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.
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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