Listening to sports talk radio yesterday, the broadcasters were positively giddy over the Angels' acquisition of Scott Kazmir. Bill Shaikin in the LA Times is similarly excited by the deal, saying Kazmir is just what the Halos needed. While Kazmir does improve the Angels rotation this season, trading for him does come with some risk.
I'm somewhat familiar with Kazmir from my time working for the Rays organization. I got to know him a little personally as well. He's certainly a guy who likes to do things his own way, as recently evidenced by his recent decision to work out with former Mets pitching coach Rick Petersen while recovering from injury. He's also a pitcher who has been blessed with an extraordinary amount of talent, throwing a mid-90s fastball, a devastating slider, and a good changeup.
Kazmir has pitched some of the best games I've ever seen, mainly in mid-2006, and he also led the American League in strikeouts in 2007. He also has a tendency to get up for big games, and some of his best starts have been against the Red Sox, the team that has tortured the Angels in the playoffs in recent years.
But watching Kazmir pitch has also been frustrating as he hasn't quite lived up to the hype. Kazmir has missed at least one month due to injury in three of the past four seasons. He sometimes struggles with his control, leading him to throw far too many pitches. He seldom reaches the 7th inning, forcing the bullpen to carry the load. Throughout the Rays pennant drive last year, Kazmir often had "adventurous" first innings, in which he'd throw a ton of pitches, allow a few a baserunners, perhaps give up a run or two, but then work his way out of a jam.
This year has been Kazmir's worst, as his ERA hovered over 7, before finally going down to 5.92 now that he's healthier. His injury history and his inability to pitch deep in games has led some baseball observers to question whether he will realize his potential. Either way, he is owed at least $24 million on his current contract, difficult for any team with limited resources to afford. The Rays have a deep farm system, and I don't think substituting Wade Davis into the Tampa Bay rotation is a downgrade by any means.
Still, Kazmir is just 25, and he has pitched better in last few starts. He represents an upgrade over Trevor Bell in the current rotation, and at least gives the Angels an answer to the question of "What will you do if John Lackey leaves in the offseason?" Kazmir helps the Angels in 2009, although it's not clear if he'll make the postseason rotation.
It's hard to fully analyze this deal without knowing who the player-to-be-named is, someone who Rays manager Joe Maddon called "a very interesting player that I'm very excited about." I don't profess to be an expert on minor league talent, but I've been hearing good things about Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney, the two prospects that the Angels have given up for now.
At the end of the day, I think this trade works for both teams. But it ultimately will be judged by what Scott Kazmir does beyond this year, and whether he will be worth what the Angels will need to pay him. It's a high-risk, high-reward deal for the Halos.