The Angels Will Release Scott Kazmir | The Process Report

The Angels Will Release Scott Kazmir

You always knew fans of every team would covet Scott Kazmir’s services, but the circumstances are off. Kazmir will soon become a free agent, yet this is June, not November, and 2011, not 2007. Kazmir is not becoming a free agent by his own doing, but because his team no longer can stomach his putrid rehab performances and would rather swallow his paychecks than pitch him in the major leagues.

Barring the miraculous, Kazmir will never receive a bigger contract than the three-year, $28.5 million dollar extension he signed in May 2008 (almost 37 months to the day) that included a club option worth $13.5 million for 2012. At the time, extending Kazmir for such a modest rate was miraculous. Kazmir, 24, had opened the 2008 season on the disabled list as he needed more time to build up arm strength. He returned in early May to face the Red Sox then made a start against the Angels in his final start before inking the extension-he threw six shutout innings.

The perceived odds of Kazmir remaining beyond his team control years always felt slim. Why would he? Kazmir had led the American League in strikeouts in 2007, punching out 239 batters in 206 2/3 innings pitched, and already had an all-star selection under his belt. Besides, the Rays were perennial dogs and despite Kazmir proclaiming the playoffs a possibility, one had to wonder if he could stomach more losing, as the lack of fan support was a sore spot for the Texas native, even in the final days of his Rays career. When the extension was announced, though, the club was 23-17 and in first place. Later that night, the Rays would lose 2-1 to the Yankees with 20,936 in the stands.

The irony, of course, is that Kazmir’s contract begot his exit from the Rays. Pitchers are volatile beasts, and those with injury issues can become sunk costs in a hurry. Kazmir never returned to his 2007 status in 2008, but by the one-year anniversary of the extension, the 2008 version looked excellent by comparison. Kazmir started on May 15, 2009 against the Cleveland Indians. He lasted 3 1/3 innings pitched, gave up 10 hits, seven runs, walked four, fanned two, and allowed two home runs. The outing pumped air into an already inflated earned run average, pushing it to 6.97, and ran his opponent’s line to .306/.394/.494. Kazmir would make his next start, at home, against the Athletics. He left to a hail of boos, having given up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. Shortly thereafter, Kazmir went on the disabled list with a quad injury.

Much of Kazmir’s next few weeks are unknown. Eventually, information arose that he went to the Alabama lab made popular by the presence of Dr. James Andrews and worked with Rick Peterson—his old pitching coach—to regain form. Although a somber time, one couldn’t help but notice the comedy of it all. It was Peterson’s unfortunate comment about Victor Zambrano (“I can fix him in five minutes,”) that steered the Mets into trading the 20-year-old southpaw to the Rays. Chuck LaMar struck gold through trades as often as an archeologist hunting for polar bear remains in Florida. But my, the gods blessed him with a golden arm on that fateful July day.

Being the Rays, they rushed Kazmir to the majors, having him debut later in the season. In 2005, at the age of 21, Lou Piniella asked Kazmir to complete 186 innings over 32 starts, despite pitching in roughly 134 innings the season before. The following season marked Kazmir’s first under Joe Maddon, and through time missed due to injury and an early shutdown, he would finish an out shy of 145 innings. The Rays loosened Kazmir’s shackles in 2007 and he completed his first (and to date, only) 200-plus inning season. He was marvelous. According to Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement metric, Kazmir turned in the sixth-best pitching performance in the American League that season (just ahead of teammate James Shields). Maybe Kazmir wasn’t the best pitcher in 2007, but he was one of the few players that made the team worth watching.

And so, what a sad twist reality has provided. As the Rays rose to new, higher levels of prominence, Kazmir found himself lower on the ladder. By the middle of the 2008 season, Kazmir was no longer the best starter in the rotation, and by the end, he was no longer the most exciting southpaw.

When Kazmir returned from the disabled list in 2009 it was June 27. He threw five innings against the Marlins, holding them to two runs—the Rays won 3-2. From there on, Kazmir made 11 starts for the Rays, posting a 4.68 earned run average, but limiting batters to a .240/.305/.409 line. The trying times did not disappear. The Rays squad was mired in disappointment, with Pat Burrell underperforming his contract and the team strapped for budget room. It became evident, if not obvious, that one of the large contracts would have to go in order for improvements. The question was who would go, Carl Crawford or Carlos Pena.

Then, days after Kazmir struck out 10 Blue Jays in six innings, allowing a run and one walk, he was gone to the Angels for Alex Torres, Matt Sweeney, and a player to be named later, (who would later be named Sean Rodriguez). The move struck everyone by surprise, including Kazmir, as he appeared rejuvenated by jumping into a pennant chase: making six starts down the stretch for the Angels, while holding a 1.73 earned run average. It was mostly smoke and mirrors, as his home run rate was well below average (even for him).

It wasn’t long before this new Kazmir was revealed as a mirage. The career of pitchers can end quickly once their best attribute goes. Joe Magrane compared his whip-like slider to Steve Carlton, but the torque necessary to generate the bite was too much on his elbow. Soon, Kazmir began to lose velocity. Never the most efficient or technical pitcher, the probability of him adapting and surviving in the majors was non-existent. Even in 2011, the injuries kept coming, and miles per hour kept going.

This Kazmir, the one who will be looking for work in the coming days, he isn’t the same one who pitched a brilliant shutout of the Red Sox on that memorable July day a few years ago. He isn’t the same one who mouthed a lewd comment about an umpire to one of his infielders. No, he isn’t even the same one who jovially looked on, unbeknownst to him that one of his teammates had stamped a piece of inflated bubblegum onto his hat. That Kazmir is long gone and does not exist in the physical world. He exists only in the memories of those fortunate enough to experience his peak, his glory.

Truthfully, that Kazmir never left us—he never made the trip to Anaheim.



4 Comments

  1. I.Welsh-Art wrote:

    Heard some mentions here and there from some fans speculating, but what do you think the odds would be of the Rays signing him to a minor league deal. Maybe making him a bullpen guy?

    • buddaley wrote:

      Because of my fond memories of Kazmir and the fact that a minor league signing is generally without risk, I have no problem if the Rays do it-as doubtful as I am that they will. But I wonder why anyone thinks he can succeed in the bullpen. What has he shown to suggest he can do it? Does he have decent control? Does he avoid home runs? Does he get lots of ground balls? Does he strike out lots of people? Is he particularly tough on lefties? Do observers think he still has good stuff? Is there some notion that he can be successful in shorter stints (given that he has rarely lasted even 2 innings recently)?

      • R.J. Anderson wrote:

        Given his performance in Triple-A, I can’t imagine his stuff is anywhere near an acceptable big league level. Same with his control. At least not at this point.

  2. What a sad come-down for Kaz!! I was really upset when the Rays traded him off, he was one of their best pitchers. Pro ball is a tough road, standards are high & there’s no room for egos or compassion for injuries. I wish him well, hopefully he’ll return on another team & better pitching technique.

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