Rays trade Kazmir for Angels' prospects
Lefty pitcher, third baseman join Tampa Bay system
DETROIT -- Scott Kazmir's tenure with the Rays ended Friday night when the 25-year-old left-hander was shipped to the Angels for a pair of Minor Leaguers, left-hander Alex Torres and third baseman Matt Sweeney, and a player to be named later.
Kazmir got the official news from Rays manager Joe Maddon after the game, though rumors of the trade swirled all afternoon.
"I was surprised," said Kazmir, noting that he'd heard rumors in the past. "I just want to say thanks to the organization for all the years I've been here -- all the support they've given me [and the] fans."
Maddon said he remained looped in on the deal from Andrew Friedman, the Rays executive vice president of baseball operations.
"Last night it started heating up a bit, and then I started getting more calls from Andrew, and eventually we got 'er done today," Maddon said.
Anaheim needed pitching help, and Kazmir fits that bill nicely. Further good news for the Angels comes in the fact Kazmir has been hot lately, winning two of his last three starts and four of his last six; he defeated the Blue Jays and Rangers on the Rays' last homestand.
"There's a disappointment leaving here, but at the same time you have to look at the business side of it," Kazmir said. "I know that I'm going to a quality organization with the Angels. And they're always in contention to make the playoffs every year.
"So it's a quality organization, and I'm very happy now to be a part of that organization. But at the same time, all the relationships I've built over the years here at Tampa Bay, that's going to be the toughest part."
Kazmir gave the Rays a quality start in his last outing Wednesday night at Toronto when he limited the Blue Jays to one run on four hits in six innings of work while striking out a season-high 10, but he came away with a no-decision when the Blue Jays scored two in the ninth for a 3-2 walk-off win.
Kazmir is 8-7 with a 5.92 ERA this season, but his mechanics have been in order for most of the second half, and he now appears to be pitching with momentum after a dismal first half that included a stint on the disabled list from May 22 until June 27 with a right quad strain.
A major factor for Kazmir's recent improvement has been his ability to throw strikes and be more efficient with his pitches. In joining the Angels, Kazmir will be reunited with pitching coach Mike Butcher, who served as the Rays pitching coach in 2006.
"That's going to make it a little easier to settle in over there because I've been with him, and it's important to have a pitching coach [relationship like he has with Butcher]," Kazmir said. "We talked the last time in Anaheim, small talk, and I know that I'm in good hands."
While the Angels received a quality starting pitcher, the Rays received two solid prospects and some much-needed payroll relief.
Kazmir's contract calls for him to make $8 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2011, with a club option for 2012 at $13.5 million that has a $2.5 million buyout. In addition, Kazmir will receive an $800,000 bonus for being traded.
"I'm not sure that there's any one reason" for the trade, Friedman said. "I think that this is what we do and have to do to balance the now and the future. It's never easy to see a player of Scott's abilities leave the organization."
Friedman said the trade does not signal that the team has raised a surrender flag for the 2009 season.
"I think it increases the risk a little bit, especially the way that Kaz has pitched the last couple of outings," Friedman said. "But I feel like we have a lot of very capable arms."
Waiting in the wings the Rays have Wade Davis, the organization's top pitching prospect, and Andy Sonnanstine, who spent all of 2008 with the Rays and part of 2009 before getting optioned to Triple-A Durham on June 27.
"As talented as Kaz is, we didn't view this as moving on from '09," Friedman said. "We have a lot of confidence in our players one through 29. We feel like we have the talent to make an exciting run over the last month. But it's going to be a 25-man effort. ... This is going to take all 25 guys contributing, and we feel like we have the talent to do that."
Torres, 21, hailing from Valencia, Venezuela, is a combined 13-4 with a 2.75 ERA in 26 appearances (24 starts) between Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Arkansas this season. Overall, he has 149 strikeouts in 147 1/3 innings.
"We've gotten a number of looks at him," Friedman said. "Our scouts rave about his stuff. He gets a lot of swings and misses; generates a ton of ground balls. He's a guy we're excited to get. He has a chance to help us win a lot of games going forward. His upside is immense."
Sweeney, 21, bats left-handed and was hitting .299 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 58 games for Rancho Cucamonga this season. He was sidelined the entire 2008 season while recovering from ankle surgery, and this year spent more than two months on the disabled list with a right hip injury.
"He is a professional hitter," Friedman said. "He manages the strike zone very well. Has good power. Just really works good at-bats and couples that with being a really good hitter. He has a profile of a guy that can be a real force for us in the lineup in the future. We've had our eye on him for some time."
As for the player to be named later, Friedman said in their minds he is also a significant piece to the deal, but they were still working through the details with the Angels about who that player will be.
"We're confident we're getting a player that will help us, and we like a lot that will also fit us very well," Friedman said.
Kazmir originally joined the Rays in a trade that sent right-handers Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato to the Mets for Kazmir and right-hander Jose Diaz.
Kazmir's best season came in 2007 when he went 13-9 with a 3.48 ERA while leading the American League with 239 strikeouts. In parts of six Major League seasons, Kazmir is 55-42 with a 3.92 ERA in 145 games, of which 144 were starts. He is a two-time American League All-Star.
Kazmir hails from Houston, where he attended Cypress Falls High School and became Baseball America's High School Player of the Year in 2002. The Mets selected him in the first round (15th overall selection) of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.