First, let's get one thing straight: I'm not sure there any many improvements a 96-win team can legitimately make. But, that doesn't mean that there won't be performance lags from some guys (Jed Lowrie, Josh Donaldson, Bartolo Colon) and opportunities to bring in new talent to make that prior win total whole and then some. Indeed, given the way the ALDS went (again), the argument could be made that the A's have a middle-to-bottom heavy rotation.
Here is the putative 2014 rotation depth chart as it stands right now:
(Colon has not re-signed, but all indications point to that being accomplished. If not, of course, everyone moves up a slot.)
Gray has the potential to be a top flight starter, and his ALDS performance in game 2 sure cemented that. But after that, there are a lot of question marks. We have seen what happens when Colon loses his velocity, so will he be able to maintain low-to-mid 90s through most of a year again? Will Anderson actually stay healthy for a whole year in the rotation? Are Jarrod Parker's forearm strains today a second Tommy John surgery tomorrow? Will Dan Straily continue his good performance down the stretch from last year? Can A.J. Griffin not give up home runs? And what does the team do with Tom Milone, who was forced out of the rotation partly due to Gray's emergence but partly due to his own ineffectiveness?
There is a clear need for another starter who can take up that #2 starter role. Scott Kazmir could be that guy. Let me explain.
The biggest component of Scott Kazmir's re-emergence has been the return of his fastball velocity. PITCHf/x has his two-seam fastball averaging 92.3 MPH last year, up considerably from his floor of 85.6 MPH in that disastrous 2011 campaign for the Angels, and his best since 2007 when he was with the then Devil Rays. The better velocity re-establishes the effectiveness of his other pitches: slider, curve, and change. He actually appears to be throwing a softer curve now at 75.8, which puts a nearly 18 MPH difference between that and his fastball. Suffice it to say, he may have also become a better pitcher in addition to re-gaining his velocity.
From a batted ball perspective, he is trending the right away. Hitters are again swinging at more of his pitches outside than they have since 2008, and more of his pitches in general. He's allowing his lowest contact rates since then as well, along with his best swinging strike rates. His control also improved, as he allowed only a 7.0% walk rate, the best of his career. Throw in the help of the Coliseum in controlling his home runs, and he could be a very effective pitcher.
His best feature, however, may be the price. He could be tendered a qualifying offer, but at $14.1M this year, it is unlikely the Indians would give him that. Spread over two years, however, that's a) a contract the A's could afford and b) something that, perhaps with additional performance bonuses, he would be willing to take. It's a total upside play, and I get that; he could just as easily regress and end up in the Straily/Griffin/Milone wing of the A's starters. But for the kind of money he might demand, it could be worth it.
What do you think? Are there other pitchers the A's should go after?