Following weeks of speculation, the A’s traded starting pitcher Scott Kazmir on Thursday to the Houston Astros for two prospects in possibly the first of several moves before the July 31 trade deadline.
The A’s sent Kazmir to the Astros for right-hander Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham, both of whom are expected to report to the A’s Class-A affiliate in Stockton. The dealing of a front-end starter like Kazmir for prospects indicates the A’s – nine games under .500 and 11 games out of first place in the American League West after Thursday’s loss to Toronto – have begun to shift their focus beyond this season.
The A’s have been unable to make up ground on the division-leading Angels, and with the market for starting pitchers expected to heat up over the next week, general manager Billy Beane said the A’s were motivated to act – particularly when Houston offered Nottingham, whom the A’s had coveted.
“I think we had to be realistic where we were as a club,” Beane said. “How we came out after the All-Star Break was pretty important. We’re 3-2 (entering Thursday), but with the way the Angels are playing, we still dropped a couple games (in the division). With the deadline looming, and I think the market probably soon to be rife with a lot of opportunities, we thought this was the proper time.”
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Trading Kazmir could begin a series of moves for the A’s, as players such as utilityman Ben Zobrist and reliever Tyler Clippard could generate interest among contenders. Beane did not that rule out.
“It goes back to, we have to be realistic where we are,” Beane said. “The math doesn’t necessarily work in our favor given the level of play we need just to get back in it. The Angels have played great. Unfortunately, we’ve played pretty well since the middle of May, but the hole that we dug in May is probably pretty tough to overcome.”
The trade left the A’s with two holes to fill in their rotation. Drew Pomeranz started in Kazmir’s place Thursday against the Blue Jays and will remain in the rotation, manager Bob Melvin said. The A’s have yet to name a starter for Saturday to take the rotation spot of Jesse Hahn (right forearm strain), but Chris Bassitt, currently at Triple A, is a strong possibility.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Beane said of piecing together the rotation. “But when you make a trade with a guy like Scott at this time of year, there’s some concessions that you are making and understanding the future’s probably more important than the present.”
For Kazmir, the trade marks a return to his hometown of Houston and a chance to pitch for a playoff contender in the Astros. Kazmir, who is 5-5 with a 2.38 ERA in 18 starts this season, said he was “excited for the opportunity.” But he said the trade – which he learned about from Beane and Melvin while en route to the Coliseum expecting to pitch for the A’s on Thursday – surprised him.
“It’s something you’ve got to wrap your head around,” Kazmir said. “I’ll just say I had a great time here. I’m going to miss all the guys here.”
Kazmir, whom the A’s signed as a free agent in December 2013, went 20-14 with a 3.12 ERA in 50 starts over his two seasons in Oakland. A veteran, he also helped mentor some of the A’s younger pitchers, particularly ace Sonny Gray, who lockered next to Kazmir in the A’s clubhouse.
“I even told him, we haven’t dabbled in the free-agent market much since I’ve been here, but … he’s one of the best free agents that I’ve had,” Beane said. “We got everything and more than we could have expected.”
Kazmir is due to become a free agent again at the end of this season, and Beane said part of the decision to move the left-hander at midseason was to ensure getting something in return – indicating the A’s likely would not have re-signed Kazmir. Beane described Nottingham, 20, as “potentially a middle-of-the-order hitter,” and said Mengden, 22, projects as a possible rotation member “down the road.”
More immediate is the question of whether the A’s will further disband their roster in the coming weeks. Melvin said players know trades are part of the culture in Oakland and are aware of “the potential for some moves” but said he does not think Thursday’s trade will hurt clubhouse morale.
“What happened, happened today,” Melvin said. “For me, it doesn’t mean that now we feel like we’re going to go out there and lose. We’re still playing pretty well, so our expectations as a team aren’t going to change.”
Catcher Stephen Vogt, shortly after learning of Kazmir’s departure, acknowledged, “When somebody (who’s) that quality of a teammate and pitcher leaves, it’s never easy.”
“We’ll see what happens in the next eight days,” Vogt said. “I’m sure it’s not going to be the last move.”