Ken Rosenthal reported via Twitter on Thursday that the Astros have acquired A's starting pitcher Scott Kazmir for prospects.
The lefty Houston native currently boasts a 2.38 ERA, 10th-best in the major leagues among qualified starting pitchers, and is under contract only through the end of the 2015 season.
The 31-year-old Kazmir has followed a unique career path. He broke out with the 2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and in 2007 led the American League in strikeouts in a season with 239. A handful of injury-plagued seasons later, the Rays traded their struggling former-ace to the Angels, where he never posted an ERA better than 5.94. After being released in 2011, Kazmir battled his way around the minors before reinventing himself as a control pitcher with the Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters.
The Cleveland Indians were interested by his success with the Skeeters and signed him to a 1-year deal in 2013. He pitched 158 innings with the major league club that season with a 4.04 ERA and 3.51 FIP. That was enough for Oakland, who then signed him to a 2-year Free Agent deal, a fruitful compact during which Kazmir has displayed two of his best career pitching seasons.
As noted, Kazmir reinvented himself as a control pitcher. From 2004 to 2011, his walk rate fluctuated between 9 to 14%. After his return from the Indy Leagues, his walk rate has never topped 8% (this season). Such a transformation is extremely rare in professional baseball.
Kazmir's acquisition comes at a cost. The Astros part with Catcher and prospectphile-favorite Jacob "the Sherriff" Nottingham, who is currently destroying High A (.324/.368/.606) after mutilating mid-A (.326/.387/.543), and starting pitcher Daniel Mengden, a 2014 draftee out of Texas A&M, who is currently struggling in Lancaster after a hot start to the season. Both players are legitimate MLB prospects, and Nottingham ranked #9 and Mengden #13 on TCB's mid-season prospect update list.
The steep cost for a half-season rental grates a little bit, and one wonders if the Astros already have an extension in the works with Kazmir that will prevent him from leaving via free agency. Kazmir is a no-doubt upgrade to the starting pitching staff, which has been solid all year but projects to run into innings-count issues towards the end of the season, particularly with rookies Vincent Velazquez (already demoted once to save his arm) and Lance McCullers. For 2015, Kazmir does nothing but increase the Astros' chances at catching the AL-West leading Angels and make their first playoffs since the 2005 World Series season.
And although the Astros gave up two very good prospects, they managed to hold on to all of their top farmhands, many of whom have had their names tossed about the internet as part of trade speculation. The catcher position is definitely thinned by the loss of Nottingham, but depth at young starting pitching is one thing that the Astros can boast of. This trade allowed them to cling to McCullers and Velazquez, along with other top pitching prospects like number one overall pick Mark Appel, Michael Feliz, Joe Musgrove, and a handful of others.
Though Aggies may gnash their teeth, and prospecteers are weeping in the streets over the loss of Nottingham, the price was one that the Astros could afford to acquire one of the best left-handers in the game as they push forward on their quest to bring the #Process to fruition.