Scott Kazmir is back and better than ever

8 Comments

Scott Kazmir finished last season very strong with a 2.57 ERA and 43/4 K/BB ratio in five September starts and pitched well overall for the Indians, but when it came time to cash in as a free agent teams proved skeptical about his career being back on track after he fell all the way down to independent ball.

Kazmir ended up signing a two-year, $22 million deal with the A’s, which was less than half of what fellow free agent starters like Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Rickey Nolasco got and even a step below the money that went to clearly inferior talents like Scott Feldman and Jason Vargas.

Now the A’s look brilliant for taking the risk on Kazmir and the 30-year-old left-hander looks every bit like the dominant pitcher who starred for the Rays from 2004-2008. Last night Kazmir tossed seven innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox, improving to 9-2 with a 2.08 ERA on the season. Dating back to June 20 of last season–one calendar year–Kazmir has started 33 games with a 2.59 ERA and 187/44 K/BB ratio in 198 innings while allowing just 13 homers.

Kazmir went four years without being an effective big leaguer and two of those seasons without throwing a single pitch in the majors, but now at age 30 he looks as good as ever.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images
1 Comment

The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.