OAKLAND -- Scott Kazmir woke up Thursday expecting to start for the A’s against the Toronto Blue Jays in the afternoon. Instead, he spent the morning cleaning out his locker and exchanging hugs and good-byes with his now ex-A’s teammates.
The A’s dealt the left-hander Kazmir to the Houston Astros on Thursday for prospects in what could be the first of several moves by Oakland prior to the July 31 trade deadline. For Kazmir, 31, the deal offered two immediate positives: A chance to pitch for a playoff contender, and in his hometown of Houston.
"I’m just excited for the opportunity," Kazmir said.
Still, speaking shortly after learning of the trade, Kazmir admitted he was still trying to process the news. He said he’d been en route to the Coliseum when he received the call from general manager Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin saying he’d been dealt.
"It’s something you’ve got to wrap your head around," Kazmir said. "Just, I’ll say I had a great time here, I really did. I’m going to miss all the guys here, staff, everyone from top to bottom … I really don’t have too much to say because everything feels it just hit me at once. It’s going to take some time to sink in."
Signed by the A’s as a free agent in December 2013, Kazmir was 20-14 with a 3.12 ERA in 40 starts over his two seasons in Oakland and was liked and respected in the clubhouse -- helping to mentor some of the A’s younger pitchers, especially Sonny Gray, who held the locker next to Kazmir.
Melvin said Kazmir was "instrumental" as a resource for the A’s younger starters, "not only performance-wise, with some advice on how to get yourself ready and keep yourself ready, be durable, but how to act in the clubhouse. So he’ll be missed, definitely."
During Beane’s tenure, the A’s have not been particularly active in the free-agent market. Beane, though, said he told Kazmir on Thursday that the left-hander was "one of the best free-agents that I’ve had. He was a great pitcher on the field, he was a great role model for some of these younger guys … We got everything and more than we could have expected."
However, Kazmir was due to become a free agent again at the end of this season. And Beane indicated the A’s likely would not have tried to sign the 31-year-old, who should command a healthy contract given his performance over the past two and a half seasons since returning to the majors.
Kazmir was pitching in independent ball in 2012 before returning to the majors with Cleveland in 2013, and was still seen as something of a question mark when Oakland signed him to a two-year, $22 million deal before the 2014 season. But Kazmir earned All-Star recognition in 2014, going 15-9 with a 3.55 ERA, and this season had a 2.38 mark through his first 18 starts with the A’s.
"It’s been crazy, to be honest with you," Kazmir said. "Playing independent ball and not thinking I would ever be able to play professionally (again), and now going back to my hometown and playing for the Astros -- it’s a complete whirlwind. But I’m excited for the opportunity."
Ironically, Kazmir will be back at the Coliseum soon. The Astros visit Oakland for a four game series from August 6-9, with the duration making it likely Kazmir will pitch against his former A’s teammates.
"It’s part of the game," he said. "And you know, it’ll be nice to see the guys again, play against the guys. It’s just going to be a little weird."
Catcher Stephen Vogt said he too had reported to the field Thursday expecting to catch Kazmir when the A’s played the Blue Jays, and was "shocked" when he learned of the trade.
"It was a pleasure to actually get to catch him, get to know him, just to see the way he is," Vogt said. "We’re going to miss him. He’s a leader. He brings a lot more to the team than just (pitching) once every five days. Houston’s very fortunate to be getting a pitcher like Scott, and a person like Scott, and we’re going to miss him."
* As Kazmir cleaned out his locker Thursday, a teammate jokingly yelled, "Kaz, you’re not even worth a big-league guy?"
The A’s in the deal received two prospects from the Astros -- catcher Jacob Nottingham and right-handed pitcher Daniel Mengden. Both are expected to join the A’s Single-A affiliate in Stockton.
It was the Astros’ willingness to part with Nottingham, Beane said, that expedited a deal getting done. Nottingham, 20, was batting a combined .326 with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 76 games in A-ball this season. Beane said the A’s seen him as "potentially a middle-of-the-order hitter, and that’s pretty unusual" for a catcher.
"We actually sent a few of our different scouts out to watch some of (the Astros’) system and this kid really stood out for us," Beane said.
Megnden, meanwhile, had a combined 6-2 record and 3.46 ERA in 18 games, 14 starts, at two levels of A-ball. Beane said Mengden, 22, is "a guy we liked out of the draft. Right now he’s pitching in a tough pitchers’ park in Lancaster, but a guy we think has a chance to pitch in the rotation down the road."
* Left-hander Drew Pomeranz started for the A’s in place of Kazmir on Thursday and will stay in the rotation going forward, Melvin said. However, Pomeranz does need to stretch back out to a normal starter’s workload. The left-hander has been pitching out of the bullpen -- and lasted just 1 2/3 innings Thursday against the Blue Jays, with Melvin taking him out after he had thrown 44 pitches.
The A’s do still have another rotation spot to fill because of Jesse Hahn’s forearm strain. That turn comes around Saturday in San Francisco. Melvin indicated Chris Bassitt, who has made several spot-starts for the A’s this season, is a likely choice for that spot.
Melvin was also asked if Barry Zito, who has been pitching well at Triple-A Nashville, could be a candidate for the rotation. Melvin allowed that Kazmir’s departure "gives (Zito) more of a shot."
"We’ll see where we go from here with him," Melvin said. "But he’s certainly put himself in a position where anything could happen at any particular time with him."
* To take Kazmir’s roster spot, the A’s recalled right-hander Arnold Leon from Triple-A. Following an extra-inning game Wednesday night, and with Pomeranz on a short leash in Thursday’s start, the A’s wanted to be covered in the bullpen.