put together a nice season, it's difficult to picture the Indians making a qualifying offer and risking a one-year, $14MM deal.  If they don't make such an offer, Kazmir will not be tied to draft pick compensation.

Weaknesses/Cons

Kazmir will likely finish the season with fewer than 160 innings, unless the Indians make the playoffs.  Though he earned the Indians' fifth starter job out of spring training, a right rib cage strain delayed his return to the Majors until April 20th.  Kazmir's innings total is also held down by his inability to go deep into games, as he's averaged about 5.4 frames per start.  He's averaged 17.5 pitches per inning, the 11th-highest in baseball for those with 100 innings.  He's also had some health scares earlier in his career, with DL time in '06 for shoulder inflammation and in '08 for an elbow strain.

The bigger issue is how unlikely Kazmir's story has been.  Years of data suggested he wasn't a Major League pitcher, and now he'll require a multimillion dollar commitment on the strength of 156 innings or so.  What if his velocity disappears again?  What if his arm responds poorly to the innings jump he made in 2013?  Any team signing Kazmir is taking a leap of faith.

2013 hasn't been a flawless year, anyway, as Kazmir has allowed more hits than innings pitched and has allowed 1.18 home runs per nine innings.  Generally I shrug off a .320 batting average on balls in play and a 12.3% home run per flyball rate, but those things did happen, and Kazmir's actual ERA is 4.34.

Personal

Kazmir grew up idolizing Nolan Ryan and later patterned himself after Billy Wagner, according to JockBio.com.  Kazmir's father worked for a Texas welding supply company run by Adam Dunn's uncle, and the two future big leaguers sometimes played Wiffle ball together, reported Albert Chen of SI.com.  Drafted 15th overall by the Mets in 2002, Kazmir was traded to the Rays in '04 for Victor Zambrano in an infamously lopsided deal.

Market

"I would love to stay here," Kazmir told Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer this month in regard to re-signing with the Indians, adding, "I'm very interested…I'd love to contribute and continue to be with this group."  The Indians also have to determine the future of Ubaldo Jimenez, another coveted free agent starter.

Kazmir has earned over $30MM in his career, mostly by virtue of a 2008 three-year extension signed with the Rays.  It's too early to say whether he'll opt for the comfort of Cleveland, where he resurrected his career, or try to find the largest and longest contract possible on the open market given the uncertainty he faced over the last several years.  Kazmir is a Houston native, but it's unclear whether geography will be a factor in free agency.

Expected Contract

The bar for a two-year contract for a starting pitcher is not terribly high — Brandon McCarthy, Joe Blanton, Carlos Villanueva, and Kevin Correia reached it last offseason.  That third year can be hard to come by, and if Kazmir's main goal is security, perhaps a vesting option could be brokered by agent Brian Peters.  If Kazmir is simply trying to maximize his earnings and has faith in his rediscovered ability, he might prefer a one-year deal in the $8-10MM range, allowing him to further prove himself in 2014 before returning to free agency.

In the end, I expect Kazmir to sign a two-year, $16MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Mets Notes: Kazmir, Prospects, Duda, Yankees

Scott Kazmir will take the mound for the Indians on Friday night in his first career start against the Mets, the team that originally drafted him 15th overall in 2002 and infamously traded him for Victor Zambrano in July 2004.  ESPN New York's Adam Rubin talks to Kazmir about the trade, his brief tenure with the Mets and his comeback with Cleveland.  Here are some items about the Amazins…

  • The Mets heavily scouted other organizations for power-hitting prospects earlier this season, a rival executive tells Newsday's Marc Carig.  The Mets will put a priority on obtaining some big bats this winter, as manager Terry Collins admitted the team is lacking in power. 
  • Some of that power could come from internal options like Lucas Duda, who has hit well since taking over the first base job from the injured Ike DavisMetsblog.com's Maggie Wiggin thinks Duda could be a cheap and potentially very productive first base option for New York next season.  Duda has hit better over his career when playing first, possibly due to being freed from the pressure of playing the outfield, where Duda is a major defensive liability.  If nothing else, Wiggin thinks Duda's September audition could make him a trade chip for an AL team looking for first base or DH help.
  • The Mets could look across New York for help on the free agent market this winter, as ESPN New York's Mark Simon lists Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain as possible fits for the Mets in 2014.

AL Central Notes: White Sox, Raburn, Indians, Kazmir

As the Tigers do everything they can to run away with the division, let's check in with some of their competitors in the AL Central:

  • GM Rick Hahn's plans for the White Sox are better characterized as a "reshape" than a "rebuild," according to MLB.com's Scott Merkin. "It's not in our nature to write off any season," said Hahn. "You see too many teams make fairly quick and significant turnarounds in the course of one offseason. With that said, we have some work to do." 
  • The Indians extended utilityman Ryan Raburn yesterday; today, Max Lom posted interview excerpts on MLB.com. Raburn noted that the team aproached him before the All-Star break about a possible extension. GM Chris Antonetti explained that the team liked Raburn as a bounce-back candidate after his woeful 2012 campaign. For his part, manager Terry Francona noted that the club's relatively low payroll means that it must rely on players like Raburn and fellow benchmate Mike Aviles to compete. (Notably, the club also signed Aviles to a multi-year contract with a club option.)
  • Even if Cleveland falls out of the AL Central race, it is worth keeping an eye on the organization in the coming months. Antonetti is believed to have approached other players about extensions, reports Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer
  • Hoynes went on to note that another player who has revived his career with the Indians — lefty Scott Kazmir – has indicated that he might be amenable to a hometown discount. However, Antonetti implied that the sides have not talked about a new deal. 


Central Notes: Liriano, Carpenter, Berry, Kazmir

From earlier today in the two Central divisions, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer sat down for a podcast with ESPN's Buster Olney, the Brewers are looking to the future and Jake Peavy is willing to be traded anywhere if the White Sox see fit to move him.  Here are some other items from both the AL and NL Central…

  • Francisco Liriano's 2014 option with the Pirates will vest for $6MM if the southpaw can avoid spending 120 days on the disabled list this season, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports.  Liriano signed a complicated deal with the Bucs in February that only guaranteed him $1MM in 2013 but could've been worth as much as $12.75MM if Liriano stayed healthy.  His stint on the DL this season already cost him around $1.625MM this season and an extra $2MM for 2014.
  • Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter threw to live batters on Monday, The Associated Press reports, and may repeat the process if his shoulder doesn't become numb.  Carpenter was thought to be out for all of 2013 and was pondering retirement due to ongoing shoulder injuries, but the former Cy Young Award winner has taken several positive steps in his comeback.
  • The Twins had some interest in Quintin Berry before the Royals claimed the outfielder off waivers earlier today, 1500ESPN.com's Darren Wolfson tweets.
  • Scott Kazmir credits his development of secondary pitches and better pitching strategies for his return to the Major Leagues, Howard Megdal of Sports On Earth writes.  Kazmir has a 5.13 ERA in eight starts with the Indians this season but his secondary numbers are good enough that MLBTR's Steve Adams believes he could earn a decent free agent contract this winter.
  • "Lots of changes figure to occur" with the Royals if the team can't get on track, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star writes as part of a reader mailbag.  If they make a big move like trading Ervin Santana, Dutton figures K.C. would look to acquire a slugging corner outfielder or a second baseman in return.
  • Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago covers several White Sox and Cubs topics and rumors in his live chat about Windy City baseball.  

Free Agent Stock Watch: Scott Kazmir

The rise and fall of Scott Kazmir was a well-known tale when he signed a minor league deal with the Indians this offseason. After being infamously traded for Victor Zambrano in one of the more lopsided trades of the past 10 years, he quickly ascended to ace status with the Rays. He began to lose velocity in the 2008 season, and his control became increasingly problematic.  Kazmir

Kazmir was traded to the Angels, and things only got worse for him in Anaheim. 2010 would be the last full season he threw in the Major Leagues, and he posted a ghastly 5.94 ERA in 150 innings with a fastball that had lost more than two miles per hour from his peak. Despite speculation that he lost arm strength, Kazmir told David Laurila of Fangraphs that wasn't the case:

“I didn’t really ever lose arm strength, it’s more I lost my ability to use my body. I lost my ability to use my lower half — everything was upper body — and everything started swinging side to side; I didn’t have a good direction to the plate."

Kazmir ultimately wound up pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012 as he contemplated his future. He had thrown just 1 2/3 Major League innings since 2010 when he signed with Cleveland, but it looks like he could be in for a full season of work. He's thrown 40 1/3 innings for the Tribe over eight starts. His 5.13 ERA isn't all that impressive, but he's averaging 91.7 mph on his fastball. Sabermetric stats like FIP (4.56), xFIP (3.96) and SIERA (3.79) all feel that Kazmir has been unlucky. Indeed, his .362 BABIP and 14.9 percent HR/FB both seem due for a correction.

Kazmir is still just 29 years old and won't be 30 until next January. If he's able to keep himself off the disabled list and see his BABIP and HR/FB regress toward the league averages (.292 and 11.0, respectively), Kazmir should draw significant interest on the free agent market. Paul Maholm figures to be the best lefty on the market, but Kazmir could stake his claim as the second-best free agent lefty.

Another enigmatic left-hander, Francisco Liriano, was able to secure a two-year deal worth $12.75MM with the Pirates this offseason despite posting an ERA over 5.00 from 2011-12 (he later had to re-work his deal after breaking his non-throwing arm). Even if Kazmir continues at his current rate, Liriano's deal seems attainable. If he can lower his ERA while maintaining his 9.1 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9, a higher annual salary or a third year could be in store.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Quick Hits: Injuries, Comebacks, Qualifying Offers

Major league baseball has made strides in increasing racial diversity but has yet to increase its hiring of females in the sport's upper echelons, reports Ronald Blum of the Associated Press. Changes in the number of African-American and Latino players since last year reportedly fell within the range of regular fluctuation. Elsewhere around baseball:


AL Notes: White Sox, Angels, Kazmir

The White Sox are back at home after a 3-7 road trip, and they were 7-9 overall heading into an afternoon matchup against the Twins. But GM Rick Hahn says he isn't concerned about his team's slow start, MLB.com's Scott Merkin reports. "With just about 10 percent of the season played, I don't think you can draw any grand conclusions about where things sit right now," Hahn said. And with so small a sample, Hahn isn't about to start making big moves. "It certainly is a temptation to explore other options, but it's way too soon to avert from the plan except when forced to due to injury," he says. Here are more notes from the American League.

  • The Angels' lack of pitching talent could cost GM Jerry Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia, and pitching coach Mike Butcher their jobs, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times argues. The Angels are currently 6-10, and their starting rotation has a 5.62 ERA. But DiGiovanna says owner Arte Moreno might ultimately be most responsible for the Angels' current roster construction, as Moreno's "infatuation with marquee names" led the team to sign hitters Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to enormous contracts. Instead of signing Hamilton, the Angels could have tried to retain Zack Greinke, who ended up heading north to the Dodgers. Among Dipoto, Scioscia and Butcher, Butcher's seat is the hottest, DiGiovanna says. Firing Scioscia seems much less likely, due to Scioscia's enormous $50MM contract.
  • Scott Kazmir will make his Indians debut tonight, and it will be his first big-league appearance in over two years, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes. After being released by the Angels in May 2011, Kazmir pitched for the independent-league Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012. He won a spot in the Indians' rotation out of camp, but his 2013 debut was delayed by a rib cage injury.

AL Notes: Rodriguez, Andrus, Kazmir, Snyder

The changing nature of free agency has been a hot topic of late, as MLBTR noted earlier today. A series of high-profile extensions this spring have reinforced an apparent new trend towards teams retaining their best young players with long-term deals. As Larry Stone of the Seattle Times posits, this trend also increases the importance of scouting and developing young players, with MLB's recent spending limits potentially leveling the playing field between large and small-market clubs.

  • Alex Rodriguez's record-breaking 2007 contract extension with the Yankees was re-visited in a piece on Saturday from David Waldstein of the New York Times. Waldstein reports on the events that ensued after Rodriguez exercised the opt-out clause in his contract, with the announcement infamously coming in the midst of what turned out to be the final game of the World Series. After receiving counsel from people ranging from Mariano Rivera to Warren Buffett, Rodriguez apologized to Hal and Hank Steinbrenner to pave the way to a new deal with the Yanks. The unprecedented contract included a $265MM salary guarantee over ten seasons, a $10MM signing bonus, and career home run milestone payments of up to $30MM. With Rodriguez now suffering from some combination of ineffectiveness, injury, and intrigue, Waldstein writes, New York may be exploring a variety of ways to get out from under the deal.
  • An opt-out clause could play a big role in another potential ten-year commitment: the recently-inked eight-year, $120MM extension between Elvis Andrus and the Rangers. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports explains, the deal's opt-out clause is likely to turn the Andrus extension into a four-year, $60MM deal. While this seems to be a big concession by Texas, Rosenthal says it was necessary to lock up four of the Scott Boras client's free agent years. The club will pursue insurance to protect itself in the event that Andrus does not exercise the opt-out clause due to injury. The deal also gives the Rangers plenty of flexibility to take advantage of super-prospect Jurickson Profar, either in their lineup (at second base) or via trade.
  • While still not conforming his new deal, Andrus commented today on his relationship with Boras, as reported by T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. Discussing his agent's penchant for testing the market, Andrus said: "We're the boss. I know everybody thinks that about Scott but it's different if you're the one in that position. He works for us. I know he tries to get the best deal that he can but it comes down to my choice and what's better for me and my family."
  • Scott Kazmir appears close to coming all the way back to the big leagues after being activated by the Indians, writes Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer. In a corresponding move, the club optioned left-hander Nick Hagadone to Triple-A. Kazmir, who will now receive a $1MM base salary after initially signing a minor league deal, may still have to wait to actually make an appearance after straining his ab. As the Indians noted on Twitter, today's transaction allows the club to back-date a Kazmir DL stint if he is not ready to go.
  • The Red Sox are signing infielder Brandon Snyder to a minor league deal, as first reported by Chris Cotillo (Twitter link). Alex Speier of WEEI.com confirmed (via Twitter) that Snyder, who was recently released by the Rangers, has signed with Boston and is headed to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Minor League Signees Winning Roster Spots

Each year teams parlay minor league signings into big rewards at the Major League level. In recent years, players like Ryan Vogelsong, Jared Burton and some guy named R.A. Dickey have been brought in on minor league deals and wound up signing extensions with their teams due to strong performance. Here's a look at some of the non-roster invitees from this offseason who have recently secured jobs with their teams:

  • Scott Kazmir has won the job as the Indians' fifth starter, Nick Camino of WTAM 1100 tweets. Kazmir's velocity has reported returned and he posted a strong Spring Training (13-to-1 K/BB ratio and a 3.46 ERA in 13 innings).
  • Ryan Raburn has won a spot on the Indians, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Twitter link). Raburn has hit .359/.479/.795 with four homers in 48 plate appearances this Spring.
  • Erik Bedard is expected to make the Astros' rotation, GM Jeff Luhnow told Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). The Canadian has turned in six scoreless innings in official starts, with nine strikeouts and two walks.
  • Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez seems to have forced his way onto the Twins' 25-man roster, per MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger (on Twitter). Ramirez, who played in the minors for the Twins last season, hit .425/.465/.600 in 43 trips to the plate.
  • On Monday, it was announced that Rick Ankiel, Kameron Loe, Jason Giambi and LaTroy Hawkins (all Article XX(B) free agents) made their respective rosters.  Today, we learned that Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon Inge have roster spots with the Pirates.

AL Notes: Ryan, Porcello, Happ, Indians

Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan had dinner with principal owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson Friday night to discuss his future role with the franchise. Simpson called the meeting "productive" while Ryan remained silent until today when he released a statement through the team. "Over the last week, Ray Davis, Bob Simpson, and I have been in discussion and met in-person. The conversations have been productive, and we have discussed my role as CEO of the organization. We agreed these discussions will continue as we go forward. I am very proud of what the Rangers have accomplished over the last several years, and I believe our preparations for upcoming season are what is important." Sources have told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Ryan could leave after he fulfills his two remaining team obligations: in San Antonio for the Rangers' two exhibition games there March 29-30 and in Houston during the Rangers' season-opening series against the Astros. In other news and notes from the American League: