As I am sure you can tell, we are well into the thrills of the offseason. First, Jordan Zimmerman got the ball rolling with a slightly underwhelming 5 year/$110 million dollar deal with the Detroit Tigers, and not two days later, this offseason’s big fish, David Price, completed a large, but expected 7 year/$217 million dollar deal with the Boston Red Sox. At the end of last offseason, I wouldn’t have guessed that the Cubs would have entered 2016 without one of those two guys, but things change quickly and I don’t think I expected a Cubs marriage with Price or Zimmermann for some time now.
While there are still some very big fish out there – Jason Heyward, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto, for a few examples – the former is the only one we can reasonably expect the Cubs to be in on. So, with Price and Zimmermann gone, and Greinke and Cueto seemingly off the table, the Cubs appear set to turn their attention towards the middle tier of free agent starting pitchers (assuming they won’t make multiple trades) to fill at least one spot in the 2016 rotation. We’ve already heard a lot of rumors regarding Mike Leake, John Lackey and Jeff Samardzija (who may or may not already have a $100M deal on the table), but there is one free agent starting pitcher that the Cubs were connected to at and before the 2015 trade deadline who has since gone undiscussed: Scott Kazmir. That is, of course, until now.
Via CBS Chicago, Bruce Levine is reporting that – among Samardzija, Leake and Lackey – the Cubs might be high on left-handed veteran Scott Kazmir.
Although the connection is only briefly mentioned at the end of the article, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise or be taken for granted. The Cubs are very likely to add a free agent starter from the tier that Kazmir currently occupies, he has been pretty successful over the past three seasons, is familiar to Joe Maddon from their days in Tampa Bay, and we know the Cubs front office has shown interest in the lefty before. Combined with this report, which comes across as more than just an off-the-cuff comment, I think you can safely count the Cubs among Kazmir’s realistic suitors.
So then, how attractive of a free agent is Scott Kazmir? To answer, let’s take a look at what kind of pitcher he is right now, project his future performance and determine what type of contract he should expect to receive.
Scott Kazmir, 31, is a left-handed starting pitcher with a pretty big arsenal. According to Fangraphs, he primarily relies on a two-seam fastball, a changeup and a slider, but occasionally mixes in a cutter, curveball and sinker. Throughout his career, his average fastball velocity has sat at 91.5 MPH and that is precisely where he was in 2015.
Consistency is only good, however, if you have at least some level of talent. So let’s take a look at how good Kazmir has been over the past three years – i.e., his seasons since returning from a journey to independent ball. Although he’s dealt with injury issues here and there, from 2013-2015, Kazmir has made 92 starts and thrown an average of 177 innings per season (183 in 2015). Over that stretch he had a 3.54/3.61/3.71 slash line with a solid 42.6% ground ball rate, 21.8% strikeout rate and a 7.1% walk rate. The BABIP and LOB% posted over that stretch was a normal .293 and 73.4%, respectively. His ERA in 2015 was an excellent 3.10, but his FIP (3.98) and xFIP (4.14) told a slightly different story.
Overall, what you see is what you get with Scott Kazmir. He doesn’t have much projection, but you are very likely to get roughly 175 IP of 3.5-3.75 ERA/FIP baseball. According to Steamer, for what it’s worth, Kazmir should acquire 2.5 WAR in 2016, throwing 169 innings with a 3.77/3.80 ERA/FIP over 29 starts.
As for his contract, something in the four year/$50 million dollar range seems to be the general consensus around baseball. Tim Dierkes (MLBTR) has him at 4/$52M, Dave Cameron (Fangraphs) pegs Kazmir for 3/$42M, Ken Davidoff (New York Post) is the high bidder predicting 4/$68 million and Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) predicts 3/$39M. So it’s either three or four years and somewhere around $14M/$15M average annual value feels about right. For what you can expect from Kazmir, those are pretty reasonable prices and if the Cubs can get him at the middle to low end of those marks, that provide plenty of flexibility for other (Heyward) offseason moves.
A small bonus with respect to Kamir: as a midseason traded player, he could not be made a qualifying offer, and is thus not tied to draft pick compensation.
Ultimately, Kazmir could provide a similar amount of value as other free agent pitchers in his tier (Samardzija, Leake, Lackey) with a little less upside, but possibly far less money. The type of flexibility he provides the front office for the rest of the offseason shouldn’t go discounted, either. Perhaps, the money saved going after Kazmir instead of, say, Samardzija, can be put towards acquiring a free agent reliever (in addition to another, bigger move, in this scenario). So, while Kazmir isn’t necessarily my primary target this offseason, I can see how he might make sense for this team.