At long last, Scott Kazmir's days as an Angel have come to an end. I'd say he was put out of his misery, but I don't know if the fans didn't actually suffer more from having to watch Kazmir's epic downward spiral. Either way, the maligned Kazmir is gone, but as of right now, his legacy seems to be that he will go down as one of the worst Angel acquisitions of all time.
The trade that brought Kazmir to Anaheim certainly wasn't a good one, but does it really deserve such an ignominious distinction? Believe it or not, I'm not so sure that it does.
Let's get the unarguably ugly part of this debate out fo the way first: the money. From a financial standpoint, the Kazmir trade is an unmitigated disaster. Starting with his acquisition in August 2009 through the end of his current deal, the Angels will have forked over approximately $24 million for what was essentially one good month of performance.
Yes, that's right one month. Some people might forget that Kazmir was actually pretty good (and probably pretty lucky) when he came over in 2009 and posted a 1.73 ERA to finish out the regular season for the Angels. After that, it was all downhill. A big reason the Angels acquired Kazmir was because he had a reputation for being a Yankee and Red Sox killer, something they knew they would need that post-season. Instead of living up to his reputation, Kazmir got hit hard in his lone start in the ALDS against Boston and followed that up by getting pounded by the Yankees in his ALCS start. And then, of course, who could forget his series-losing meltdown in relief in Game 6 of the 2009 ALCS, an appearance that one could argue was the catalyst for his ultimate demise.
Things only got worse in 2010 when Kazmir posted a 5.94 ERA on his way to a 9-15 record. Despite proclamations of him rededicating himself to off-season training, Kaz's 2011 campaign lasted just five outs into his only start before being placed on the DL to never return.
What does that all add up to? The Angels pretty much paid $24 million for Kazmir to help hold off the surging Rangers from overtaking the Angels for the 2009 AL West crown, which one could argue the Halos would have done anyway. I'm no economist, but I'm pretty sure that is an awful return on the investment. And that doesn't even begin to take into account the opportunity cost of paying Kazmir all that money which perhaps could have been used to sign or trade for a quality player to upgrade the lineup or take his spot in the rotation.
If there is one saving grace for Tony Reagins in this deal it is that the package of prospects he gave up haven't come back to haunt them... yet. The big prize of the deal for the Rays was Sean Rodriguez, a decent prospect at the time. Rodriguez had a solid 2010 season for the Rays, hitting .251/.308/.397 as a utility man. But this year, he has fallen off to .211/.295/.391. It isn't that Sean isn't a useful player and he could still get better, but it thus far looks like he has hit his ceiling as being a utility man who strikes out way too much and likely never would have been used much by Mike Scioscia as a result. If he ends up blossoming into the second-coming of Ben Zobrist, the Angels will look bad, but giving up on a quality bench player isn't anything a GM is going to cry over.
But Rodriguez wasn't the only player in the deal. Two other prospects went over: Matt Sweeney and Alex Torres. Sweeney was probably the least of the prospects since he had a reputation for a power bat and a fragile body. As it turns out, that scouting report was only half right. Sweeney has had a heck of a time staying healthy and now he isn't hitting anymore as well. He is still only 23, but Sweeney is on his second tour of duty in Double-A and hitting a mere .160. Like I said, he's still young, but it doesn't look like he is ever going to be a factor in the big leagues, assuming he even reaches the majors.
That leaves Alex Torres. If there is a guy who is going to make the Kazmir trade jump from terrible to soul-crushing, he is going to be that guy. Torres may lack name recognition, but he has has cracked a few top 100 prospect lists this year. That is definitely with good reason as the southpaw has shown a consistent ability to strikeout batters and keep the ball in the park. He's consistently been able to maintain right around a 9.0 K/9 rate at every level and has allowed no more than 9 homres over a whole season. He's in Triple-A now and is well on his way to keep both of those traits well intact. However, his fatal flaw is command since he generally walks batters at a rate of about 4.5 BB/9. If he ever gets a handle on his control problems, he could make the jump to being a legit frontline starter. Now that's something the Halos could really use since they have very little upper-level rotation depth in their system right now.
After weighing all that evidence, I still stand by my hypothesis that the trade wasn't as bad as everyone says, Of course, that is mostly because most people are giving it a 10 out of 10 on the terrible scale whereas it feels more like an 8.5, maybe a 9 since the prospects in the deal haven't amounted to much yet. That being said, if Torres becomes a quality big league starting pitcher, I take it all back and up it to a 10.
Until that day, I will take this 9 out of 10 as a small consolation. A very, very, very, very small consolation.
People may get the money aspect of things like this a little too front-loaded as an assessment tool. The infamous Keith Law mentioned something in yesterday's Baseball Today podcast (which I listened to while shopping at Trader Joe's this morning, thank you very much) that I just flat didn't believe. So I went to Baseball Reference and, sure enough, Kazmir is virtually a 0 WAR for his time with the Angels. Who is more to blame, Kazmir or the poor state of pitching the past two seasons? We all hated what Kazmir did while in Anaheim but at least one stat shows that he didn't kill us.
As for Torres, this was an '09 trade! Who knew he might be headed toward stats worth noticing? Sure he had decent low minor stats but at what is probably a generous listing of 5'10" and 175lbs they probably didn't think of him as much more than an "organizational player", used to fill out the minor leagues. Possibly even headed toward major arm surgery considering the effort he must make with every pitch. Hell, he's playing for the Durham Bulls now (Damn! I need to get another Bulls cap!) so he may become the pitching equivalent to Crash Davis and be remembered as the minors' all time leader in wins and ERA someday. Team rosters are littered with players and even stars traded while they were in the low minors. No trade would ever get done if you didn't take that chance. No big deal.
No, this was just a roll of the dice that didn't come up the way we'd have liked. The team lost money and that sunk cost is gone next season. Bummer for me since I was dumb enough to think Kazmir could produce and at a high (enough) level.