The Houston Astros need pitching help. They need a lot of pitching help. Though GM Jeff Luhnow was able to acquire some arms during and before the winter meetings – Sam Demel, Josh Fields, and Alex White, notably – the rotation in particular looks a bit shaky.
Since the Astros aren’t going to be major players in free agency (even my dream of acquiring Francisco Liriano looks far-fetched right now), it becomes incumbent on them to poke around in the bushes a little more with the hopes of landing a potential arm for the rotation.
One possibility may be Scott Kazmir, the former first-rounder for the Mets.
Kazmir, out of Cypress Falls High School, was supposed to be a stud. In 2005, Baseball America listed him as the #7 prospect in baseball. Ahead of Rickie Weeks, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Cain, Prince Fielder, and… well, all but six players in the universe (those six players? Joe Mauer, Felix Hernandez, Delmon Young, Ian Stewart, Joel Guzman, and Casey Kotchman). The Mets traded him, along with Jose Diaz, to the Devil Rays for Bartolome Fortunato and Victor Zambrano.
Though it’s easy to look at Kazmir’s time in Tampa Bay as disappointing, he did manage to strike out more batters than innings pitched, was never worth fewer than 2 wins in a season, and went to two All-Star Games. The lefty pitched well through 2008, when elbow issues forced him onto the DL in early 2009. That’s when the real trouble began.
A string of injuries prompted the Rays to trade Kazmir to the Angels for Sean Rodriguez, Matt Sweeney, and Alexander Torres. His tenure in Anaheim was terrible. A rash of injuries led to a breakdown of his mechanics, and reduced effectiveness. His velocity had fallen from touching 94 in 2004, to the mid-80s in 2011. He also lost the feel for his slider, his other plus pitch. The Angels, mercifully, released him in June 2011.
In 2012, Kazmir pitched for the Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters, and didn’t fare terribly well there, either. 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA, only 1.55 strikeouts per walk, and a 1.672 WHIP. He pitched a little better in Puerto Rico this winter, pitching 4 games, throwing in the 90-94 range, and going 0-2 with a 5.12 ERA, striking out 21 (in 19.1 innings) and only walking 6. Perhaps the most encouraging statistic was his ability to generate groundouts (2.20 GO/AO), which would be a valuable asset for a power pitcher who’s lost his power.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com recently mentioned that Kazmir may have multiple suitors. Ordinarily, if a player has a choice between more than one team, then it’s unlikely that Houston is going to be the top choice. However, given that Kazmir grew up locally, there is a possibility. After all, he had his choice of Independent teams, and he chose to pitch for Sugar Land. Not to mention Houston is one destination where he may actually have a solid chance to not only make the roster, but to get penciled in as a starter out of Spring Training.