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Scott Kazmir's sad exit ushered in joy the Tampa Bay Rays feel today

The money the Rays gained by dumping Scott Kazmir helped bring Rafael Soriano, above, to town, where he has produced a league-leading 41 saves.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The money the Rays gained by dumping Scott Kazmir helped bring Rafael Soriano, above, to town, where he has produced a league-leading 41 saves.

ST. PETERSBURG

The anniversary passed recently without fanfare. Without reflection.

Heck, it passed without a moment of silence in a stadium that supposedly has far too many.

We are talking about the day the Rays traded Scott Kazmir.

Or, as it will be known in the future, the day the Rays clinched a spot in the 2010 playoffs.

You remember the Kazmir trade, right? It was the day last season when the Rays exchanged their 2008 AL pennant for a white flag. A salary dump, it was called by some. A disgrace, it was suggested by others.

At the time, the Rays were 4½ games out of the wild-card race with about a month to go. Tampa Bay dealt Kazmir to the Angels for a couple of minor-leaguers and a player to be named later in a deal the Rays acknowledged was at least partially driven by economics.

And now, one year and 13 days later, that trade could mean to the 2010 Rays what the Matt Garza/Jason Bartlett trade once meant to 2008.

Let's back it up a little:

There is no doubt, Kazmir was one of the first stars this franchise ever knew. He was an attraction in a market that forever had trouble drawing crowds. He was Tampa Bay's all-time leader in wins by the time he was 23 and a two-time All-Star by 24.

Yet, by the time he was 25, Kazmir was horribly overpaid for a guy whose fastball had lost zip and whose slider had lost bite. He had been off and on the disabled list, and was struggling to make it past the fifth inning in most of his starts.

So when Kazmir put together three consecutive quality starts in the final weeks of August last season, and the Angels were in the market for another arm for their postseason run, the Rays jumped at the chance to get out from under his contract.

The trade saved Tampa Bay about $23 million in salary between 2009-11, plus the buyout of a 2012 option. The trade also bought them a good deal of ridicule, something the club accepts as an occupational hazard for a small-revenue team.

"We cannot rely upon the power of purse as many of our competitors can. That always factors into our decisions," team president Matt Silverman said this week. "All these decisions carry risks. We have respect for those risks, but we don't allow them to prevent us from making decisions."

As risks go, this one seemed more high-wire than most. Especially when the Rays proceeded to fall out of contention with an 11-game losing streak and Kazmir went 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA down the stretch for the Angels.

Yet, a year later, it is arguably the one decision that had the greatest impact on 2010.

First, there is the obvious:

Sean Rodriguez was the player to be named later in the deal, and he has essentially provided the Rays with more pop and better defense than Akinori Iwamura offered at second base during the 2008 pennant run.

And with Kazmir out of the way, the Rays were able to bring up Wade Davis to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Davis is 11-9 with a 4.39 ERA and is under Tampa Bay's contractual control for the next five seasons. Kazmir is 8-13 with a 5.98 ERA and may eventually be released so the Angels do not have to pick up the $13.5 million option on his contract for 2012.

Finally, there is the economic impact the trade had on the Rays.

While others were shouting it was a salary dump, the Rays were explaining that it provided payroll flexibility for 2010 and '11. By replacing Kazmir's $8 million salary this season with Davis' $400,000 contract, the Rays freed up cash to spend elsewhere.

And where did that money go?

Basically, it brought Rafael Soriano to Tampa Bay.

The Rays traded Iwamura to Pittsburgh for Jesse Chavez and, a month later, traded Chavez to Atlanta for Soriano. Tampa Bay gave Soriano a $7.25 million contract and has been rewarded with a league-leading 41 saves.

So could the Rays have acquired Soriano if they had not been able to move Kazmir? Technically, yes. Realistically, no. The payroll is already far beyond owner Stuart Sternberg's comfort zone at $70 million, and so spending an extra $8 million seems highly unlikely.

And while the payroll is expected to be cut for 2011, it will not be cut nearly as much as it would have if Kazmir's $12 million salary for next season was still on the books. That savings could potentially be applied to Matt Garza's bump next year. Or Joaquin Benoit's next deal. Or whatever else suits Tampa Bay's needs.

Officially, the Rays have not clinched a playoff spot for 2010 but, at this point, it is just a matter of time.

And, when the moment arrives, remember to give thanks for the day the Rays traded Scott Kazmir.

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.

Scott Kazmir's sad exit ushered in joy the Tampa Bay Rays feel today 09/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 8:59am]
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