So Scott Kazmir just got traded to the Angels for three prospects. I think inevitably there is going to be some bafflement at this move, with people wondering what the Rays are doing trading away their most well-known player, who has basically been the face of the franchise for several years now, in what appears to be a cheapskate, salary-dumping move.
But I think trading Kazmir makes a lot of sense.
For most of this decade, the Rays have had one of the lowest payrolls in the game, but after making it all the way to the World Series last season, ownership allowed the payroll to balloon by 50%, from $44 million in 2008 to $64 million this season.
Naturally here was an expectation that fans would reward the team for their fantastic 2008 campaign, but unfortunately that has not been the case, as attendence has only upticked slightly from an average of 22,259 last season to 24,168, which is still only good enough for 22nd place among major league teams.
In light of this reality, it simply doesn’t make sense for the team to allow payroll to keep soaring even further, given that there is no sign that there would be much of any return on such an investment from the fans down in Flordia.
Moreover, the problem the Rays were facing was that, even if they just kept exactly the same players they have now, salary increases to players under contract or eligible for arbitration were going to push the payroll well over its current $64 million, probably up into the range of $75 to $80 million if the Rays just stood pat.
So even if the Rays just wanted to keep the payroll where it already was, which makes sense given their stagnant attentance, someone had to go.
Given this situation, letting Kazmir go makes the most sense. He was due for a large raise, up from $6 million this season to $23 million over the next two years, but more importantly, the Rays are loaded with top-shelf pitching prospects.
Rather than trading away somebody like Carl Crawford or BJ Upton, who would be much harder to replace, the Rays dealt from strength by moving Kazmir, whose production they can at least approximate for the major-league minimum salary. Hopefully, the Rays will now be able to hold on to Crawford and maybe Akinori Iwamura as well, at least for one more season.
It’s also important to remember that there are no guarantees Kazmir will remain the ace he has been going forward. While he has pitched well of late, he has always suffered through arm and shoulder injuries almost every year and he has had a down year over all this season.
The only real question I have about this trade, which we won’t be able to start to fully answer until the player to be named is revealed is whether or to what extent the Rays may have sold too low on Kazmir during a down year, and maybe should have let him pitch out September and dealt him in the offseason to maximize his return.
But then again, given Kazmir’s history of arm injuries, maybe now was precisely the right time, coming off a start in which he struck out 10 Blue Jays in only 6 innings.