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The Scott Kazmir trade is baseball

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You will never, ever, ever understand baseball, and this trade is the proof.

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Start with the player who was traded. Scott Kazmir has been a lot of things -- prospect, disappointment, All-Star, lottery ticket -- but he was mostly remembered as what could have been. Take a second there to consider the verb. He was remembered. He was a what-happened-to article that people were writing ahead of time for a slow day. He was broken at 25 and out of affiliated baseball at 27. When Roger Clemens made a pair of publicity-stunt starts for the Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012, part of the fun was pointing out all of the ex-major leaguers on his team. There's Aaron Bates! There's Alex Cintron! There's Scott Kazmir!

Kazmir wasn't very good for the Skeeters. He had a 5.34 ERA and he walked 4.6 batters for every nine innings he pitched. That would be bad in Triple-A. It was lousy in the Atlantic League.

Before that 2012 season for the Skeeters, Sam Miller wrote one of the better hypothetical-scenario columns in recent memory, asking who would get more wins in the future: Kazmir (messed up but not hurt), Jamie Moyer (old but still pitching), and Mark Prior (forever broken but usually excellent). Kazmir was Miller's third choice for well-argued reasons.

Before the 2013 season, the news was a little different. Kazmir was a rotation possibility. Ha ha, imagine that. It was a curiosity.

Kazmir is clearly the story of the spring so far, and not just in Indians camp. If spring is the season for rebirth and renewal, here's the perfect story to accompany it. There should be one of these every spring. One year Ryan Vogelsong, the next Kazmir and, maybe after that, Ismael Valdez. If the baseball gods were really progressive, they'd have a quota for this kind of thing.

Kazmir was okay. His ERA and adjusted ERA were a little below the league average, but the peripherals hinted at something more. After a slow start, an excellent second half got him a sizable two-year deal with the A's.

Two years later, he's cut that ERA nearly in half and was one of the top starters available at the deadline, a real asset to a team hoping to make the postseason. If you're scoring at home, the progression:

  1. prospect
  2. All-Star
  3. someone who cleared waivers
  4. Skeeter
  5. non-roster invitee
  6. useful starting pitcher
  7. outstanding starting pitcher

You can point at Kazmir's career and scream, "This! This is baseball! This is why I love it! Look at this guy!"

But it isn't just the player. Now move on to the teams. The Astros were a punchline for several years running. They lost 100 games or more in three straight seasons; the Cubs have lost 100 games or more in three of their 140 seasons. It takes a special kind of incompetence to lose 100 games in three straight seasons. It almost takes Major League-type malevolence.

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That was the work of the old management, though. The old owners. The new folks came in and fired everyone. They got permits from the county and razed the whole mess, keeping Jason Castro and a couple others so it would qualify as a renovation instead of a complete rebuild. And the new owners were apparently okay with the idea of expecting fans to be patient. New owners aren't always okay with that plan.

At the end of September, the Astros made news because they had 0.0 television ratings, which didn't seem good.

At some point, an Astros player slid into a butt, and that was even funnier because it was an Astros player. It was, like, a metaphor, man.

Then the Astros made smart moves and developed a few players and, hello, they're good. They're ahead of schedule. They're buyers. They get to walk around the bazaar of baseball, turning their nose up at anything but the best. They could get an excellent pitcher with prospects hovering around their top-20 because they had such a deep system.

You can point at the 2015 Astros and scream, "This! This is baseball! This is why I love it! Look at this team!"

Which brings us to the A's. They're out of last place, which is a start, but no one should overlook just how deeply unfair this season has been for them. They've scored 412 runs this season and allowed 364. According to the Pythagorean Theorem, that should translate to a 53-43 record, which is exactly what the Astros have.

If you want to dig a little deeper than raw runs scored and allowed, FanGraphs has something for you called called BaseRuns, which tallies up the hits, walks, homers, et cetera that a team gets and gives up, and estimates how good they would be if they were all distributed evenly. The A's would be the third-best team in baseball, just behind the Astros.

These are all estimates, you grumble, of what should have happened. Fair enough. The A's wretched bullpen might mess with what we know about expected records. Maybe the managerial moves really have been that bad, I couldn't say. More likely, though, is that the A's have gotten a king followed by a six in every stupid blackjack hand they've played this year. It looks good! And then it's a six. It looks good! And then it's a six. There's no logic or reason behind it, and it will almost certainly go down as one of the more unfortunate and unlucky teams in recent baseball history, if not all baseball history.

You can point at the 2015 A's and scream, "This! This is baseball! This is why I hate it! Look at this team! Look at this awful sport! Please get this awful sport away from me!"

As for the actual swap, I don't know, could work out for both sides, you know how it is with prospects, ha ha. The A's got Josh Donaldson for Rich Harden in a lesser deal, after all. They also got nothing for Tim Hudson. Jeff Weaver was an afterthought of a deadline acquisition, and he pitched like Randy Johnson in the postseason. Randy Johnson was one of the greatest deadline acquisitions of all-time, and his team didn't make it out of the first round. There's no sense grading it now. Looks like both teams got exactly what they wanted.

Until we can grade the deal with the benefit of hindsight, just appreciate that the Scott Kazmir trade is baseball. The player is baseball, and he moved from one metaphor-laden team to another, reminding you just how silly, beautiful, and unpredictable this whole mess really is.

★★★

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