Dabynsky recently posted about his philosophy that the Cubs probably won’t do any more sign-to-flip pitcher acquisitions this offseason. I find that viewpoint reasonable, but it might be modified given the following bit of news:
Kazmir and Smith are both seeking more years than the Indians want to give. Cleveland wants to do a one-year deal with the former and would go to two for the latter, but they are seeking at least one additional guaranteed season.
Kazmir, of course, refers to former Tampa Bay Rays hurler Scott Kazmir, who earned his only two All-Star bids while with the Rays (with and without the Devil). There are various other pitchers on the market, including three that got qualifying offers: Kazmir’s teammate, Ubaldo Jimenez; Hiroki Kuroda, who may go back to Japan; and Ervin Santana, who made a LOL-worthy demand according to Twitter but might still get it because the free agent market is about to go bonker-nuts. These three pitchers are out of the question (seemingly) because of the forfeiture of the Cubs’ second round draft pick if they were to be signed, and the associated forfeiture of a smidge over $1MM in slot money. It might even make Moe’s suggestion that the Cubs pursue Shin-Soo Choo more unlikely, but Choo is a different type of free agent than three pitchers with question marks.
Given the lack of ideal pitching free agents on the market, let’s explore Kazmir’s case again. Kazmir is not tied to draft pick compensation and therefore the Cubs don’t have to worry about losing their second-rounder if they choose to go that direction. Kazmir had an up-and-down season with the Cleveland Indians, but his arm and velocity issues that led to his hiatus from MLB for a season seemed to be resolved. The only injury he had seemed to be a tired shoulder that he worked back from, so he’s not likely to suffer the same career-threatening setback that a guy like, say, Brandon Webb had. (UPDATE: I have no idea how I missed this but I forgot all about his elbow issues, though none of them required surgery as they weren’t considered serious) If Cleveland only has an $80MM salary maximum for next season, then they likely won’t be able to give Kazmir the contract he desires and an opportunistic team like the Cubs could swoop in, assuming they feel Kazmir is the right fit.
As a pitcher, Kazmir has some interesting peripherals. Last season with Cleveland, he struck out batters at a 24.1% clip while only walking 7.0%. I take it with a slight grain of salt because he got to face the Twins a bunch (boy the Twins were awful) but the stats are the stats. For his career, the K-rate is about 22.6%, which according to FanGraph’s SABR library is “great” so that’s a plus. The career BB-rate is really high, at 10.2%, but a lot of that was while he was younger in Tampa Bay so maybe he’s turned the corner. Kazmir trends towards a flyball pitcher which would play poorly at Wrigley Field on some of “those” days, but that’s the same thing we thought about Matt Garza and Garza turned out fine. With Chris Bosio returning as pitching coach a few tweaks might help Kazmir figure Wrigley out. For those wondering, Kazmir can’t hit for shit, but that’s just a small sample since he was exclusively an American League pitcher.
Several factors will knock down Kazmir’s asking price even with the nutso market coming up. For one, he hasn’t reached 200-plus innings pitched since 2007, and last season he only got to 158 IP. This may stem from his relative “meh”-ness where he’s had an ERA over 4 for every full season since his last All Star appearance. Although his not-so-injury wasn’t that serious, we can still look at a better pitcher like Ben Sheets, who came back from a shoulder injury to sign with Oakland for $10MM for one season, but was disappointing during that season, as a comparable. Brandon McCarthy came back from getting decapitated with a line drive to score a two-year, $18MM contract with Arizona. With the durability concerns I doubt he approaches anything near the Edwin Jackson contract, even with a wacky market. I’m going to suggest a two-year, $20MM (max guarantee) contract with an option for a third year. This gives the Cubs time to scout out pitching in trade and to give Kazmir the semi-security he’s rumored to seek, and also gives the Cubs the flexibility to trade Kazmir if they so choose. I don’t necessarily think Kazmir is worth $20MM over two years, but the market is going to dictate something like this, and I’m just establishing a comfortable maximum given regular inflation and GM nuttiness.
This is moot if the Cubs somehow beat the Yankees in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, as the rotation would be Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Jake Arrieta and Tanaka (not necessarily in that order). Maybe throw in Scott Baker on another short deal, or Carlos Villanueva if they’re desperate should they trade Samardzija. The market and Kazmir’s recent quasi-success will necessitate a medium-sized contract as I suggested above, and without coughing up the future too much (they’ll keep that draft pick, yay), it’s not a terrible risk to take.
UPDATE: I forgot John at Cubs Den mentioned Kazmir in passing, so hat tip to John and now I don’t feel so dumb for suggesting this. Hehe.