Heading into the 2015 Winter Meetings, there were numerous high-end free agents, especially hitters, still waiting to be signed. I assumed once Jason Heyward signed with a team - considered the best non-pitching free agent by almost everyone - the market would be set and the rest of the dominos like Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Chris Davis, and Yoenis Cespedes would soon fall into place. Well, as we all know, Heyward signed with the Cubs on December 11th and Upton, Gordon, Davis, Cespedes are still out there without a team.
Heyward was not your normal top free agent since a lot of his value comes from defense, hitting for contact, and base running. His contract also had plenty of bells and whistles with opt-outs and deferred money and so on. And there was speculation that he took less money than he could have gotten elsewhere. All of this could have contributed to keeping the market muddied. Hitting on this topic, Ken Rosenthal opined over the weekend on why some of the best free agents, thirteen of 20 by his count, remain unsigned, and speculated that these could be the following reasons: the qualifying offer; the typical big spenders aren't spending; several teams are tanking; and the trade market is in flux.
For example, of the top thirteen free agents still available, nine are attached to a qualifying offer which would result in loss of a draft pick for the team who signs them. As Rosenthal noted, teams aren't afraid to part with a draft pick to obtain a top free agent like Upton or Davis, but are more reluctant to pull the trigger when dealing with the likes of Dexter Fowler or Ian Kennedy. (For a great read on the ridiculousness of the qualifying offer rule, I highly recommend Sam Miller's piece which appeared in Just a Bit Outside earlier this year.) Furthermore, as detailed by Rosenthal, typical spenders like the Dodgers and Yankees are being outbid or are not bidding at all. And several teams are tanking and essentially have their entire roster up for grabs, which makes for a pretty murky trade market that was already murky enough following the Shelby Miller heist.
All of this is revelatory because the longer top free agents remain unsigned, the argument goes, the better chance teams have at landing a bargain. And on that note, Bob Nightengale tweeted today that the Cardinals are one of several teams interested in starting pitcher Scott Kazmir. And by "several" teams, I mean that 17% of all MLB teams are reportedly interested.
Hold up, make that 20%.
Yes and #Astros among the finalists for Kazmir— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 21, 2015
Today, Nick Lampe questioned whether Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, and Tommy Pham can be full-time players in the foreseeable future and why the answer might favor the Cardinals signing another big bat for the outfield. Similarly, I think that's a fair question to ask about Tim Cooney, Tyler Lyons, and Marco Gonzales: Are either of them equipped to handle the fifth spot in the rotation in 2016? If not, and coupled with the very recent injury history of Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez, Kazmir, who would not cost the Cardinals a draft pick since he was traded mid-season, might be a solid investment.
Pondering Kazmir with the Cardinals is nothing new at VEB. Just last week, Joe Schwarz compared the repertoires of Kazmir and Wei-Yin Chen and how each could be a good fit for the Cardinals if the price was right. This past Friday, MLB Trade Rumors reported that Kazmir has received multiple three-year offers, paying around $12-13 million per season. Kazmir, who is entering his age-32 season, posted a 2.4 fWAR in 183 combined innings pitched with the A's and Astros in 2015. Transitioning to the National League and pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium could make him a bargain.
Of course, Kazmir has yet to sign and there's no guarantee that he would come at that price, especially with teams like the Nationals and the ultra-rich Lerner family reportedly involved. And there's certainly no guarantee that all of the available free agents won't get scooped up a week from now at normal market rate. But if the crowded and difficult-to-navigate free agency lot helps keep spending down, checking in on a few years of service from Kazmir at a good price seems reasonable enough.