Cleveland Indians: Scott Kazmir Should Be a Trade Target

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The trade deadline is still far away, but it’s becoming clear that the Indians need a few more pieces if they want to truly contend in the second half. Former Tribe pitcher Scott Kazmir should be a player they actively pursue.

A team that trades away all of their All-Stars over the winter doesn’t typically play very well the next season. That’s the situation the Oakland Athletics find themselves in this year, after trading a plethora of stars this winter, including third baseman Josh Donaldson, slugger Brandon Moss and pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Shortstop Jed Lowrie and reliever Luke Gregerson signed deals with other teams over the off-season, and Oakland also lost Jon Lester to free agency, after trading away outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to acquire him last year.

The struggling A’s squad is 9.5 games back heading into play on Friday, with a 25-37 record. Billy Beane is a shrewd general manager, and he should be open to trade talks as the deadline approaches. The Indians and the A’s have a good track record for trades, and this is the perfect opportunity for both teams.

Kazmir is doing as well as a pitcher possibly can when playing in front of this year’s Oakland team. For context, their everyday shortstop has made 20 errors in just 61 games so far this season. Tribe fans thought watching Jose Ramirez was tough, but Marcus Semien makes him look like a Gold Glove defender.

Digressions aside, Kazmir is having a stellar year. After finishing last season 15-9 with a 3.55 ERA, the lefty is repeating his success in 2015. He’s 3-4, but he has 67 strikeouts in 71 innings, and a 2.79 ERA. Kazmir has also struck out 22.7 percent of batters, while walking 9.5 percent. His walk rate is a little high, but only about one percent higher than the major league average. The strikeouts more than make up for it.

Right now, the Indians are utilizing Shaun Marcum as their fifth starter, but he’s been unpredictable. He’s 3-1, and his ERA has dropped to 4.09, with 30 strikeouts in 33 innings. The problem is the inconsistency. His last start was incredible, but he’s also mixed in a couple of short outings, including one where he allowed seven runs in under three innings. How far will Marcum be able to take the Tribe?

Kazmir was an important part of Cleveland’s 2013 season. He works well with Mickey Callaway, and putting the two of them back together could finally solve the Indians’ fifth starter dilemma. Having a left-hander in the rotation adds another dimension, one that the Tribe has been missing since T.J. House was demoted to Columbus.

House has been good with Columbus but not great, and it’s hard to justify his return to the major league club. In four games with the Clippers, he is 0-2, with a 3.86 ERA and just 13 strikeouts in 21 innings. More troubling is the amount of free passes he’s allowed – 13 total, which means he hasn’t rediscovered the strike zone. House is successful only when he’s throwing strikes consistently, and if he isn’t doing that yet, it’s time to look at other options.

Admittedly, Kazmir has battled some shoulder soreness, but nothing incredibly alarming. As the team moves closer to the trade deadline, he will have had enough starts to determine whether those minor issues are something serious or just an early-season bout of tiredness. At any rate, that should be something that the Indians can use to drive his price down.

So what would Kazmir cost? The A’s farm system is actually fairly depleted. They traded top shortstop prospect Addison Russell for Samardzija at the deadline last year, and most of their pitching prospects are already in the majors.

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The Indians, however, have several key players that could be trade chips. Francisco Lindor is off the table, but outfielder Tyler Naquin is a viable option. Naquin was originally drafted by the Orioles in 2009, but he opted to go to college and it worked out well – the Tribe took him in the first round of the 2013 draft, 971 spots higher than he had originally been drafted. He’s currently ranked sixth in the Indians’ farm system, and he’s well known for his speed and his strong arm in the outfield.

Naquin is batting .335/.404/.462 this season, with eight stolen bases and a pair of home runs. He’s played primarily at Akron in 2015, but he was recently called up to Columbus, where he’s off to an equally hot start. But the Tribe’s outfield is pretty crowded, and Naquin isn’t likely to help the team this year, or possibly even next season.

Combining him with a high-upside reliever like lefty Kyle Crockett could net Kazmir for the Indians. Crockett, who spent less than a season in the minors before being called up to Cleveland, was a reliable option for the Tribe in 2014. He pitched 30 innings of relief, finishing the season with a 1.80 ERA, as opposing hitters batted just .239 against him.

Jul 16, 2013; Hollywood, CA, USA; Clint Frazier at the 2013 Gatorade National Athlete of the Year Awards at the W Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Another option is Clint Frazier. Frazier, who was drafted in 2013 and is currently playing at High-A Lynchburg, is ranked third in the Tribe’s system and #48 overall by Baseball America. Last season, he batted .266/.349/.411 and smashed 13 home runs for Lake County. He was also 12-for-18 on stolen base attempts. In 2015, Frazier is hitting .261/.351/.429, but he’s already hit six home runs and swiped five bags.

Losing a top prospect for a three-month rental is risky, but prospects in general are risky. Frazier and Naquin could be complete flops, and the Indians could get nothing for them. Cleveland won’t have this window of opportunity forever, and they need to take advantage of it while they can.

It would be a costly expenditure for the Tribe, but having five incredible starters to give the team a chance to win the division would be worth it. There will be plenty of teams battling for Kazmir at the deadline, and the Indians should certainly do everything they can to be the winners.

Next: Checking In On the Detroit Tigers

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