Report: Kazmir will go to Angels in waiver deal

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A deal rumored in July was surprisingly near completion Friday, as the Angels reportedly acquired Scott Kazmir from the Rays for prospects Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney.
As a 25-year-old lefty with a 55-44 record, a 3.92 ERA and 874 strikeouts in 834 innings, Kazmir hardly seemed to be a likely candidate to be part of a waiver deal. However, since it was the Angels picking him up, he only needed to get through 11 American League teams. That meant no interference from the Yankees. The Red Sox, Tigers and Rangers all could have thrown a monkey wrench into the Angels’ plans, but the price tag scared them all off.
That is the problem here. Kazmir isn’t currently the same pitcher he was two years ago, and he’s owed $8 million next year, $12 million in 2001 and either $13.5 million or a $2.5 million in 2012. This could turn out as badly as the Dontrelle Willis acquisition and signing (more so the signing) did for Detroit.
When Kazmir was at his best in 2006, he averaged 92 mph with his fastball, 84 mph with his slider and 82 mph with his changeup. These days he’s at 90.7 with his fastball, 81 mph with his slider and 79 with his changeup. The slider just doesn’t have the same snap it used to, and he’s never developed better command to help make up for the diminished stuff.
It’s very possible that Kazmir will be an injury-prone No. 3 or No. 4 starter going forward. The Rays couldn’t take that risk when he’s due so much cash, so shedding his contract was the right move. It’s the timing that’s questionable, as the club is still just 3 1/2 games back in the wild card chase. However, Andy Sonnanstine is ready to move back into the rotation and Wade Davis is deserving of an opportunity. The Rays may well be better off without him.
At the same time, it’s hard to blame the Angels for making the move. They’ve needed another starter since way back in spring training, and while the lousy bottom of the rotation hasn’t prevented them from compiling the AL’s second-best record, it could kill them come playoff time. Now they have choices. They won’t necessarily have to stick Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana in their postseason rotation if they struggle next month. And if either Saunders or Santana goes down again, they won’t have to face the scary possibility of making Trevor Bell or Sean O’Sullivan their fourth starter in the postseason.
In order to acquire Kazmir, the Angels parted with a couple of prospects who ranked between fifth and 10th in their system. Torres, a 21-year-old southpaw, has helped his stock a bunch by going 13-4 with a 2.74 ERA, 116 H and 149/80 K/BB in 147 1/3 IP between Single- and Double-A this year. He projected as a reliever going into this year, but he’s now a very intriguing rotation possibility. Sweeney has power potential, but he’s been held back by injuries and he’s not going to last at third base. The 21-year-old has hit .299/.379/.517 in 211 at-bats for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga this season. There’s a chance that he’ll make it as a starting first baseman someday.
Neither prospect is on the 40-man roster, so waiver rules won’t apply in this case.
The Rays may well be blasted for making this trade while still in contention, but in the end, they’ll probably be better off for it. Losing Kazmir doesn’t necessarily hurt their playoff chances at all, and by dumping his salary, they’re giving themselves greater flexibility for next year. Perhaps that means Carl Crawford will stick around after all.

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.