The career of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir has been one full of great potential and greater letdown.
Kazmir was drafted on June 4, 2002, by the New York Mets in the first round of the MLB draft. Eight years, two months and 20 days later, he is with his third franchise and holding a record of 8-11 with a 6.33 ERA and 60 walks.
What has transpired in the middle of these two dates can at the very least be called sketchy.
Kazmir was hyped to an enormous level as the next big thing while in the New York Mets minor league system. And by all accounts, he had what it took to fulfill that hype and more. That’s why it was so shocking for so many people when the Mets sent Kazmir and Joselo Diaz to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in exchange for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato.
Diaz was a minor leaguer who would never materialize into a major league regular. Fortunato was a 29-year-old rookie who now spends his time on the diamonds of the independent Golden Baseball League.
But this deal was completely about Zambrano and Kazmir, and that idea was sickening for New Yorkers. Kazmir was a future star. Zambrano was a dud who led the American League in walks and wild pitches two years in a row.
While the Mets blame their acquisition of Zambrano on the fact that the Devil Rays lied to them about his health and abilities, they credit their desire to get rid of Kazmir to one thing, marijuana.
The Mets were aware of several reports of Kazmir using marijuana during his time in the minors along with a number of other off-the-field lifestyle issues. They thought that he would not be able to succeed in a city with as many temptations as New York. These concerns were documented in Adam Rubin’s 2006 book, “Pedro, Carlos and Omar.”
For me, Kazmir’s time with the Devil Rays/Rays can be broken up into two separate eras. The era when the Rays were terrible, and then 2008/2009.
While the Devil Rays wore green and were still the laughing stock of baseball, Kazmir was almost treated like a side-show. He was the ace and one of the only players on the team worth watching. People were so amused by his strikeouts that they failed to realize he was rarely making it past the fifth or sixth inning. A free Papa John’s pizza (10 strikeouts) was more important than a last place team’s game anyways.
But then came the next era.
The now-Rays were competing, James Shields was blasting the Red Sox and Jonny Gomes was tackling Yankee outfielders. Things were serious for the first time in the history of the franchise.
While his numbers wern’t at all bad (12-8, 3.49 ERA), Kazmir’s starts became brutally nerve-racking. His pitch counts raced quickly early in the game, he often spotted 2-3 run leads with no control in the opening innings and he drained the bullpen in crucial series. He brought more of the same, except worse, in 2009 and the Rays quietly began finding a way to move him out.
When the time came, the Rays were able to send Kazmir and the $20+ million remaining on his contract to the Angels for two minor leaguers and Sean Rodriguez, who has contributed heavily to the Rays’ 2010 efforts as a utility man.
But was Kazmir’s downfall the only reason why Tampa Bay was eager to ship a franchise cornerstone to the other coast? Not according to a report revealed yesterday by Cork Gaines of Rays Index.
According to the report which came from “two sources close to the Rays,” Kazmir was removed from the team because of the bad influence that he was on a number of its younger players. Most importantly, David Price. Kazmir’s primary smoking buddy had allegedly been Edwin Jackson who was traded at the end of 2008 for outfielder Matt Joyce.
According to our sources, it was accepted among those close to the Rays that prior to the 2009 season, Kazmir liked to partake in illegal recreational activities with his good friend Edwin Jackson. It is unclear if this played a factor in Jackson being traded prior to the 2009 season. We will let you draw your own conclusions on that one.
More importantly, when Kazmir and Price became friends during the 2009 season, the Rays apparently grew concerned.
I’m almost never a fan of anonymous sources, but this story mixed with the one previously told by Rubin almost seems to make too much sense. Kazmir has always had the talent and “stuff” to be special. But time and time again, it has been his decision-making that has sent him to the dugout. Whether it be his awkward refusal to truly go after any batter, or his mind-boggling decision to basically kill off a slider that was once one of his most dangerous pitches, the Scott Kazmir story just hasn’t made an ounce of sense.
Just trying to analyze it makes me all dazed and confused…