2015 Stats: 183 IP, 3.10 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 162 H, 2.9 BB/9, 7.6 K/9, 20 HR, 1.208 WHIP
2016 Age: 32
Position: Left-handed starting pitcher
Scott Kazmir's name should sound familiar to New York baseball fans. The Mets drafted the southpaw 15th overall in 2002 out of Cypress Falls High School in Houston. After dominating the minors for a couple seasons, Kazmir was on Queens' doorstep by late 2004. However, then-GM Jim Duquette shipped Kazmir to Tampa Bay at the trade deadline in the infamous Victor Zambrano trade.
Kazmir quickly ascended to the top of the Devil Rays' rotation. Although he had control problems early on (he led the AL with 100 walks in 2005), nobody could deny the young hurler had excellent stuff. In 2007, Kazmir paced the Junior Circuit with 239 strikeouts. He made a pair of All-Star teams, both in 2006 and 2008. What's more, Kazmir was front and center for Tampa Bay's improbable World Series run. He took the ball in both Game 1 and Game 5 of the '08 Fall Classic, pitching well but ultimately losing both contests. In the Sunshine State, Kazmir burned bright.
Until he didn't. As a young player, Kazmir struggled to stay healthy. He's small (6'0", 185 lbs) and his frame might have hindered his durability. Even when he was on the field, nagging injuries sapped his effectiveness. With his ERA ballooning to 5.92, the Rays dealt Kazmir to the Angels in August 2009 in exchange for Sean Rodriguez.
Kazmir was an unequivocal disaster in Anaheim where his 5.94 ERA made him literally the worst pitcher in all of baseball during 2010. What's more, he threw a grand total of just 1.2 innings between 2011 and 2012. In fact, the Angels cut him loose on midway through 2012, electing to eat the money on Kazmir's contract rather than retaining him through the whole season.
At the end of his contract with the Halos, Kazmir looked like toast. He couldn't stay healthy and when he was on the field he couldn't get anyone out. His velocity, which formerly sat at 92-93 mph, dropped by a half-dozen mph. Sometimes ballplayers lose their mojo seemingly overnight. Like Jason Bay, Chone Figgins, and Eric Gagne before him, Kazmir appeared to have fallen off the proverbial cliff.
Except, unlike the others, Scott Kazmir's story has a happy ending. He spent the last of 2012 pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters in the Atlantic League (the same team that has featured former NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady and 50-year-old Roger Clemens) and dominating Puerto Rican Winter Ball. His performance earned him a minor-league contract with the Cleveland Indians. After pitching well in spring training, Kazmir made the Tribe's rotation straightaway.
Kazmir parlayed a successful season in Cleveland into a two-year deal with the Oakland Athletics and like so many other pitchers before him, he became far better in Oakland than anyone expected. For the past two seasons, Kazmir has been a top-five lefty in the American League. He gained his third All-Star bid in 2014, and his 3.10 ERA with the A's and Astros in 2015 was fourth best in the AL.
Kazmir has also reinvented his repertoire, adding a low-90s two-seam fastball which he uses nearly exclusively now. He's eschewed his slider in favor of a tighter, firmer cutter, which he'll toss mid-80s. His wild card, though, is his mid-70s change. His arsenal is built around both effectiveness and endurance. He doesn't throw a lot of off-speed pitches at all, and when he does, it's usually a changeup, which puts far less strain on his arm than a breaking ball would. Working at three different speeds, Kazmir's mix is a recipe for longevity.
The market for Kazmir appears stout. He's a third-tier option this winter, but with this pitching-rich free agent class, that's by no means an insult. Pretty much every club will be interested in acquiring Kazmir. The big market teams could view him as a fallback option to one of the bigger names, or choose to add Kazmir alongside a top gun. He's affordable enough for the mid-market teams, and even stingy clubs might take advantage of the market surplus to add a quality arm at a reasonable price. Plus, since he was dealt midseason, the team that signs him won't have to forfeit a draft pick. Now in his thirties, Kazmir is likely seeking stability. Whoever offers him a fourth year might get him.
Kazmir would be a nice fit for the Yankees, who could really use another lefty for the rotation. However, they're not in the mood to hand out long-term deals to older pitchers. Though Kazmir will be just 32 years old next season, he already has considerable Major League mileage. He would help the rotation in the short-term. But given his injury history and the fact that his market might bear sweeter fruit elsewhere, those resources could be better spent on improving another facet of the team. If the Yankees are going to add a lefty, they shouldn't have to compromise the youth movement in doing so.