Houston just made the first big splash of trade deadline season, acquiring left-hander Scott Kazmir from Oakland to bolster the rotation in exchange for minor leaguers Jake Nottingham and Dan Mengden.
Kazmir went from 22-year-old All-Star and Rays phenom to totally out of the big leagues in 2012, but resurrected his career with the Indians in 2013 and has been brilliant for the A’s since signing a two-year, $22 million deal as a free agent last offseason. Kazmir posted a 3.12 ERA in 50 total starts for Oakland, including a 2.38 ERA and 101/35 K/BB ratio in 110 innings this season with a big payday via free agency waiting around the corner.
He’s a legit top-of-the-rotation starter and now pairs with Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, who was arguably the AL’s best pitcher in the first half. Houston is pushing some of their chips into the middle of the table after going from rebuilding to contending much more quickly than expected, starting the season 53-43 after losing 92, 111, 107, and 106 games during the past four years. They have tons of young talent headlined by rookie shortstop Carlos Correa, the Astros lead the league in homers and are third in runs scored, and now they have a pair of excellent southpaws atop the rotation. General manager Jeff Luhnow and company are going for it.
Neither minor leaguer the A’s received for Kazmir is considered a top prospect, but that’s to be expected given his impending free agency in two months. Nottingham was a 2013 sixth-round pick who struggled in his first two pro seasons, but the 20-year-old catcher/first baseman has hit .326 with 14 homers and a .941 OPS in 76 games at Single-A this year. Mengden was a 2014 fourth-round pick who’s pitched well at Single-A this season as a 22-year-old, throwing 88 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 84/26 K/BB ratio.
Next up for the A’s: Trading fellow impending free agent Tyler Clippard and Ben Zobrist.
Retired big league pitcher Barry Zito has a memoir coming out. Much of it will likely track the usual course of an athlete’s memoir. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and a few fun and/or sad and/or thoughtful anecdotes along the way. One bit of it, though, is not the stuff of the usual athlete memoir.
He writes that he ctually rooted against the San Francisco Giants — his own team — in the 2010 World Series. He did so because he was left off the postseason roster, felt miserable about it and let his ego consume him. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
“It was really hard to admit . . . I rooted against the team because my ego was in full control and if we lost then I could get out of there . . . It would a) prove they couldn’t do it without me, and b) take me out of the situation because I was so miserable coming to the field every day. I was so deep in shame. I wanted out of that situation so bad.”
Zito at that point was midway through a seven-year, $126 million contract he signed with the Giants after the 2006 season. Almost as soon as he signed it he transformed from one of the better pitchers in the game — he had a 124 ERA+ in eight seasons with the Oakland Athletics and won the 2002 Cy Young Award — to being a liability for the Giants. Indeed, he only had one season in San Francisco where, again, by ERA+, he was a league-average starter or better. In 2010 he went 9-14 with a 4.15 ERA and was way worse than that down the stretch. It made perfect sense for the Giants to leave him off the 2010 postseason roster. And, of course, it worked out for them.
Things would improve. He’d still generally struggle as a Giant, but in 2012 he was a hero of the NLCS, pitching the Giants past the Cardinals in a must-win game. He then got the Game 1 start in the World Series and beat Justin Verlander as the Giants won that game and then swept the Tigers out of the series. As time went on he’d fine more personal happiness as well. When his contract ended following the 2013 season Zito took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle thanking Giants fans for their support. He’d leave the game in 2014 and pitch three more games for the Athletics in 2015 before retiring for good.
Not many baseball memoirs deliver hard truths like Zito’s appears willing to do. That’s pretty damn brave of him. And pretty damn admirable.