Unfortunately it's become the nationwide story about the Rays, but after the jump I take a look at the situation and the options, including just how much Kazmir may garner on an open market.
Wow, that certainly caused a firestorm. First and foremost Rays fans need to calm down, just because he didn't sign a long-term deal last year doesn't mean much, he was coming off of an injury shortened season and there's not a player in the league who would sign a deal at his lowest value if he felt he could outperform that season.
Let's start with the facts:
Scott Kazmir's agent is Brian Peters, not Scott Boras, the only player Boras represents on the Rays' roster is Carlos Pena. Now that's not to say Boras hasn't talked with Kazmir and Carl Crawford, he has, but as of now neither are represented or advised by Boras. There's a chance Boras could steal Kazmir for Peters, and frankly if he wants the most money and the best opportunity to be marketed in a larger city he probably should give the hook to Peters, although it's hard to say how the Yankees - the team that can afford Kazmir thrice over - will deal with Boras in future years.
Kazmir is nearly 24, and will be under team control as a restricted player for the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons, after that he qualifies for free agency; essentially November 2010 is the earliest Kazmir can hit the open market. So yes, he will be a Ray for at least the 2008 season.
The situation can go a few ways, the Rays could let Kazmir walk when it's all said and done and garner a first round pick - assuming Kazmir gains "Type-A" free agency, along with a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. Trading Kazmir prior to 2010 is an option, the approach was used by Florida in both the Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Marlins cases, and if the Rays could get Hanley Ramirez, Andrew Miller, and Cameron Maybin type players you consider it, of course in both cases the Marlins included their third baseman. Or the Rays could steal a page from the Tigers and Red Sox books and simply re-sign Kazmir to a deal that takes away two of his free agency years for more money upfront.
Let's begin with the last and work our ways forward; Beckett got 3/30 with a 12 million dollar club option for 2010, Dontrelle 3/29, not unreasonable deals, but Beckett's deal was a few years ago, and Dontrelle has been solidly regressing for a few years.
Do we really need to address which is better or perhaps to state it better; which has a lower attrition value, a few top prospects or four draft picks between 1-100?
This leaves us discussing how much it would take for Kazmir in free agency and approximately how much it would take to re-sign Kazmir for the Rays, assuming they want to of course. There are lingering concerns with Kazmir - dealing with his small body and his off the field antics, both were raised by Adam Rubin in his Mets' book, Pedro, Carlos, and Omar - the Mets' organization was concerned about Kazmir's arm blowing out but even more so disturbed by personal life antics, including suspected marijuana usage and wrecking teammate Justin Huber's car - obviously neither of these concerns may be shared with the Rays, but both are something an organization should look into before placing mega dollars in a player - right Carl Pavano?
Here are some of the recent big time pitcher contracts thrown out with Kazmir's projected line in blue - that assuming he duplicates his first three seasons without regression or progression, still placing him in pretty good company and comparable to Carlos Zambrano. The problem with that for the Rays is that Zambrano took a discount and throws with his right hand - like a normal person - Kazmir's family has been scribed in the past as wanting him to play in Houston or New York - either home or the big market, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that, unless you're a Rays fan or executive. Kazmir also throws left handed - which adds to his market value - and adding in the natural inflation of the market could see his value shoot from the 18 million range to in upwards of 20 million annually.
That brings us to the Rays' economic situation, if everything goes right the Rays will be moving into their new ballpark the following spring, what better way to usher in the holy grounds than keeping the stolen messiah of the Mets? Assuming the team secures the park and is in playoff contention the Rays can expect an economic situation closely resembling the Detroit Tigers - Dave Dombrowski and crew spent roughly 95 million last year - paying one player 20 million annually doesn't vibe with that payroll, not when B.J. Upton, James Shields, and presumably Carl Crawford will also either make or be extremely close to making more than 10 million annually.
Spending nearly 60 million on four players when your payroll is stalking into triple digits doesn't seem like the fondest of ideas, essentially you have roughly 30-40 million to spend on the other 21 players, and it would be nice to think the team has more than four players worth locking down at that point. So what's a team to do? Priority number one for the front office has been locking down the homegrown talent and keeping it here, after three more seasons the rotation might be stacked along with every other position, but that doesn't mean the Rays should just let Kazmir walk, depth is never a bad thing, and if you can keep your homegrown players at reasonable rates - in this case not 20 million annually - you do so.
But hold on, of course there's the x-factor and soon to be precedent in all of this, Johan Santana. The Rays might be in a strikingly similar position to the Twins - both teams about to move into new parks and facing highly unlikely odds of re-signing their ace southpaw. Johan actually signed a deal buying out a few of his free agent years for 4/39.75, I'm not so sure Kazmir will do the same, although he'd be smart to and lock himself in for a big payday in 2015, again very similar to Johan, but smarter for Kazmir just in case an injury bug bit his moneymaker - not likely, but then again, look at Rocco.
The decision to stay in Tampa Bay really is Scott Kazmir's, the Rays should be in an economical situation where if Kazmir is willing to take slightly less than his absolute highest monetary value he should remain a Ray, if the story of his dreams is the obscene obsession with the bling he won't be here past 2010.