The Detroit Tigers' specific offseason plans are clear as mud, but there's no question that they will be making a hard push to improve a pitching staff that ranked last in the American League with a 4.64 ERA in 2015. Both the rotation and bullpen need to be addressed, and general manager Al Avila has expressed interest in acquiring two new starting pitchers.
One of those starters may be lefthander Scott Kazmir, who pitched for the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros in 2015. Earlier this month, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman noted that the Tigers could be interested in Kazmir, as well as right-handed starters Jeff Samardzija and Ian Kennedy. The fit for all three makes sense, as they are likely to sign cheaper deals than top free agents David Price and Zack Greinke.
Kazmir may come cheaper still after a shaky finish to 2015. He posted an excellent 2.38 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 109 2/3 innings with the A's, but declined to a 4.17 ERA and 5.19 FIP after arriving in Houston. With a history of shoulder problems already on his ledger, Kazmir won't command a bank-breaking deal.
Who is he?
It seems like Kazmir has been around for decades, but the former first round pick is still only 31 years old (he turns 32 in January). He debuted with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2004 and finished ninth in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2005. Kazmir was a two-time All-Star with Tampa, earning those honors in 2006 and 2008. He led the American League with 239 strikeouts in 2007, the only 200-inning season of his career. Overall, Kazmir posted a 3.92 ERA and 3.87 FIP in 144 starts with Tampa.
Kazmir was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in 2009, where a 1.73 ERA in six starts helped propel the Angels to a division title. He crashed back to earth in 2010, posting a 5.94 ERA and 5.83 FIP in 150 innings. After nearly falling out of baseball due to injuries, Kazmir broke back onto the scene with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, striking out over a batter per inning in 29 starts. The A's signed him to a two-year deal prior to 2014, and he rewarded their faith with 5.5 WAR in 50 starts before he was traded to the Astros.
Why should we care?
Kazmir has recently emerged as one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball, and has arguably been better than he was in his heyday with the Rays. He has been worth 8.3 WAR over the past three seasons, with a 21.7 percent strikeout rate and 7.1 percent walk rate in 531 1/3 innings. He posted back-to-back career-high strikeout-to-walk ratios in 2013 and 2014, and even a slight drop-off in 2015 was better than most of his years with the Rays. It didn't match up with his 3.98 FIP, but Kazmir's 3.10 ERA in 2015 was a career best.
The Tigers could also find more value in a pitcher like Kazmir than a top-dollar starter. While he may not offer the same production of Price or Johnny Cueto, Kazmir will probably sign a three or four year deal at $15 to $18 million per year. The Tigers have a few interesting pitching prospect in their farm system, and a shorter contract for Kazmir provides more payroll flexibility than a mega-deal for a top free agent.
Why should we stay away?
As good as Kazmir has been over the past few seasons, it's hard to ignore the two years he missed immediately prior to his revival with the Indians. Kazmir missed time in 2006 and 2010 with shoulder issues, and has dealt with minor tweaks over the past two seasons. He has also hit the disabled list with elbow, quad, and back injuries in the past, and was diagnosed with a minor triceps strain earlier this season. Whether all of these maladies led to Kazmir's baffling mechanical issues in 2011 and 2012 is unclear, but it's a long medical report for a pitcher with over 1,500 career innings on his arm.
It's also fair to question whether Kazmir will live up to the contract he will be handed. His 3.2 WAR season in 2014 is his best total since 2007, and his 3.10 ERA in 2015 seems ripe for regression given some lackluster peripherals. Kazmir's 3.51 ERA over the past three seasons is more befitting of a solid No. 2 starter, a standard he may or may not be able to live up to as he gets older. Kazmir's brutal stretch run with the Astros -- he struck out just 16.7 percent of the batters he faced and allowed 13 home runs in 13 starts -- is another cause for concern.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Of the free agents we have profiled so far, Kazmir seems like the most plausible option. The Tigers already have their ace in Justin Verlander, and have several other needs to address on their roster. Kazmir's cheaper contract (compared to the aces on the market) could come in handy when addressing the bullpen and outfield.