Should The New York Yankees Pursue Scott Kazmir?

A few years ago, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pondered the same question. In 2009, the Tampa Bay Rays were coming off a very special season for them; they reached their first World Series while players such as Evan Longoria and Matt Garza enjoyed breakout seasons, and were ready to set the AL East on fire with youth. Scott Kazmir was the cornerstone of the pitching rotation, and was expected to be a team leader. Instead, before his mid-season trade to the west coast, he became a liability with a 5.92 ERA before departing. The next year with the Angels, his ERA hopped to 5.94, with a 9-15 win-loss ledger. He pitched in only 1 game in 2011 and did not pitch in the Major Leagues in 2012.

Sep 28, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians pitcher Scott Kazmir (26) delivers a pitch in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Miraculously, Kazmir was able to revive his career with an admittedly quirky Cleveland Indians ballclub. A small market team comprised seemingly of misfit, but high profile players (Jason Giambi, Ubaldo Jimenez), took on the challenge of rehabilitating the thirty-year old Kazmir’s career. The Indians succeeded, making the playoffs for the first time since 2007, with our pitcher of interest sporting a 10-9 record and a 4.04 ERA in 158 innings.

So why should the Yankees sign him? First of all, the Yankees have few lefty starters in their arsenal, with C.C. Sabathia returning from a nightmarish season filled with injuries and earned runs. Assuming Sabathia regains his pitching form, the other pitchers on the roster are Ivan Nova and David Phelps who are all righties. Even Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes, who are free agents, are right handed. Kazmir could provide proper balance. Additionally, he seems to have corrected the problems he struggled with earlier in his career, such as his walks (he led the league in walks in 2005 with one hundred.)

But arguably the most important part of Kazmir’s performance would be his value compared to his performance. While with the Angels before the 2011, his salary was in the 12 million dollar range, reasonable at the time for a pitcher of his caliber, but completely ludicrous now. After all, Kazmir was pitching in the independent leagues in 2012 for a fraction of that, and pitched poorly too. He ended up signing a minor league contract for the Indians last year. Considering Scott Boras isn’t his agent, it wouldn’t be overly astonishing for the Yankees to try to sign him for a 1 year, 4 million dollar contract. The team could still try to remain under the desired $189 million mark, and the loss wouldn’t be too devastating if Kazmir reverts to his 2010 self. Keep in mind that Phil Hughes earned 7.1 million last year, and his 2012 numbers were fairly similar to Kazmir’s 2013 stats, albeit the Yankee pitched more innings.

Finally, just imagine the story! A superstar pitcher drafted out of high school by a crosstown rival (the Mets) becomes a premier player for a divisional rival (the Rays) only to have shoulder injuries limit his abilities and force him to toil in the independent leagues. After on the verge of retiring, he works his way back to the Major League and regains his form pitching in Yankee Stadium. Of course, a team should only sign a player if he is to help the team, not because of a publicity stunt. But Scott Kazmir, armed with a low 90’s fastball, is a gamble that could pay off handsomely.