To be clear, I have nothing against Scott Kazmir. He's put up some excellent seasons and has the potential to be a Cy Young winner. But given the way Tampa Bay's organization is aligned, trading him probably makes the team better. Getting rid of him isn't the goal -- it's what he'll return that is the reward. Let's start from the beginning...
Tampa Bay's Strengths and Weaknesses
Everybody knows that Tampa Bay's strength is starting pitching. They had one of the best rotations in baseball in 2008 and will be adding post-season hero and all-world prospect David Price in 2009. Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot, and Jeremy Hellickson are all waiting in the wings, ready to play on the big stage within the next year or two.
What the Rays don't have is a stud right fielder or a large payroll. If you believe in trading from a strength to fill a weakness (and why wouldn't you?), the Rays should be looking to trade a starter making significant money for an outfielder yet to hit arbitration.
Of the projected 2009 starters, Matt Garza, David Price, and Andy Sonnanstine will make peanuts, James Shields will earn less than $5MM per season through 2012, and Scott Kazmir will average about $9MM for the next three seasons. Assuming similar production, Kazmir is the guy to trade.
But what can an interested team expect from Kazmir going forward? While he did post a 3.49 ERA in 2008, his peripherals showed he actually had the worst year of his career, as represented by a 4.71 tRA. An ERA-centric (read: dumb) organization will jump all over him. A smart organization will see 2008's struggles, but will realize previous seasons count, too, and his previous three tRA's going backwards were 3.46, 3.53, and 4.32. If we average the past three seasons' tRA*s (which is already regressed) weighted 5/3/2 we get a 2009 projected ERA of 3.94. Given that AJ Burnett, Derek Lowe, and Ben Sheets will demand $15MM to $20MM per season, similar production from a much younger pitcher earning $9MM per season (plus option years) is a huge bargain.
Finding a Trade Partner
Now the Rays need a trade partner. Team needs and expectations never line up perfectly, but I think all of these ideas are reasonable starting points:
Dodgers - They have a logjam in the outfield, leaving Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier as tradeable pieces. I prefer Ethier, who has OBP skills in addition to right-handed power.
- Cardinals - It's well known that Ryan Ludwick's being shopped. Yes, he's arbitration eligible (i.e. not free anymore), but the Cardinals could sweeten the pot. And how about Colby Rasmus as an option?
- Rangers - I have to mention the possible return of Josh Hamilton to Tampa Bay, right? According to Cot's he's under team control for four more years, and with the glut of outfielders in Texas (Byrd, Cruz, Boggs, Murphy), they can certainly give one up for a pitcher, right?
- Brewers - Is Ryan Braun completely untouchable? With his long-term contract, he's one of the most valuable commodities in all of baseball. It would probably take more than Kazmir to nab him, but the Brewers need pitching as much as anyone.
Spending The Savings
The other benefit of unloading Kazmir's salary is that it frees up payroll space. Down the road that will allow the Rays to keep more of their home-grown players, but short-term it could mean signing someone like Milton Bradley or Jason Giambi to DH or Brian Fuentes to completely prevent opponents from scoring in the late innings. Both those options would cost $8-$10MM a year, which not coincidentally equals Kazmir's future salary.
Putting It All Together
I'm probably being optimistic as to how much this trade would help the Rays, but the following summary sounds pretty good, all at no increase to the payroll:
Losses: Kazmir from the rotation (4 WAR), Gross/platoon-mate from right field (2 WAR), Hinske from DH (0 WAR)
Gains: Davis or Jackson in the rotation (1-4 WAR), Ethier or Ludwick in right field (4 WAR), Bradley or Giambi at DH (2 WAR)
Depending how quickly the Rays can upgrade from Jackson to Davis, that's a net gain of 1 to 4 wins per season.
What do you think? Who else has a young outfielder to spare and would jump at the chance to land one of the best young lefty starters in the game?