Dodgers Give Iwakuma Money to Scott Kazmir

It seemed for a time like Scott Kazmir wanted to get himself signed before Christmas. That didn’t happen, but he’ll settle for getting signed before New Year’s — for three years, and $48 million, with the Dodgers being his newest employer. Kazmir joins what could be an all-left-handed starting rotation, not even counting the left-handed Julio Urias. No one would ever suggest you can fill a Zack Greinke-shaped hole with a Scott Kazmir-shaped plug, but there simply wasn’t another Greinke to be had, and Kazmir makes this group better than it could have been.

This is, what, a Tier-2-level transaction? Maybe even Tier 3. I’m not sure because I just invented the scale. But with a move like this, there generally isn’t all that much to be said in terms of player or team analysis. Kazmir is above-average. Occasionally great, occasionally awful. The Dodgers are above-average, too, and should remain that way into the future. Kazmir is getting above-average-player money. All that stuff is obvious, so it’s better to focus on the one most interesting detail. And in this case, I think that detail is that Kazmir can opt out of the contract after this coming season.

So for Kazmir, it’s three years and $48 million, with a first-year opt-out. Because he was traded last summer, he wasn’t eligible to be slapped with a qualifying offer. Previously, the Dodgers tried to give three years and $45 million to Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma would’ve cost them a draft pick. The opt-out is a player benefit, more than it’s a team benefit, so in a sense these are similar contracts, with the opt-out balancing against the lost draft pick. In terms of total value, they’re close to being equal. This is just a deal of a different structure.

It’s unusual to see an opt-out so soon. And it’s unusual to see an opt-out for a non-elite player. Mostly, we’ve seen opt-outs in contracts at the top of the market. If not that, then we’ve seen opt-outs for higher-profile international signings. The Dodgers just lowered the bar some, similar to what we’ve seen with teams extending qualifying offers to non-elite players. At some point there’ll be an equilibrium. As for the first-year part, it’s smart on the part of Kazmir’s agent, because next year’s pool of potential free-agent starters is weak behind Stephen Strasburg. No team is ever going to think all that highly of Kazmir no matter who else is available, but it would work to his benefit to be one of the best arms out there. It’s not a bad option to have.

By now you know how this works. No opt-out happens without a compromise on the other side. An opt-out reduces the total value of a contract, while also limiting a team’s potential benefit. If not for the clause, Kazmir would’ve cost well more than $48 million. Because of the clause, the Dodgers would get just one year of a really good Kazmir, not three. The benefit to the player here is obvious. As for the Dodgers’ side, this isn’t quite like an opt-out for an elite player. If Kazmir elects to opt out in 10 months, he’s not going to have ace value. He’s just going to figure he’s more valuable than $32 million over two years. If Kazmir walks, then the Dodgers should be able to put a QO on him, provided that system still applies. So then they can recoup a larger fraction of the lost value than with, say, a Greinke. Kazmir wouldn’t leave a gaping hole.

It helps the Dodgers’ particular situation to have such a strong farm. They figure Urias is coming soon, along with Jose De Leon, and then there’s also Francelis Montas and Jharel Cotton, to say nothing of some lesser arms. Because this is the Dodgers, you can never rule out a trade, so I don’t know what the depth chart is going to look like in April. But for the moment, the team is set up with plenty of starter options both immediately and down the road. There’s only one ace, but he’s perhaps the ultimate ace, and then there’s no shortage of depth behind him. And the front office might still choose to pursue Kenta Maeda.

For the Dodgers, the worst case is that Kazmir gets hurt and never pitches well again. If that happens, they’re stuck, but they’d be stuck for even more if it weren’t for the opt-out. If Kazmir does well and opts out, it’s because he’s worth more than what’s left on the Dodgers deal, at least within the market that’ll exist. But there’s almost no way Kazmir’s worth a massive contract next fall — maybe 4/$70m, instead of 2/$32m. Quite possibly less. It’ll just hurt the Dodgers less if Kazmir leaves, which the potential draft pick addresses. For me, this is a very different sort of opt-out than Johnny Cueto‘s. It’s one of lesser significance.

As far as Kazmir the pitcher is concerned, his reputation is for fragility, but the last three years he’s tied for 25th in baseball in starts. Sometimes he needs to be more carefully managed, but he hasn’t suffered anything catastrophic, so he’s not an automatic visitor to the DL. For whatever it’s worth, over the same three years, he’s 35th in pitches and innings, and 39th in batters faced. Kazmir isn’t a classic workhorse, taking every other start into the ninth, but the Dodgers already understand the utility of a deep bullpen, and they won’t push Kazmir hard.

I think it’s interesting to look at Kazmir and Wei-Yin Chen side by side. You don’t think of them as having similar profiles, and Kazmir is a year and a half older, but they’re both lefties, they’ve both been free agents, they’ve both pitched in the American League, and there are reports out there Chen wants five years and $100 million. You shouldn’t expect him to get it.

Scott Kazmir vs. Wei-Yin Chen
2014-2015 GS IP WAR K-BB% ERA- FIP- xFIP- GB% Hard% FBv
Kazmir 63 373 5.5 14% 87 94 98 43% 26% 91.2
Chen 62 377 5.3 14% 86 99 99 41% 29% 91.6

Every column is similar, if not identical. They have varying styles, but their fastballs are about the same, and for all the talk about Chen limiting quality contact, Kazmir has been at least his match. Something Chen didn’t do was pitch worse down the stretch in 2014, but last year he had his midsummer hiccups. I think Chen and Kazmir have different perceptions, but they’ve been awful similar pitchers, and they should get awful similar contracts. And unlike Kazmir, Chen is going to cost a team a draft pick.

For the Dodgers, this isn’t a major move. That’s a weird thing to say about a $48-million free-agent contract, but Kazmir isn’t going to be one of the stars on the roster. He’s depth, a potential No. 2 starter in a rotation full of No. 2 candidates behind the No. 1. I don’t know if Kazmir is better than Brett Anderson. I don’t know if Kazmir is more dependable than Brett Anderson. I don’t know what Hyun-Jin Ryu is going to do after his shoulder surgery. The most important thing here is a bit of stability. Kazmir comes with his question marks, but his presence removes one question mark from the Dodgers’ list. Others remain, but you can’t address everything. Nor do you need to with the season months away.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Legeisc
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Legeisc
4 months 26 days ago

Kazmir’s ERA being the same as Chen’s is based on one really good year. Not sure if I would say he’s as likely to beat his FIP as Chen. I do agree that if Chen signs for something significantly more than Kazmir, Kazmir would be the better deal for a team.

Bip
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Member
Bip
4 months 26 days ago

Even for the same price, for a contract this size and length, the draft pick is a pretty significant cost. I also am not sure how likely Chen is to beat his FIP, given his previous years he was stranding more runners than expected. It seems like that might be less sustainable than a guy who can suppress BABIP.

Paul22
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Paul22
4 months 26 days ago

Every pitcher has question marks. For the Dodgers 48 million is chump change. Also, they won’t give up a pick so assuming thats valued at 8 million he is actually cheaper than Iwakuma and no more of a risk either.

If Kazmir has a 3-4 WAR season and opts out, well, they only paid 16 million or 4-5.3 million/WAR. Plus they get a pick valued at about 8 million, so its really half that (2-2.65 million/WAR).

If he has a poor year, he can still bounced back in years 2 and 3. If not, well, thats baseball. You can’t win without taking some risk.

Its a win win for both player and team, and most deals should be

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
4 months 26 days ago

I think the idea that any money to the Dodgers can be “chump change” is way overblown, based on the huge payroll inflation they went through last year, which they clearly did not intend to maintain. However, I do think that they are more concerned about committing future dollars than present dollars. A contract of this size, based on the team’s current position, is something that is not likely to bite them.

Basically, for me, this transaction analysis is pretty much: the Dodgers didn’t have a lot of glaring needs aside from a decent starter or two, and they bought an acceptable starter on an acceptable contract. An acceptable transaction. As a fan, I’m glad they didn’t give up a pick to do this.

raygu
Member
4 months 25 days ago

Agreed. If Kazmir and Anderson pitch well, the Dodgers offer them a QO and they get two draft picks while probably winning a 4th straight NL West title. Both also give Urias and De Leon the proper AAA seasoning that they both require. That said, I think we will see both in LA at some point this season.

Brent Henry
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Brent Henry
4 months 26 days ago

I’ve been thinking of Chen as the better pitcher but I guess he’s really quite similar.

johansantana17
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johansantana17
4 months 25 days ago

sometimes it’s hard to remember that most advanced/sabermetric stats adjust for park and league factors. I keep thinking how Chen moving from the AL East to the NL West would make his numbers so much better, but WAR, FIP, SIERA, etc. all adjust for that I believe

Bip
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Member
Bip
4 months 26 days ago

I like this deal, mainly because it’s not for too long, because it doesn’t cost a draft pick, and because Kazmir has always been an AL guy and I probably think the AL-NL gap is bigger than the average person does. However, there are a lot of Dodger fans I’m sure who are experiencing quite the consternation that the team could very well have an all-left starting rotation to start the year. I am not concerned about this at all, but let’s think through it a little to decide if it’s really a problem.

I believe that the main reason people think this is bad is that having an all-same-handed lineup and bullpen is bad, and they kind of just group the rotation in there, but I also think those reasons do not translate to the starting rotation.

An all-left lineup would be bad, since a team could very strategically use left-handed relievers to neutralize the lineup. A team could even leave a LOOGY in for multiple innings (which takes the OO out of LOOGY but whatever), whereas having an alternating lineup means that a team can’t leave in their LOOGY or ROOGY for multiple batters without getting a really bad matchup. This reason is a real concern, but obviously it has no bearing on the starting rotation.

A bullpen without a lefty would also be bad, as it could allow the opposing team to bring in their righty-masher late in the game, and also denies you a lot of the value in being able to neutralize certain left-handed batters that is relatively cheap to acquire. Adding just one lefty to an all-right bullpen can greatly increase it’s effectiveness, as a LOOGY can often be as good against LHB as an ace RHP reliever. However, since you cannot choose your starting pitcher at game-time based on matchups, this is also not relevant.

The only real problem I can see is that it makes the team weak against a righty-heavy lineup, but that could be balanced just as easily by the advantage they get against a lefty-heavy lineup. It may allow an opponent to set their roster with extra RHB during a playoff series, but I wouldn’t be too concerned about that at this point in the year. They should be getting McCarthy back by the playoffs anyway, and De Leon may be contributing by then too. The other thing that can go either way is that it would let an opponent set their lineup, but is that an advantage, or does it lead to some players being overused?

tz
Member
tz
4 months 26 days ago

I think in the current MLB environment there might be an advantage to starting a lefty, all else being equal. Here’s what I’m thinking…

Teams are all over trying to build a stacked bullpen like KC has had the last few years. From the current supply vs. demand, you tend to get mostly righties for your late-inning power pitchers, like Herrera/Davis/Holland or Garcia/Hatcher/Jensen for the Dodgers. So if an opponent stacks their starting lineup with righties against your LHP starter, you’ve set them up for a platoon disadvantage for the last few innings unless they burn some lefty pinch-hitters. And if the lefty PH in a high-leverage situation is a masher who sits against tough lefties, that’s why God invented the LOOGY (as you point out, having just one is a big help).

I think your second paragraph nails the reasons for the misperception about a one-handed rotation being a problem. I know that was my gut reaction years ago when the Angels had lefties for their #1-4 starters (#5 was a righty named Phil Leftwich), but it’s a non-issue at most. If you’re just looking to get a solid 6 from your starters before handing it over to the pen, there might be enough of an advantage to starting a lefty to make a lefty-heavy rotation a desirable thing.

lesmash
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lesmash
4 months 26 days ago

Question for you, Jeff:

How much money would Kazmir have gotten for 3 years without the opt-out? Maybe 3 years at $18m per?

Kinsm
Member
Kinsm
4 months 26 days ago

No way, he didn’t even get 3 at 16…he got 6 at 8 but only has to play the first 3. Due to inflation this contract is much less than it appears.

kuri3460
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kuri3460
4 months 26 days ago

Is Kazmir that much worse than Jeff Samardzija at this point?

jruby
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jruby
4 months 25 days ago

I would suggest that Kazmir’s ceiling is certainly lower

jripper1268
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jripper1268
4 months 26 days ago

I think the projections are over rating the Dodgers rotation. They terrify me after Kershaw. I think losing Greinke will come back to bite them. Ryu, Anderson, Wood, McCarthy, Kazmir. There is some overall quality but there is tons of risk. I would say their variability to actually meet their projections is higher than any team. To me there is a big chance this really becomes a disaster. I could see all five of these guys blowing up. I also don’t foresee another 5 win season out of Puig for what it’s worth. Speaking of variability. If nothing else this team will be interesting to watch. I think there’s a 50% chance the Dodgers go wire to wire again winning the West and a 50% chance things go south and they finish a distant 3rd behind the Dbacks and Giants. They’re making it fun at least.

piddy
Member
piddy
4 months 25 days ago

If you have 5 guys with risk + upside, there’s a chance they’ll all blow up, but it doesn’t make sense to expect the worst case scenario.

tz
Member
tz
4 months 25 days ago

Especially when you look at the Plan B for the guys behind Kershaw:

– Bolsinger is a damn nice insurance policy.

– Zach Lee conquered AAA last year, and could easily be a good #4 or #5 starter in 2016.

– De Leon and Cotton are also very close

– And most importantly, Urias is there either as a trade chip for a front-line starter, or possibly even becoming one himself in 2016 (my gut is he’ll begin being a MLB stud in 2017 or 2018).

jripper1268
Member
jripper1268
4 months 25 days ago

That’s a lot of ifs. Ryu had major shoulder surgery along the lines of Brandon Webb. I think Kazmir will be ok but expecting anything at all out of Ryu and McCarthey would be foolish. If you look at the difference in record for the Dodgers in games started by Kershaw and Greinke and games not last year it’s pretty astounding.

Bip
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Member
Bip
4 months 25 days ago

If you look at the difference in record for the Dodgers in games started by Kershaw and Greinke and games not last year it’s pretty astounding.

Astounding, but also not that meaningful, and not that relevant here, considering that “assume a guy will do what he did last year” is not a great projection model.

vmx
Member
vmx
4 months 25 days ago

Zach Lee struck out 6 per 9 while “conquering” AAA. Good luck with that.

raygu
Member
4 months 25 days ago

Greinke and Miller certainly help the Diamondbacks but do they make up 13 games in the standings? One could argue that both Peralta and Pollock had a career year in 2015, Goldy is Goldy, but their lineup and bullpen still have question marks.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer
4 months 25 days ago

And add Maeda to the list.

The Dodgers were very smart to pickup pitchers in an environment where there were so many available.

They now have multiple ways they can play this, including trades, and converting starters to long relievers, which is their biggest weakness.

They have too much age in the field to be considered favorites, but they have made the right moves with their pitching staff.

Kinsm
Member
Kinsm
4 months 26 days ago

He only received an opt out because of the deferred money which lowers the value of the contract.

1908
Member
4 months 26 days ago

Maybe I’m missing something – quite possible. But Kazmir’s contract appears to assume that he will generate 8 WAR over 3 years. Possible I suppose, but not many active 32-year-olds have done it:

http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/B3q3u

The Dude of NY
Member
The Dude of NY
4 months 26 days ago

I think it would be 5.75 WAR, assuming $8M/WAR.

piddy
Member
piddy
4 months 25 days ago

If you factor in the deferral and use 5% inflation it’s more like 5.3 WAR

The Dude of NY
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The Dude of NY
4 months 25 days ago

Thanks. I always forget about that 5% inflation.

Nathaniel Dawson
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Nathaniel Dawson
4 months 25 days ago

If you factor in 5% inflation for this year’s free agent $/WAR, that would be $8.4/WAR, which would make it more like 5.05 WAR.

wily mo
Member
4 months 26 days ago

the real question is what are the dodgers going to do next week after kazmir is washed away in an el niño flood

Johnston
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Member
Johnston
4 months 25 days ago

There were so many good pitchers available and the Dodgers wound up with KAZMIR?

So much for a WS in 2016

raygu
Member
4 months 25 days ago

who do you prefer and at what cost?

Radermecher
Member
Radermecher
4 months 25 days ago

500.000 dollars a start,amazing.Most folks do not make that in a lifetime.

Brian Reinhart
Member
Member
4 months 25 days ago

Hate to be pedantic, but per capita income in the USA in 2011 was about $27,500, which means that the average American worker can earn $500,000 in a lifetime by working for 18 years.

To be more specific, suppose you start working at age 22 and stop working at age 65. To make less than $500,000, your average annual income must be less than $11,363.

wily mo
Member
4 months 25 days ago

i think you actually like to be pedantic

raygu
Member
4 months 25 days ago

he may be a pedantic but he is right.

wily mo
Member
4 months 25 days ago

didn’t say he wasn’t

Brian Reinhart
Member
Member
4 months 25 days ago

Okay, you’re right.

Rational Fan
Member
Rational Fan
4 months 23 days ago

Does folks imply American’s, because most of the world will not make $500,000 in their lifetime or anywhere near that.

wily mo
Member
4 months 22 days ago

i think it’s fair to assume an american context for what’s basically an american sports league, but this is also a point

BROD
Member
BROD
4 months 25 days ago

“There’s only one ace”

Hey Jeff, do you not consider Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke to be an ace?

Hamels (424 IP): 3.67 K/BB, 44.5 GB%, 3.05 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 8.8 WAR
Greinke (380 IP): 3.99 K/BB,47.2 GB% 2.68 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 7.7 WAR
Ryu (344 IP): 3.76 K/BB, 49.2 GB% 3.17 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 7.5 WAR

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/dodgers-hyun-jin-ryu-underrated-starting-pitcher/

“Two years later, you might say that this has turned out pretty well for both Ryu and the Dodgers, who have received 6.6 wins, one of the 25 best marks in baseball. Start with the 2014 FIP leaders, min. 150 innings:

Clayton Kershaw, 1.81 (!)
Jake Arrieta, 2.26
Corey Kluber, 2.35
Felix Hernandez, 2.56
Chris Sale, 2.57
Garrett Richards, 2.60
Ryu, 2.62

Think about all of the incredible pitchers around the game — David Price, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels and on and on — not mentioned there. Now let’s do that over Ryu’s two seasons in the bigs, minimum 300 innings:

Kershaw, 2.12
Sanchez, 2.52
Hernandez, 2.58
Adam Wainwright, 2.71
Kluber, 2.71
Scherzer, 2.79
Cliff Lee, 2.86
Price, 2.88
Sale, 2.91
Ryu, 2.97

By FIP, Ryu has been a top-10 pitcher over the last two seasons. Absolutely no one thinks of him that way, in part due to Kershaw and Greinke, and in part, not unfairly, because he threw only 152 innings in 2014 due to multiple stints on the disabled list.”

jripper1268
Member
jripper1268
4 months 26 days ago

Brandon Webb was one of the best pitchers in baseball and won a Cy Young prior to shoulder surgery. Ryu was great and underrated I agree. However if we’re talking about 2016 Ryu good luck with that.

The Final Chapter
Member
The Final Chapter
4 months 25 days ago

Sixteen million a year looks to be the going rate for 3rd starters these days. Lackey got $32MM for 2 years and now this contract confirms yet another “new normal”. Having Kazmir opt out after 2016 could be a blessing in disguise for the Dodgers. It gives them another full season to develop Holmes and Urias, each of whom should be ready to start the 2017 season in Los Angeles.

The Dodgers have been quiet this offseason. Without more significant moves this winter and/or at the trade deadline, it looks as though they’ll fall short again in 2016. Discounting the smaller moves made this offseason, the only thing the Dodgers have done is to essentially trade Greinke for Kazmir. LA needs more if they’re going to the WS this year.

raygu
Member
4 months 25 days ago

Holmes won’t be ready in 2017, but De Leon and maybe Urias should be ready in 2017.

I argue that the Kazmir signing allows the Dodgers to use Alex Wood or Urias in a package for Fernandez or Gray. Will it happen? I have no idea, but they certainly have the talent to pull off such a deal.

The Final Chapter
Member
The Final Chapter
4 months 25 days ago

You’re right, I meant to say De Leon, not Holmes…thx

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
4 months 25 days ago

“it looks as though they’ll fall short again in 2016.”

whoawowowowowowowhoa you finally finished that time machine you’ve been working on?

The Final Chapter
Member
The Final Chapter
4 months 25 days ago

It’s called an opinion.

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