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.

Gerrit Cole set to begin throwing program

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 24:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout in the second inning during the game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on August 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.

The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.

The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.