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The A’s made their splash in the free agent market Monday, reportedly agreeing to a two-year $22 million contract with left-hander Scott Kazmir.
Neither side is confirming a done deal at this point, but assuming it gets finalized, that figure surely sends shock waves through Oakland fans who are unaccustomed to seeing the A’s be so aggressive in their free agent spending, particularly on pitchers.
Kazmir’s deal would be the largest in team history given to a pitcher in terms of annual average salary, beating Ben Sheets’ one-year $10 million deal in 2010. That contract was viewed as risky because Sheets was coming off elbow surgery which cost him all of the 2009 season. Kazmir’s potential deal could be seen with similar risk because of his up-and-down body of work.
He burst on the scene as a 20-year-old with Tampa Bay in 2004 and was twice named an All-Star in a Rays uniform. Things got rocky after he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in 2009. Kazmir posted a 9-15 record and 5.94 ERA in 2010 and was released in June 2011 after dealing with inconsistency and mechanical problems.
He spent time pitching in independent league ball and was out of the majors in 2012 before signing a minor league deal with Cleveland before last season and enjoying a major rebound. The lefty went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts, averaging 9.2 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per nine innings.
That re-established his value as a free agent this winter to the point where he was ranked No. 16 on mlbtraderumors.com’s list of top 50 free agents available. Estimates had Kazmir, who turns 30 next month, targeted for a two-year deal in the $16 million range. The A’s, who reportedly offered the same two-year $22 million deal to starter Tim Hudson before he signed with the Giants, apparently didn’t want to be spurned again and got aggressive in going after Kazmir.
It fills a big need from the standpoint that the A’s needed a veteran to plug into their rotation as it became apparent that Bartolo Colon would be difficult to re-sign. But one major league scout who has watched Kazmir throughout his career was floored by the money the A’s offered in this reported deal.
“Kazmir always has been a mystery guy for me,” said the scout, who requested anonymity. “He’s a stuff-type pitcher, but you just never knew when he was gonna show up day to day. I’m not so sure if he has the consistency to help the A’s win a world championship.”
But it should be noted that in the second half of last season, with the Indians trying to nail down a postseason berth, Kazmir pitched to a 3.38 ERA over 13 starts, compared to 4.60 in the first half.
The A’s have to like the idea of slotting the lefty in a rotation that includes Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Brett Anderson and some combination of Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin and Tommy Milone. Adding Kazmir, however, would seem to increase the chances that Anderson could be traded.
But there’s no doubt that Colon’s 18 wins and 2.65 ERA from last season will be missed.
“I’m not gonna sit here and tell you we’re gonna have a 20-game winner,” A’s catcher Derek Norris said in a phone interview. “But if you break down the 18 wins he had, we have the pieces to make up for it. Guys that were a 10-11 winner last year, maybe they’re a 13-14 game winner this year. I think we’ve got guys that are gonna grow into their own and pick up the slack that Bartolo is gonna leave behind.”