Acquiring Scott Kazmir back in 2004 was one of the greatest moves the Tampa Bay Rays ever made. Dealing away Kazmir five years later was never going to be as successful, but it became apparent quickly that it would be a win for the team.
While Kazmir did pitch well for the Los Angels of Anaheim in September of 2009, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2010 before getting released the following season. The Rays looked quite good as they moved him when they did. The fact that the Rays’ shed the remaining money from Kazmir’s three-year, $28.5 million extension that began in 2009 would have been a huge victory by itself in hindsight. However, the Rays also received three minor leaguers from the Angels, and now we can see just how well they did in getting them.
The players the Rays acquired in their second Scott Kazmir trade were Alex Torres, Sean Rodriguez, and Matthew Sweeney. Sweeney never amounted to anything, struggling in his two years in the system and not even making it to Triple-A. Torres and Rodriguez have also since left the team, but only after making an impact on the Rays’ big league team and departing with enough value to be traded.
Torres’ rise and fall in the Rays system cannot rival Kazmir’s, but it was still quite interesting. Torres made his big league debut in 2011 after two years in the organization, and he looked like he could be an effectively wild starter with the team. He had the arsenal to be a frontline pitcher, but enough control issues to make him more realistically a number three starter or a reliever.
In 2012, Torres fell apart entirely, seeing his walks balloon to 7.5 per 9 innings, and his entire future was in question. However, the Rays sent him to work with pitching coordinator Marty DeMerritt, and he managed to turn himself around. After a strong season finale and more strong results in the Venezuelan Winter League, Torres was excellent at Triple-A Durham to begin 2013 and was called up to the Rays’ bullpen in May.
Torres returned to stay in June and wound up posting a 1.71 ERA in 39 appearances and 58 innings pitched. With his control problems apparently in the past, it looked like Torres would be a valuable member of the Rays’ bullpen for years to come. Instead, Andrew Friedman capitalized on his strong season by trading him and Jesse Hahn to the San Diego Padres for Brad Boxberger, Logan Forsythe, Matt Andriese, Maxx Tissenbaum, and Matt Lollis.
Hahn looked good for the Padres this year (although he still to prove he can maintain a starter’s workload), but Torres struggled in his new uniform*. In exchange for them, the Rays received a dominant reliever in Boxberger, a good pitching prospect in Andriese, a decent bench player in Forsythe, and maybe even another impact big leaguer in Tissenbaum. We’ll have to see just how big of a win this trade will turn out to be for the Rays, but they are satisfied with their end of it so far.
The fact that the Rays were able to get so much in exchange for Torres shows that his tenure with the team was a success. They were hoping that he would be a starting pitcher or a late-inning reliever, and while it is unclear whether Torres can fill either role moving forward, the Rays traded him at the peak of his value and found a favorable deal.
Sean Rodriguez’s Rays tenure began in earnest when he competed and won a starting role with the team in spring training of 2010†. Rodriguez wound up delivering quite a season playing second base and a little bit of everywhere else, hitting to a .251/.308/.397 line (97 OPS+) with 9 homers and 13 stolen bases in 378 plate appearances. Between a decent bat and excellent defense at second base, Rodriguez was actually worth 3.7 WAR according to Baseball-Reference and 2.1 according to Fangraphs.
In 2011, Rodriguez slid over to shortstop primarily as Reid Brignac failed spectacularly when given regular playing time, and his numbers were not as shiny. He hit to a .223/.323/.357 line, and he fell to 8 homers and 11 stolen bases (7 caught stealings) despite additional playing time (436 PA’s). However, that line actually amounts to a 95 OPS+, and his defense was strong once again to make him around an average big league starter. Rodriguez had turned out to be a great defensive infielder (especially at second and third base) who was excellent against lefty pitching (.282/.383/.459 line) and serviceable enough against righties.
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Of course, Rodriguez has never been close to that since. He was so bad in 2012 (70 OPS+) that Zobrist had to become the Rays’ starting shortstop after he hadn’t manned the position since 2009. 2013 and 2014 were better, but Rodriguez essentially became a platoon first baseman/left fielder against left-handed pitching˚. His crowning achievement in that timeframe was finishing second on the Rays with 12 home runs in 2014, but he still managed just a 97 OPS+ even as the Rays were picking his matchups carefully (he made just 259 PA’s).
Rodriguez was just traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a player-to-be-named-later and cash considerations. The prospect might end up being somewhat interesting, but Rodriguez’s time with the Rays has much more to do with how he actually played. He gave the Rays two strong seasons as a quasi-starter, one terrible year, and the two seasons as a halfway-decent bench player.
Overall, the Tampa Bay Rays traded a collapsing Scott Kazmir for major financial relief, a combined six seasons from two big league players, and the players they subsequently netted for Torres and Rodriguez in trades. When we look at everything the Rays received in return, it becomes clear just how trade of a trade this was for the team.
The second Scott Kazmir trade was not quite the Ben Zobrist deal, where the Rays traded two and a half months of Aubrey Huff for seven and a half years of one of the best players in baseball. It doesn’t compare to the first Scott Kazmir trade, where they turned a mediocre starter (Victor Zambrano) into an ace that changed their team’s history forever–and also received everything from the second trade. The first Matt Garza trade also looks clearly ahead as the Rays turned a soon-to-decline Delmon Young and some spare parts for three good and sometimes great years from Garza and Jason Bartlett plus the return from when they later traded them.
However, when we consider the strong performances of James Shields and Garza after the Rays traded them (plus the uncertainty surrounding Wil Myers and Hak-Ju Lee), there is a real chance that this second Kazmir deal will end up in the same stratosphere as the Shields trade and the second Garza deal. Imagine what the Shields trade would have looked like if Shields had joined the Royals and immediately blown out his arm–this second Scott Kazmir trade is not all that far off from that. Torres and Rodriguez had their moments, Boxberger could be an incredible reliever, and we still have all the prospects to talk about.
At the end of the day, the second Scott Kazmir trade will likely fall short of all of the trades above (and maybe a few more), but we have to acknowledge its place among the best deals in Rays history in hindsight. We could not have known it at the time, but Kazmir’s parting gift to the Rays continues to help them considerably today, over five years after he was traded.
*Hahn has great stuff, but he was shut down this season after just 115.2 innings pitched. Let’s see if he can stay healthy before we rip the Rays for trading him. In addition, Andriese has the ability to be a solid starter in his own right, and if he does, the other pieces in the trade should still tilt it in the Rays’ favor by a solid margin.
For Torres, meanwhile, his ERA was fine, but his control struggles are back (and continuing in Winter Ball), and he basically turned into a low-leverage lefty in 2014. The Padres can’t possibly be satisfied with that.
†It was an unusual competition as Rodriguez competed against Matt Joyce for a starting job. Rodriguez was going for second base while Joyce angled for right field, and Ben Zobrist was set to man the vacant position.
˚In fairness to Rodriguez, he can still play well defensively at second base and third base while being decent at shortstop, but the Rays’ roster simply didn’t need him to play those positions very often.