If ever there were an off-season meant for acquiring an outstanding free agent pitcher…this would not be it. Most of the names of the list are older or injury-prone, excluding the pitchers who can expect a $200+ million payday. But reclamation projects are the Oakland Athletics’ favorite type of free agent signing, and on Tuesday, they agreed to a one-year, $6 million deal with left-hander Rich Hill. They also guaranteed him a rotation spot, which will make it hard to find room for the actual upgrade that they need.
Hill would have been a terrific depth signing, but to be contenders next year, the Athletics absolutely must get one of the pitchers from the second tier of free agent options – not the bottom tier. One player who fits that bill perfectly is former Athletic Scott Kazmir.
The A’s signed Kazmir in the off-season following his 2013 return to Major League Baseball. After his comeback with the Cleveland Indians, Oakland was willing to give him a two-year, $22 million deal that gave him a chance to re-establish himself as a top-of-the-rotation starter, and he took full advantage until being dealt to the Houston Astros at the deadline.
Kazmir might not be the ace on most teams, but he’s certainly a quality arm to has as the second- or third-best pitcher in the rotation. There’s some speculation that he could land in Houston again, but the Astros have made it clear that they won’t re-sign him just to make the trade that sent Jacob Nottingham to the A’s look better than it was.
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In 2014, Kazmir posted a 3.55 ERA in 190.1 innings, striking out 162 batters. In the first half of 2015, he was even better – a 2.38 ERA in 109.2 innings, striking out 101 in 18 games for the Athletics. But after being dealt to the ‘Stros, Kazmir struggled. He had a 4.17 ERA in the second half of the season, making just 13 starts and amassing only 54 punch outs.
Despite his second-half struggle last season, everything points to Kazmir’s success being legitimate. His FIP, or fielding independent pitching, has been under 4.00 in each of the last three seasons, and his strikeout rate has stayed above average. His also had a lower walk rate than the league average. All of these are good signs, which seem to show that he’ll be able to maintain these type of results as long as he can stay healthy.
Even after signing Hill, the A’s have plenty of open space on the payroll, and for all the talk of how many pitchers will be auditioning for a starting roll next season, the A’s really don’t have a lot of true, guaranteed talent behind Sonny Gray. Aside from the spot that’s been somehow (unbelievably) guaranteed to Hill, there are three other openings. Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt are hardly proven starters, and Jesse Hahn, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin are all working their way back from significant time on the disabled list.
The A’s could use a pitcher like Kazmir. So what would he cost? Kazmir certainly won’t be cheap, but the big-spending teams will likely be targeting Zach Greinke and Johnny Cueto, not second-tier starters. Unless one of those teams decides to grossly overpay Kazmir, he shouldn’t be priced out of Oakland’s reach.
In terms of years, Kazmir is likely going to get a three- or four-year deal. His injury history is too risky to guarantee any longer, and someone will certainly be willing to offer him more than two. Even during his time with Oakland this season, Kazmir was removed from multiple games as a precaution after experiencing pain or soreness – proving that he isn’t really at the point where teams feel comfortable trusting him to pitch through a minor injury.
But that doesn’t mean the A’s should worry about offering him something in the neighborhood of three years and $40-$45 million. Kazmir has certainly earned a raise compared to his first deal, and offering him between $13 and $15 million per year would be more than fair. If the free agent market is set up to pay Hill $6 million, Kazmir is set to make considerably more than that given his proven track record of success.
Kazmir is more than worth taking a long-term gamble on, and the A’s need to move quickly before someone else beats them to it.