The Saga of Scott Kazmir

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Drafted, disciplined, traded, lionized, traded, released, finished.

The saga of Scott Kazmir is summed up neatly with that order of words.

With the news in this Jayson Stark piece on ESPN that his fastball is puttering in at 84-85 mph, he might be better-suited to begin throwing sidearm and marketing himself as a lefty specialist.

Because he was such a high-profile player and representative of so many different things—a questioned draft pick and trade; a falling star; trading a name player sooner rather than later; an attitude problem—it’s easily lost that Kazmir, with his draft status and subsequent salaries in mind, has been mostly a bust.

The Mets drafted Kazmir in 2002 and it wouldn’t have been as noteworthy had the process not been detailed in Moneyball. The Mets were going to draft Nick Swisher if Kazmir wasn’t available—and they didn’t think he would be—but he was and they took him.

In the minors, Kazmir had a reputation for swaggering arrogance and off-field mishaps. It drew the ire of the Mets’ influential veterans Al Leiter and John Franco when, in the team’s weight room, Kazmir changed their radio station and they told him to change it back.

Mets’ pitching czar Rick Peterson advocated the ill-fated trade the Mets made for Victor Zambrano in July of 2004 not because of disciplinary issues, but because of the cold, hard data that Peterson relies on in judging his charges. Zambrano would help immediately and Peterson felt that he could repair his mechanics and make him more effective; Kazmir was small, had a stressful motion and wouldn’t be a durable rotation linchpin for at least another 2-3 years and only that for a short period of time.

The Devil Rays acquired him while still being run by Chuck LaMar and brought him to the big leagues later that season. Opposing hitters were impressed and writers eagerly used the array of power stuff displayed by Kazmir to hammer the Mets decisionmakers for trading him. It was that Mets regime’s flashpoint and death knell. Zambrano went on the disabled list after three starts and the Mets came apart leading to the demotion of GM Jim Duquette in favor of Omar Minaya and the firing of manager Art Howe.

Peterson survived the purge.

Kazmir was impressive over parts of the next five seasons with his best and most durable year coming in 2007 with the rebuilding Rays. He struck out 239 hitters in 32 starts and made the All Star team. But there were warning signs. He had elbow and shoulder woes and, under the pretense of financial constraints and falling from playoff contention in August of 2009, the Rays made him available via trade.

The Angels came calling and dealt three prospects for Kazmir and the $20 million+ remaining on his contract.

In reality, the Rays saw that Kazmir was declining and an injury waiting to happen, so they dumped him and his salary and got some useful pieces in Sean Rodriguez and two minor leaguers in exchange.

Kazmir had a mysterious “back injury” in 2011 that was more likely a face-saving gesture from the Angels to let him try and straighten himself out while not enduring the embarrassment of a former All-Star being sent to the minors. While trying to come back, he got pounded in 5 minor league starts and the Angels released him.

After his release, teams considered Kazmir, but no one signed him.

As much as the Mets are rightfully criticized for that trade, it turned out that the mistake wasn’t dealing him, but what they dealt him for. Following that season, there was every possibility that they could’ve centered Kazmir around a deal for Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder or inquired about Ben Sheets. Instead, they got Zambrano; Zambrano got hurt; and there was a regime change in Flushing.

Kazmir is about done now. The next step is either have a surgery that he may or may not need to “fix” a problem that doesn’t exist and “prove” that he’s on the comeback trail and will again have that velocity and movement that made him such a coveted prospect to begin with.

My advice to Kazmir is, as I said earlier, become a sidearming lefty specialist. He’ll always have a job and might even be effective in that role.

But will his ego be able to handle it? Unless he’s remarkably stupid and wasteful, he has enough money to live the rest of his life, so it comes down to whether or not he wants to continue playing baseball.

It won’t be as an All-Star starter because that pitcher, along with the one who’s immortalized in print and perception for the right and wrong reasons, is gone forever.

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The Albert Pujols Mock Draft

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If Keith Law were to travel back in time to 1999—before he became the unwitting victim caught in the crossfire in that rare moment of Michael Lewis being completely honest; was subject to the formative mind-poisoning of the diabolical J.P. Ricciardi; prior to turning into Mr. Smartypants who played semantical handball with the truth—where would he place Albert Pujols in his indispensable mock MLB draft?

Without getting into another rant about the negligibility of the MLB draft—that it’s not like the NFL or NBA; there are so many variables in a player making in and succeeding in the big leagues that the moneymaking aspect of the MLB draft has sabotaged all comprehension to its randomness—you can’t give the Cardinals credit for taking Pujols any more than you can blame other clubs for passing on him.

Most recently, the revisionist history of why teams missed out on Pujols and the Cardinals were able to snag him (if you consider drafting someone in the 13th round “snagging”) extended to Jonah Keri’s otherwise engaging book about the Tampa Bay Rays, The Extra 2%.

Keri spent an entire chapter using as a basis for the perceived ineptitude of the original Rays regime that they had a workout for Pujols and subsequently snubbed him even after he rocked line drives all over Tropicana Field.

It’s a shaky premise at best.

Every other team missed on Pujols; it was the Cardinals who selected him.

No one thinks that a 13th round pick is going to make it to the big leagues; will be productive; turn into an All Star; or evolve into this—the monster who hit 3 home runs last night and is the best pure right-handed hitter in baseball since Joe DiMaggio.

The excuses are far-ranging and, in a sense, viable.

He had no position. The competition he played against in junior college was mediocre. His grasp of the language was limited. He was skinny. They don’t know how old he was.

Some of them are still in question.

The PED aspect has and will forever hover around Pujols. Unless his name pops up somewhere in a quack doctor’s notes or some drug middleman’s plea deal, he’ll be innocent; but we can never be sure he’s entirely clean. That’s just the way it is today.

As for Pujols’s age, I still don’t believe he’s only about to turn 32.

Be that as it may, such a tremendous player sitting undrafted until the 13th round is a testament to Pujols’s determination to succeed; his latent talent that may have taken a few years to completely manifest itself; the opportunity to play…and the ridiculousness of the draft.

If Pujols had struggled at any point in the minors, he’d have been released or traded—such is the nature of a later round draft pick in whom little money is invested.

That too, is the way it is.

We can let slide some of the star-level names that were taken in the 1st round of that 1999 draft—Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett, Barry Zito or Ben Sheets; and we can discount the “tools” players like Mike MacDougal and Alexis Rios.

But Eric Munson? Corey Myers? Dave Walling?

And before anyone comes up with the egocentric idiocy of the Yankees “doing most of their damage” in the 20th round and above, they too let Pujols go sailing by; said myth of the Yankees being so astute that they selected star-level players like Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada past the 20th round of the 1990 draft is retrospective nonsense—they got lucky; maybe if Pujols had lasted until round 22, they’d have grabbed him rather than Chris Klosterman.

Would Pujols have been noticed had his name been Josh Pujols?

These factors are indicative of the capriciousness of the draft and no amount of woulda/shoulda/coulda is going to alter that reality.

Would-be MLB draftiks seeking to mimic the admirable Mel Kiper Jr., endeavoring to create a career where there wasn’t one before are ignorant that I could thumb through a copy of Baseball America a week before the draft and find a series of names that would shield me from criticism (and that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?) for taking a certain player over another without having the faintest clue as to whom he is or whether or not he can actually play.

Albert Pujols hit 3 homers in a World Series game last night; this is while he was enduring a savage media onslaught for daring not to speak to them after game 2.

Pujols has a tendency to shut people up the right way—on the field.

Complain all you want for his absence from the microphones, but do so while bowing to him as one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the sport.

Such an appellation gives an automatic break for “unprofessional” behaviors.

He gets away with it because he can.

And he deserves to.

Because he’s the best.

Period.

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Jered Weaver’s Extension And Scott Boras’s Shaky Year

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When thinking about the Angels contract extension with Jered Weaver, I realized that no one has signed Scott Kazmir.

What’s next for Kazmir? The “Ben Sheets I said I don’t need surgery but will have surgery to make everyone happy after I was looking to sign a guaranteed contract but no one would sign me because of concerns about needing surgery which I didn’t need but will have anyway just because while I actually did need surgery” strategy?

But I digress.

The Weaver announcement was something of a surprise because Weaver was set to enter free agency after 2012 and his agent is Scott Boras. Representation by Boras generally means that there’s not going to be talk of an extension before the player goes into the market.

Obviously Weaver wanted to stay with the Angels and told Boras to make it happen; the contract is said to be for 5-years and $85 million; the details are still coming out.

Speculation will be that Boras doesn’t have the Svengali hold on Weaver that he has on other clients. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant. What I find interesting is how, after the deranged contract Boras got for Jayson Werth, the agent’s had a bit of a shaky year. He did manage to get Francisco Rodriguez as a client, but he was outfoxed by Mets GM Sandy Alderson when Alderson traded K-Rod to the Brewers before Boras could submit the list of teams to whom K-Rod could not be traded; K-Rod’s 2012 contract kicker was eliminated for an extra $500,000 guaranteed so he could be a free agent at the end of the year. It doesn’t really matter. With the Brewers K-Rod has been used as a set-up man and wasn’t going to approach his appearance clause with or without that incentive.

Boras was rebuffed in his attempts to lure Jose Reyes away from his current agents, the Greenbergs; and now there’s the Weaver extension that Boras undoubtedly advised against. Weaver—at age 30—could’ve gotten $140-160 million on the open market after next season.

But he wanted to stay in Anaheim and that’s what he’s doing.

It’s interesting that players are increasingly shunning the pursuit of every last cent on the open market to be in a preferable location. The MLB Players Association applies pressure to their members to take the highest bids for a trickle down effect so everyone makes more money, but if Weaver is taking less money; if Joe Mauer is taking less money, the tide is turning toward the players ignoring edicts and doing what’s right for themselves.

This bodes well for the Cardinals to keep Albert Pujols which, all along, I thought was going to happen regardless of ancillary factors. Whether it’s going to mean lesser players getting a bigger or smaller paycheck in the long run remains to be seen, but assigning monetary value based on statistics is being used with greater frequency, therefore it was inevitable that teams and players would grow more pragmatic.

Pragmatism is the last thing a superagent like Boras wants.

But here we are.

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Precision Strikes 5.30.2011

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Let’s address some stuff. In brief.

The true test with big name trades.

Jose Reyes on a hot streak begets endless stories of how the Mets “have” to sign him.

The Mets don’t “have” to do anything other than what’s best for the franchise. If that means trading Reyes, then they should trade Reyes. If that means keeping Reyes, then they should make every effort to keep Reyes.

With the new minority owner David Einhorn about to infuse the club with much-needed cash, it leaves the Reyes decision in the hands of GM Sandy Alderson; presumably, Alderson will make his call based purely on baseball-related matters.

Reyes has been great all season long but that can only enhance his trade value and perhaps give the Mets more incentive to trade him.

Hypothetically, if a team hungry for offense like the Angels comes calling in desperation and offers a package that includes say Mike Trout (unlikely) and/or Jean Segura (nod to Peter at Capitol Avenue; I had no idea who Segura was and kinda still don’t; his numbers look “young Reyes-like” though), then that would be another mistake on the Mets docket, this one made by the new management team stemming from failing to act.

It’s hard to do, but one of the reasons the Rays, Marlins and to a certain extent, the Red Sox have been so successful within certain parameters of belief on how to run their franchises is that they either don’t have a fan base that is so frantic at the prospect of trading anyone and everyone as is the case with the Rays and Marlins; or do what they feel is right based on current circumstances, like the Red Sox.

This is the tack the Mets need to take with Reyes, Carlos Beltran and any other player in whom opposing clubs are interested—keep and open mind in every conceivable aspect.

Business is business; annoying is annoying.

I understand ESPN’s need for cross-promotion, but it’s gone from necessary to ego-driven to over-the-top and has entered into the airless vacuum of content which you can’t even pay attention to anymore.

Never mind the impropriety of sports reporters cozying up to athletes about whom they’re supposed to provide objective analysis (if such a thing even exists anymore, anywhere other than here); forget the coverage of convenience that occurs when lust-target Brett Favre emerges from his lair.

Ignore all of that.

When you log onto ESPN.com or watch, listen or read any of their demographically dominated entities, you have to know what you’re walking into; but is it necessary for me to have to endure the rollover ads with the unfunny Kenny Mayne talking about Van Heusen shirts in his canned deadpan? Do I have to see Chris Berman’s smug countenance hawking Nesquik?

I log onto ESPN.com because I have to; I’m not a reporter nor do I want to be one; the sad part is, it’s getting so ESPN’s reporters—many of whom are or were of high-quality—are sucked into editorial edicts or goofy commercials because they have no other option either.

It took nearly 7 years, but…

I saw this on Twitter:

Scott Kazmir 2 1/3 innings 10 earned runs tonight. In two starts for Salt Lake, 4 innings 16 earned runs.

When the Mets traded Kazmir to the Devil Rays for a package led by Victor Zambrano, it was called one of the worst trades in baseball history.

Maybe it was.

But now, nearly 7 years after the fact, it’s a safe bet that Zambrano is now better than Kazmir.

As far as I know, Zambrano is retired.

Maybe the Mets “College of Cardinals” front office who pushed the deal through knew something?

Okay, we won’t go that far.

The only thing remaining for Kazmir is some Ben Sheets-style surgical procedure whether he needs it or not. Apart from that, I dunno what else can be done with him after the Angels release him—an unavoidable occurrence is assuredly on the horizon.

Sometimes there is justice.

Am I the only one who finds it funny that Jonny Gomes is batting under .200 for the struggling Reds and is losing playing time to the underrated Fred Lewis?

That the Reds are considering an offensive upgrade because of Gomes’s struggles?

That the Cardinals are rolling along in first place after a spring training incident in which Gomes sang and celebrated the season-ending injury to Cards ace Adam Wainwright?

Wainwright’s out for the year because of injury; Gomes may soon be sitting because he’s been awful.

I call that street justice.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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