The fact that we even get to have this discussion is remarkable in its own way. Scott Kazmir was out of MLB-affiliated baseball in mid-2011 after injuries caused him to flame out. He bounced around in independent ball before signing a minor league deal with the Indians in 2013, and the rest is history. Kazmir pitched 158 innings of 3.51 FIP ball while striking out nearly a quarter of the men he faced, and signed a two-year deal with the Oakland Athletics before the 2014 season.
Kazmir pitched to a 3.55 ERA (3.35 FIP) in 190.1 innings last year, accruing 3.2 fWAR of value. This year he's been worth 1.9 fWAR in 101.1 innings, while pitching to a very pretty 2.49 ERA (3.18 FIP). That's pretty darn cool. Effective left-handed pitchers are always welcome in Yankee Stadium given the presence of the short porch. Kazmir would also only be a rental for the Yankees if they were to acquire him, so he would cost less to acquire than, say, an Andrew Cashner or a Tyson Ross (or a Cole Hamels, for that matter). He boasts a good fastball, a slightly below average slider, and great changeup. Kazmir doesn't throw the fire he used to, but still manages to own a 23.3% strikeout rate this year, while walking only 8.3% of opposing batters. Home runs are few and far between, as he's only giving up 0.62 per nine innings.
That's an appealing proposition so far. You can never have too much starting pitching, and acquiring Kazmir would would likely force CC Sabathia into the bullpen. The Yankees would have to first be willing to do such a thing with Sabathia, and that's hard to envision unless CC truly implodes every time he takes the mound between now and July 31st. Even then, the Yankees have shown in the past that they're hesitant to make any roster machinations that reflect poorly on the play of their big name, highly paid players.
There's also a few warts on Kazmir's end. As many of you may remember, Kazmir was lifted from his start at Yankee Stadium after three stellar innings just before the All-Star break with what was later described as "triceps tightness." It wasn't the first time that his triceps had bothered him this year, and that's a major cause for concern for a pitcher with a history of arm troubles.
Kazmir threw a 50-pitch bullpen session recently and felt fine, which is undoubtedly good news. But the arm trouble is understandably going to scare any inquiring GM who needs a boost in the rotation for the home stretch of the season. Kazmir is expected to make his scheduled start on Saturday against the Twins, and all eyes will be on his performance in that game and every start thereafter. The injury scare could push down his price somewhat and that makes him an intriguing gamble if his next start or two go off without a hitch.
If that all comes to pass, it's a matter of Billy Beane's asking price and the level of need in the Yankee starting rotation. CC Sabathia is the obvious sore spot, as the rest of the rotation has been serviceable at the very least. If Sabathia is absolutely in dire need of a bullpen gig, would Kazmir be the wisest investment? Three of the pitchers currently in the Yankee rotation (Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova) already have varying degrees of injury concerns. Tanaka has his elbow, Pineda has his shoulder, and Nova is fresh off Tommy John surgery. Kazmir could potentially be another injury waiting to happen. Pitchers break all the time, but it's perfectly reasonable for the Yankees to want a pitcher who has less of an immediate scare on his ledger. The scouting reports that come in over the next few weeks will be key. Of course, if the Yankees lose a starter in that time, Kazmir moves that much closer to the front of the line as a possible replacement.
All in all, Scott Kazmir is definitely someone that the Yankees have their eyes on. They've had scouts at his recent starts, and with Jesse Hahn landing on the DL, the A's have even more incentive to start selling off pieces. Kazmir, as a man on expiring contract, would be one of the first out the door if he stays healthy. Kazmir would almost certainly not cost the Yankees prospects of the Aaron Judge/Luis Severino caliber. Someone like Gary Sanchez might be a good place to start. If you want a less expensive rental starter than Johnny Cueto, Kazmir might be your guy.
Nicolas Stellini is a staff writer at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.