DETROIT — The Rays unexpectedly traded left-hander Scott Kazmir to the Angels on Friday, a deal that saves them nearly $24 million but could cost them a chance to make the playoffs this season.
The deal was announced after Friday's game following an afternoon cloaked in mystery, confusion and conflicting reports that left Kazmir, and several of his now former teammates, surprised. The Rays will get three minor-leaguers in return.
"It's hard to say anything right now," Kazmir said. "It was odd how the day came about and now, all of a sudden, I'm traded."
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the saved money was "not the primary motivating factor," but one element in the decision.
"I'm not sure that there is any one reason," he said. "This is what we do and have to do to balance the now and the future.
"It's never easy to see a player of Scott's ability leave the organization. And as talented as Kaz is, we didn't view this as moving on from '09. We feel like we have a number of very capable arms (in the minors). And we feel like we have the talent to make an exciting run over the last month."
Trading a top starting pitcher who has won four of his past six starts seems like an odd move for a team within 4½ games out of the AL wild card. But both Friedman and manager Joe Maddon insisted the deal was not an indication they didn't believe they could compete, and wouldn't diminish their chances, and the players they were calling up, and getting in the deal, would be assets, although some in the future.
Kazmir is likely to be replaced in the rotation, Tuesday against Boston, by Wade Davis, their top prospect. Davis pitched three perfect innings Friday for Triple-A Durham, lowering his ERA to 3.20, and was about to be taken out when the game was delayed by rain. Andy Sonnanstine is another possibility.
It's believed the Rays first will recall second baseman Akinori Iwamura, on rehab at Durham, today then add the pitcher when rosters expand Tuesday.
Friedman acknowledged the trade "increases the risk a little bit" as they will be counting on less-experienced pitchers in a pennant race, but remained confident in their chances.
So did Maddon: "By no means do I think we are out of the race because of this particular move. Not at all."
In trading Kazmir, who cleared waivers, the Rays saved more than $24 million from the contract they gave him in May 2008: the $8 million and $12 million salaries he gets in 2010 and 2011, the $2.5 million buyout on his 2012 option of $13.5 million and the remaining $1.3 million or so on this year's $6 million salary. Kazmir gets an $800,000 payment for being traded.
The savings could help the Rays keep the bulk of their team together as built-in raises to veterans, such as Carl Crawford, who has a $10 million option for next season, and arbitration-eligible young players, would push next season's payroll to about $70 million.
There wasn't much reaction among players — in part because many left before the clubhouse was opened to the media — but several expressed their surprise, especially because Kazmir has been pitching so well.
"I don't really know what to say," Crawford said. "It's a surprise to me that it's Kaz getting traded period because you know what he's meant to this organization in the past. But I'm pretty sure they have their reasons for it, and you just have to trust in what they do and go forward from there."
Said B.J. Upton: "I've got nothing."
And pitcher Matt Garza: "Mr. Friedman and those guys make all those moves, and how can you question them when we went to the Series last year?"
The prospects the Rays got who were named are left-hander Alex Torres, a 21-year-old from Venezuela who is 13-4 with a 2.75 ERA between Class A and Double A this season, and third baseman Matt Sweeney, 21, an eighth-round pick in 2006 hitting .296 with nine homers and 44 RBIs at Class A. The one not named is considered closer to the majors and someone Maddon, a former Angels coach, called "a very interesting player that I'm very excited about."
The deal, which had been talked about in July and rekindled in the past few days, came down oddly after initial reports surfaced on MLB.com and ESPN in the afternoon, with the MLB.com story at one point taken down and replaced by a story saying the deal had fallen through. The leak from the Angels' side enraged Rays officials and nearly led them to call if off because it aborted their protocol of notifying their player first.
Kazmir, who earlier this season expressed a strong desire to stay with the Rays, didn't know anything about it until approached by reporters before the game, and asked initially if they were kidding him. He tried to go about his day as he normally would, sitting in on the preseries pitchers meeting, playing catch with David Price and sitting in the dugout during the game. He said he was most disappointed in leaving because of the relationships he built with teammates and fans, and said he wanted to thank the Rays for giving him the opportunity.
Kazmir will be reunited with former Rays pitching coach Mike Butcher, who returned to Anaheim after one season.
The Rays acquired Kazmir as a promising prospect in a July 2004 trade with the Mets for Victor Zambrano that was considered former general manager Chuck LaMar's finest moment.
Kazmir debuted in the major leagues three weeks later and pitched in 145 games for the Rays, compiling a 55-44 record and 3.92 ERA.