As the Angels battle the Mets on Sunday in the finale of their three-game series, my thoughts turn to Scott Kazmir, a pitcher that was once in both organizations and who cost each club dearly. Kazmir was released just this week by the Angels, as the club decided to eat roughly $9.5 million (the nearly $7 million remaining of this year's $12 million salary, plus the $2.5 million buyout of his $13.5 million option for 2012) to have the southpaw go away. It really was an easy call.
Kazmir was terrible in spring training, then allowed five runs while getting five outs in his only major league start this season before getting placed on the disabled list with lower back soreness. On his rehab assignment with Triple A Salt Lake, Kazmir was an outright disaster, allowing 30 runs and 48 baserunners in 15 1/3 innings. He did strikeout 14 batters, but that was counterbalanced by his 20 walks and six hit batsmen.
The Angels acquired Kazmir from the Rays in late August 2009 for a package of players, most notably infielder Sean Rodriguez, who has started 77 games for Tampa Bay since the start of last season. Kazmir gave the Angels 35 starts, and was 11-17 with a 5.31 ERA in those games, all for a cost of just over $23.5 million. Using Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Kazmir (0.2 WAR per both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference) trails Rodriguez (3.0 per FanGraphs, 2.6 per B-R), who will make a combined $834,100 in 2010 and 2011.
It's not the first time the Rays came out way ahead in a Kazmir transaction. At the trade deadline in 2004, the Mets wanted a proven starting pitcher and acquired Victor Zambrano (and Bartolome Fortunato) from the Rays for Kazmir, rated a top 12 prospect in MLB by Baseball America for two seasons running, and Jose Diaz. Zambrano battled injuries and ineffectiveness in New York, going 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA in parts of the next two and half seasons.
Meanwhile, Kazmir blossomed into one of the best young starters in the American League for Tampa Bay, making a pair of All-Star teams and ultimately helping the Rays reach the world series in 2008. From a WAR standpoint, Kazmir crushes Zambrano, 16.6 to 2.0 per Fangraphs or 16.7 to 0.1 per Baseball-Reference. The Mets paid just over $5.2 million for Zambrano through the 2006 season, while the Rays paid less than that for Kazmir through the 2008 season.
The Mets were one game away from the World Series in 2006, a season in which Kazmir was 10-8 with a 3.24 ERA for the Rays. In 2007, Kazmir was 13-9 with a 3.48 ERA and led the AL with 239 strikeouts, while the Mets blew a seven-game divisonal lead with 17 games remaining in the season. You don't think Kazmir could have helped during those two seasons, at least?
Tampa Bay dealt Kazmir near the end of 2009, a season in which Kazmir made $6 million, and before he got really expensive and became the Angels problem. Maybe those Extra 2% guys in Tampa Bay were on to something, getting the best of Scott Kazmir while the Mets and Angels have to wonder what could have been.