Left-handed starting pitcher
Acquired: signed to minor league deal (12/21/2012)
Contract status: free agent
Kazmir in 2013
When the Indians signed Scott Kazmir to a minor league deal last December, I took note because of course I remember when Kazmir was a great pitcher, but I didn't give any thought to the notion of him being a starting pitcher for the Tribe. I hoped he might work out as a reliever, which would still have qualified as a major success, given that he hadn't been an effective MLB pitcher since 2009 (and had pitched in exactly one MLB game since 2010). He looked good in Spring Training though, and was named the team's 5th starter.
A strained ab muscle put him on the shelf to start the season though, so it wasn't until April 20 that he made his Indians debut, which saw him exit in the 4th inning, having allowed 6 runs. Three starts later Kazmir struck out 10 against Oakland, while walking none and allowing just one run, his best performance in years. By the middle of June though, the experiment looked to be a failure. Kazmir had a 5.89 ERA and opposing hitters were batting .302 against him, with a .914 OPS. That'd he been albe to make 11 starts was nice, but only a number of other pitching concerns for the team seemed to be keeping him in the rotation. On June 20th I suggested he be moved to the bullpen.
Instead, Kazmir went out the next day and struck out 7 Twins while going 7 innings for only the second time all season, and from there on out, Kazmir pitched very, very well, posting a 3.06 ERA over his final 18 starts, averaging more than a strikeout per inning, with an excellent K/BB ratio of 4.46. By FanGraphs' WAR calculations, Kazmir was the 11th best starting pitcher in baseball after the All-Star break, sandwiched right between Justin Verlander and Cliff Lee. Pretty good company to keep.
Mariano Rivera will likely win AL Comeback Player of the Year, because people love the narrative. It's absurd to think that the greatest relief pitcher in history having a great season after missing a few months with an injury is a greater comeback than what Kazmir accomplished though. Look at his numbers from the last four year (notice there is no 2012, when he was out of MLB entirely):
Make him a qualifying offer?
The question now is what is Kazmir worth going forward?
The Indians will have until the fifth day after the World Series ends to make a qualifying offer to Kazmir (and other potential free agents), and this year that qualifying offer (determined by averaging out the 125 most lucrative contracts) will be for $14.1 million. If the Indians decide to make that offer to Kazmir, he'll have a week to decide what to do. Either he accepts it, and is signed for 2014 at that price, or he declines in, in which case the Indians receive a draft pick as compensation if Kazmir ends up signing with another team (the pick would fall between the 1st and 2nd rounds).
The going rate on the free agent market is something close to $6 million per WAR, which means $14.1 million ought to buy you something like 2.5 WAR. FanGraphs had Kazmir as providing 2.5 WAR in 2013, while Baseball-Reference had him at 1.1. You're welcome to make the case for either of those figures, or to split the difference and put him at something like 1.8. In any event, if Kazmir were to have another season like this one, $14.1M wouldn't rate as any sort of bargain, and could be viewed as an overpay.
On the other hand, if you believe Kazmir can be the pitcher he was during the second half, you're looking at some who puts up 4+ WAR, in which case $14.1M is a bargain. On the third hand (we'll say it's Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man doing the counting here), there's Kazmir's injury history to consider, because even if you personally think he'll be healthy, teams will be discounting his value based on his previous three years. FanGraphs has done a crowdsourcing project, and their readers have predicted a 2 year, $16.5 million deal, with only 13% of them predicting he'll be given a qualifying offer.
If the Indians do extend Kazmir a qualifying offer, I'm 99% sure he'll accept it. He's not going to make that much money in 2014 if he hits free agency, and the added cost of a draft pick will cause most teams to shy away entirely. This means there's no reason to make him a qualifying offer unless you really want him at that price, because he's not actually going to leave and provide a draft pick. Kazmir may be the best left-handed starter on the market though, so I do think he'll get offers in the range of the prediction from FanGraphs.
Two months ago I'd have laughed at the notion of a qualifying offer for Kazmir, whereas now I think it's worth discussing, but I think $14.1 is a bit steep, in terms of the offers he's going to get if he's on the market. Would you rather have him for 1 year at $14.1, or 2 years at $18M? I'd rather have him at the latter price. Also, the Indians are not going to re-sign both Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, the money just isn't there for that. If they let Kazmir hit free agency, they can still negotiate with Jimenez, and if he leaves for another team (the Indians will make him a QO and receive a draft pick), the Indians can turn their attention back to Kazmir. For those reasons, I would not make the qualifying offer. We'll know in the next ten days what the front office thinks.