Scott Kazmir: The 22 Million Dollar Man

Scott Kazmir's comeback season for the Indians in 2013 earned him a $22 million deal with the A's.

Scott Kazmir’s comeback season for the Indians in 2013 earned him a $22 million deal with the A’s.

Out with Bartolo Colon, in with Scott Kazmir.

With the news that Kazmir is coming to Oakland on a two-year, $22 million deal the door has closed on any chance of Colon returning to the A’s and the offseason continues to slowly evolve for the defending AL West champs.

The A’s were in the market for a starting pitcher and the price was 22 million big ones. If you want a starting pitcher who can at least hold down a spot in the middle of your rotation the going rate this winter appeared to be around $10 million.

The only question was which mid-level starters were the A’s targeting and, out of that group, which one was willing to pitch in the Land of Empty Seats and Sewage Overflows for the contract  Beane was offering?

Tim Hudson was almost that guy. But now Kazmir is the newest member of Oakland’s rotation and The Golden Age of Colon is a thing of the past.

Hudson was the only starting pitcher who appeared to be in the A’s price range who I was really excited about and that’s for sentimental reasons as much as anything else. I was never convinced that Colon would be back in Oakland because I suspected he’d want too much money for too many years which would scare off the A’s from investing in someone in their 40s with a ton of mileage on their right arm.

That pretty much left the A’s to sift through a group of pitchers that included Kazmir, Dan Haren, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, and Bronson Arroyo among others. If you’re looking for upside on a short contract Kazmir’s the smart play and it seems like a reasonable gamble in a game where almost everyone else is playing with an unreasonable amount of money.

Is two years and $22 million for a pitcher who appeared to be washed up a few years ago a bad investment? I wouldn’t invest that kind of money in Kazmir, but I barely have $20 in my wallet so it doesn’t matter one bit what I’d do.  Let’s face it, I’m too cheap to buy a pack of baseball cards. But baseball teams are sitting on top of a pile of Monopoly money these days so $22 million to a MLB franchise is arguably comparable to the spare change middle class schmucks like us hunt for between our sofa cushions.

Remember this guy? The last time Billy Beane gave a free agent pitcher a multiyear deal it was Loaiza in 2005.

Remember this guy? The last time Billy Beane gave a free agent pitcher a multiyear deal it was Loaiza in 2005.

The last time Beane handed out a multiyear deal to a free-agent starting pitcher was in 2005 when 34-year-old Esteban Loaiza signed a three-year deal for $21.5 million. In 2006, Loaiza contributed to an A’s team that made it to the ALCS but by the end of 2007 he was handed to the Dodgers via waivers just to clear his salary off the books.

Eight years after signing Loiza for more than $20 million to pitch into his mid-30s the A’s have handed more than $20 million to a resurgent 29-year-old Kazmir. I’d say this is easily a better investment than the Loaiza contract.  OK, that may not be saying much and if I wanted to look at Beane’s previous big investments I’d break into a cold sweat over how badly the Jermaine Dye and Eric Chavez contracts worked out.  Hopefully Kazmir isn’t destined to spend more time on the disabled list than the pitcher’s mound over the next two seasons.

If Kazmir simply stays in one piece and takes the ball almost every time his turn in the rotation comes up Oakland should have a good mid-rotation pitcher on its hands. Throw in about a half dozen dominant outings and a record hovering over .500 and he’ll be delivering quality work for what’s a relatively reasonable price in this day and age in MLB.

But if you want to dream on what Kazmir was early in his career with the Rays and what he did last year with the Indians when he got stronger as the year went on with increased velocity, then the A’s could have something special on their hands for a bargain price.

It’s probably more realistic to expect Kazmir to be a solid innings eater rather than a borderline ace, but I can see why the A’s decided to gamble their money on Kazmir vs. someone like Haren or Hughes after losing out on Hudson.  The price is about the same as the other pitchers who have signed elsewhere recently but there’s a halfway decent chance that the ceiling is significantly higher with Kazmir.  Giving $22 million to a guy who was barely able to land a job pitching in an independent league a couple of years ago is certainly a risk, but it’s a calculated risk that will be interesting to watch play out in 2014 and 2015.

I’m going to assume that this winter Colon has been chasing the same kind of contract Hudson and Kazmir have signed so it’ll be interesting to see how Colon, Hudson and Kazmir fare over the next two seasons to assess whether the A’s made the right call based on the payroll flexibility and data available to them right now.

How much money was Bartolo Colon looking for from the A's?  How much cash and how many years will he squeeze out of his next team?

How much money was Bartolo Colon looking for from the A’s? How much cash and how many years will he squeeze out of his next team?

The A’s clearly decided that Colon isn’t a smart bet over the next two years for what appears to be the current market rate for a decent starting pitcher. Plan A was Hudson, Plan B was Kazmir and Colon was probably further down the list of attractive, viable options for the A’s.  Smart money says that I’ll probably be too lazy and/or forgetful to check back in on this trio of pitchers to see who performed the best in 2014 and 2015 but it’s worth keeping an eye on just for the sake of curiosity.

Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron thinks “this looks like a strong bet to be one of the best contracts given to a free agent starter this winter” and I won’t argue with him.  Then again, I love reading Cameron’s stuff and I’m obviously inclined to like just about any move Oakland makes since I’ve been a die-hard A’s fan my entire life so it’d be silly to expect me to be down on this move right now.

With Kazmir agreeing to don green and gold the A’s are better now than they were yesterday, $22 million and a 40-man roster spot are off the board and there’s still plenty of intrigue left in the offseason.  Is a free agent reliever coming to town? Is a Rule 5 pick going to occupy that final spot on the 40-man roster? Is there a trade on the horizon?

Brett Anderson trade rumors continue to make the rounds on Twitter but depending on what Beane could get in return I just don’t see the point in selling low on Anderson when you’re in win-now mode. $8 million seems like chump change for what a healthy Anderson can do for the A’s. Then again, these are the A’s and $8 million is nothing to sneeze at for a small-budget team.

If the A’s move Anderson they could clear some salary, fill a hole on the roster and/or add prospects to a thinning farm system and alleviate a perceived pitching logjam to clear the path for a Jarrod ParkerSonny Gray-Kazmir-A.J. GriffinDan Straily rotation with Tom Milone available in reserve.

At this point in the offseason the possibilities are endless but at least there’s finally resolution to whether Colon is coming back to Oakland and who, if anyone will take his place in the rotation. For a tidy $22 million, Scott Kazmir is the man.

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