Tampa Bay Rays
Kazmir trade had to be made
ST. PETERSBURG - It had to be Scott Kazmir. Sooner or later, something was going to have to give with the Rays' payroll in the seasons ahead. There were alternatives to the young left-hander, but you couldn't really call them choices. Carl Crawford - the Rays' best all-around player - can't go if they intend to contend next season. Pat Burrell, due $9 million in 2010, isn't movable at that salary. Carlos Pena will make just over $10 million next year, the last of the deal he signed after his breakout 2007 campaign, and despite the frustrations his streakiness engenders, his power numbers aren't easily replaced. And that last part may be the key. If the Rays had an elite first baseman waiting in the wings, or at least a handful of truly elite position-player prospects in the upper reaches of their farm system, maybe they're tempted to make a different move.But with Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson on the verge, a healthy Jake McGee potentially regaining his status next year, and another wave of promising arms behind them, this made sense. "We have depth in starting pitching," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "And while it would be a great luxury to keep a deep reserve there, our budgetary constraints as a low-revenue club dictate that we allocate our resources to bolster areas where we may not be as deep and make sure that we can expand our competitive window." The resources now available for reallocation are considerable. Kazmir, under the terms of the extension the Rays gave him in May of 2008, was due a minimum of $22.5 million the next two years, including a salary bump from $6 million this year to $8 million next year. Those are dollar figures in line with his peers when measured by his service time and past accomplishments, and it must be said that if Kazmir had been able to produce to the expected levels, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion. But he didn't, his ERA just coming under 6.00 lately with a run of strong starts that indicated he was finally beginning to figure out the mechanical problems that have haunted him since he hurt his elbow warming up for an intrasquad game in February of 2008. Those recent starts likely allowed the Rays to drum up enough interest to finalize a deal on terms far more favorable than they would have been able to demand had they moved him before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. And they may end up coming back to haunt the Rays if they are the indicator Kazmir has so desperately sought most of the past two years - that he is finally getting comfortable and getting back to his old, young self. But considering all they have seen from the lefty the past few years, the Rays would be perfectly justified in questioning whether he would ever take that next step. Obviously, when he has everything together, his stuff is plenty sufficient to dominate major-league hitters. And at age 25, it should be for some time to come. In that regard, he certainly is a risk to do as Edwin Jackson has done in Detroit - though I don't think anyone, myself certainly included, projected Jackson as an All-Star and yearlong fixture on the ERA leaderboard. But if you're the Rays, you have to take a chance somewhere. You can't just do as the Red Sox have done and whimsically cut loose John Smoltz and Brad Penny in midstream. If you're the Rays, you have to keep running Kazmir out to the mound the next two years even if he isn't particularly effective, just as Burrell has been in the lineup almost every day when healthy and will be again next year despite the fans' pleas for a change. It has been said before and it will be again: the Rays' margin for error is far slimmer than that of the teams they are chasing. They can't afford to make a big-dollar mistake, and they already have absorbed plenty this season with Burrell's output not matching expectations and injuries keeping Troy Percival ($4.45 million), Chad Bradford ($3.5 million) and Akinori Iwamura ($3.25 million) from producing at their respective levels. They had to give themselves a chance heading forward, and ultimately it had to be Kazmir.
Reporter Marc Lancaster can be reached at (813) 259-7227.