Rays, Kazmir agree to extension
Club's all-time wins leader likes direction Tampa Bay is going
ST. PETERSBURG -- With three days remaining in the 2007 season, Scott Kazmir stood by his locker inside the visiting clubhouse in Toronto and talked about his future with the Rays. His words did not resonate like a ringing endorsement of a future with Tampa Bay.
On Tuesday night, Kazmir sang a different tune when he agreed to a three-year contract extension with a club option for a fourth year. The contract guarantees Kazmir $28.5 million and has a maximum value of approximately $39.5 million. The agreement is guaranteed through 2011, with the team holding an option for the 2012 season.
On that fateful day in Toronto, Kazmir's main bone of contention had been the club's direction, as he noted "It's tough kind of being the laughing stock of baseball," and "seems like every year we're rebuilding."
Kazmir clearly put the ball in the Rays' court. Since then, the Rays have been involved in a whirlwind of activity in relation to securing their players. Long-term deals with Carlos Pena, James Shields and Evan Longoria highlighted that activity.
Kazmir saw the direction of the Rays changing and, as he allowed Tuesday, "That really did weigh in."
"I think in the four years I've been here, I've seen a lot of changes, and this past offseason, I think we addressed a lot of issues that needed to be addressed," Kazmir said.
The 24-year-old left-hander has a 36-30 career record and a 3.63 ERA, and he is the Rays' all-time leader in wins, strikeouts, starts and innings. He has recorded 14 games with 10 or more strikeouts and became the youngest American League strikeout champion last season when he fanned 239 batters.
The deal is "something we've been working hard to do over the last couple of years," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "It's something that as we continue to win games and play in October, we envision Scott anchoring the staff for us. We're very excited to make the announcement."
Kazmir began the season on the disabled list with a left elbow strain, but he dismissed the idea the injury had made him feel vulnerable and thus more receptive toward signing a long-term deal.
"I don't think it really had too much to do with it," Kazmir said. "I've always wanted to be here and play with the Rays. I mean I love the city, I love the fans. My teammates are the best guys in the world, and I'm lucky to be around them. It was just a matter of time [before they got a deal done]."
Friedman said both sides have had ongoing dialogue for a while.
"We didn't necessarily want it to linger into the season," Friedman said. "While Scott was rehabbing, we continued the conversation and really made significant strides -- enough so that we felt like it was import to try and push it over the finish line. And really, before his first start in Boston [on May 4], we had pretty much gotten the whole way there. It's something we're extremely excited about and we've been working very hard to do."
The Rays acquired Kazmir from the Mets in a four-player trade on July 30, 2004. As part of his new deal, Kazmir will donate up to $350,000 over the life of his contract to the Rays Baseball Foundation. The hurler joins Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Akinori Iwamura, Troy Percival, Pena, Shields, Dan Wheeler and Longoria as Rays who have donated a portion of their multi-year contracts to the charity.
Friedman stressed the importance of the Rays developing talent, but also how important it is to the organization to keep the core playing together and to sustain that core.
"I'm not sure that two years ago we would have been sitting here, and I'm not sure Scott would have wanted to be here," Friedman said.
Kazmir's view of the Rays indeed has come full circle.
"We just have a great product here, and I'm just happy to be a part of it," Kazmir said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.