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July 23, 2015

Transaction Analysis

Houston, We Have a Kazmir

by R.J. Anderson, Wilson Karaman and Mike Gianella

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American League

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Acquired LHP Scott Kazmir from the Athletics in exchange for RHP Daniel Mengden and C-R Jacob Nottingham. [7/23]

A sensible (and predictable) pairing. Legend has it the Astros pursued Kazmir, a Houston native, back in winter 2013 when he was a free agent. Kazmir opted instead to sign with the more competitive Athletics, leaving the Astros to sign Scott Feldman as a fallback plan. Now a year and a half later, Kazmir is headed home with an eye on helping the Astros earn their first playoff berth in nine attempts.

Kazmir's arsenal has expanded and matured since he pitched for the Devil Rays, let alone his days at Cypress Falls High School. Remember how he used to rely entirely upon his fastball and slider? These days he also incorporates a cutter, slow-change, and occasional curveball to mix things up. Kazmir wouldn't appear to be as dynamic as in the past, yet he's in the midst of what would be a career-best season, according to ERA+ and the like. Heck, he's even averaging more than six innings per pop for the first time since 2007, a big deal for the little feller.

Of course the Astros are better equipped to atone for Kazmir's at-times lacking efficiency than most, including his former team. Whereas the A's poor bullpen caused them to be more aggressive with Kazmir—this season he'd already topped 100 pitches 10 times, including his last time out, as opposed to 11 times all last season—the Astros and their elite bullpen can focus on quality over quantity. Should the Astros reach the postseason—and they entered today as one of four American League teams with a better than 75 percent shot at October—then it wouldn't be surprising to see them limit Kazmir to five or six innings before turning the game over to their relievers.

But before the Astros go slotting Kazmir in as their Game Three starter, they'll need to figure out which incumbent gets bumped from the rotation. Both Scott Feldman and Vincent Velasquez have started once since returning from the disabled list and the minors. Feldman has performed worse overall and has past bullpen experience, making him the more likely to depart. Still, the Astros could give the veteran a longer leash, perhaps with an eye on Velasquez working out of the bullpen later in the season. Either way, Kazmir represents an upgrade, albeit one who recently exited a start due to triceps tightness and has past arm troubles.

Kazmir's status as a pending free agent means there is going to be a lot of talk between now and November about an extension. And in time, perhaps the two sides do agree to one. For now, though, the Astros are prioritizing the short term in more ways than one. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact

Scott Kazmir
As is often the case when a high performing player is moved from one organization to another, not much will change for Kazmir. There is the possibility of a bit of a bump in wins with a better team behind him, but this is offset by the move out of a strong pitchers’ park in Oakland. The key for Kazmir has always been health, and whether or not he holds up down the stretch has little if anything to do with the team he is pitching for in the last two months of 2015.

Lance McCullers, Vincent Velasquez
It isn’t completely clear at the moment who is going to get pulled from the rotation for the Astros, but McCullers—who had already been pushed back—will probably get bumped for the moment. Down the road, Velasquez is likely to lose some time as well. Both would have been up against inning limits in any event, so this gives the Astros an opportunity to mix and match in an effort to save both for a possible playoff run. This is great for the Astros, but bad for fantasy. Both pitchers can be kept in AL-only and on reserve as matchup play in deeper mixed leagues, but they cannot be relied on at this point in non-AL-only formats. —Mike Gianella

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Acquired RHP Daniel Mengden and C-R Jacob Nottingham from the Athletics in exchange for LHP Scott Kazmir. [7/23]

This deal is fortuitously timed, as I just wrote up Nottingham in some depth two weeks ago in the Ten Pack. I'll refer you there for more on the nuts and bolts of my first impression, and all he's done in a couple looks since is confirm the majority of my initial optimism about the profile. This is a catching prospect with impact potential, and a fine get for Billy Beane and company.

The physicality is the thing that stands out most about Nottingham. He's strong as an ox, but just as importantly he controls his frame with balance and fluidity, two critical ingredients for improvement behind the dish. The defensive package is unrefined at this stage of his development, but the raw tools—including a 6 arm—are there for him to grow into an above-average defender behind the plate. I've seen nothing to suggest he'll need to move off the position, but he has enough athleticism that, even if he did, he wouldn’t just be limited to a first base profile and the outfield would be an option.

As intriguing as the defensive toolbox is, the bat is the centerpiece of the package. He's impressively quick to the ball despite long levers and a large stride that generates significant separation. The hips fire cleanly, and he generates above-average bat speed with leverage and torque. He shows the kind of plus tracking and command of the zone that you'd expect out of a catcher, though his in-zone approach is highly aggressive at present to where he'll tie himself up and get himself out on well-located fastballs. There's plus raw power here with the chance to get to a good deal of it in games, and he's demonstrated a consistency with his barrel delivery and bat to ball to suggest an above-average hit tool as well.

When you add up the elements here there's the makings of a realistic 55 Major League catcher and the potential for a true Role 6 if it all comes together. That's a rare bird indeed, and a reflection of Houston's aggressiveness in making a push this year that they were willing to sacrifice him from their system to do it.

Houston's fourth rounder last year, Mengden is a well-proportioned right-hander with requisite #Texan strength and good pitchability of a solid four-pitch mix. A two-way player at Texas A&M, he shows strong athleticism in his movements around the mound and some deception in his delivery. He works off a tall posture and high, jerking leg kick that sees him show his numbers to the hitter as he initiates a deep arm action. There’s some halting start-and-stop in his takeaway and I don’t love the cadence of his delivery, but he showed an ability to drive consistently and get his arm to its ¾ slot with impressive repeatability given the length. He works around the zone with control that showed well, and while it’s not a wind-up that presents as particularly amenable to a plus command profile, he’s got a little more wiggle room on account of the deceptive motion.

The package of raw stuff is more solid-average, though it works off a potentially plus fastball that worked in the low 90's, topping out once at 95 with some plane and modest life. The pitch wandered up in the zone and got hit a bit as the outing I saw wore on, particularly in his final turn through the lineup. Between the velocity, deception, and solid-average movement, it makes for a strong primary weapon. The curveball took an inconsistent shape in the mid-70’s, showing some depth but lacking bite as a swing-and-miss pitch. He also mixed in a slider and change in the same velocity band at 81-84. The former showed some bite in its vertical break despite lacking a ton of tilt, while the change showed inconsistent fade but solid arm speed. The slider showed the best of the bunch, though all appeared to possess useable potential.

The makings of a 50 arm are here, with solid Role 4 potential as a valuable right-on-right guy in a big league bullpen if the command doesn’t quite get there. —Wilson Karaman

Fantasy Impact

Drew Pomeranz
This is a dynamic situation – and the Athletics certainly could make more trades in the next few days that will further muddy the proverbial waters – but Pomeranz will get the first crack at filling Kazmir’s vacant spot in the rotation. Pomeranz may not be able to go deep into his starts at first, but he was an effective starter in 2014 and is a solid option in AL-only and a streamer for this home starts in 15 or 16 team mixed leagues. —Mike Gianella

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Wilson Karaman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Wilson's other articles. You can contact Wilson by clicking here
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

Related Content:  Scott Kazmir,  Jacob Nottingham

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