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Martin Fennelly Columns

Say goodbye to an ace who never really was an ace

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Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 08:27 AM

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The word from Detroit is the Rays beat the space shuttle to the punch by launching Scott Kazmir into space. Well, not space, but a place just as spacey, the left coast, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or whatever they're called.

But don't call this stunning.

The Angels get a pitcher for a stretch run and beyond. The Rays get a player to be named later and two prospects, a pair of 21-year-olds, including left-handed pitcher Alexander Torres. That doesn't seem like much for Kazmir, until you remember that he was The Ace Who Never Was. Mainly, the Rays get out from under his contract.

Once upon a time, this might have caused more of an uproar, trading the franchise's all-time winner, inning pitcher and strikeout king. Kazmir was a steal when the Rays got him from the Mets, a 20-year-old lefty with ridiculous upside. That seems like a hundred 30-pitch innings ago. Friday, he was an unceremonious salary dump in the name of taking care of other Rays.

And we mean unceremonious. Important safety tip: Try to make sure your boy doesn't find out from the media. But apparently someone with the Angels leaked the trade before it was finalized, and so there was a bewildered Kazmir hearing it from media. It was a shabby little moment.

This deal will be an earthquake to some Rays, a major leaguer (one who beats the Red Sox, no less) for no immediate help in the middle of a playoff chase. But this deal doesn't signal the end of that chase. Lousy baseball the next few weeks will signal it, with Wednesday's walk-off loss in Toronto and Friday's 6-2 loss in Detroit a righteously lousy start.

But this is about the small-market bottom line. The money was everything. Kazmir's contract ($22.5 million over the next three seasons) was the Rays' largest movable piece on the board. It gives this Rays club at least the hint of flexibility as they deal with looming payouts.

"It's disappointing to be leaving here, but you have to look at the business side," Kazmir told media after the game.

Carlos Pena gets a salary bump next season. So does James Shields. Carl Crawford goes to $10 million next season. Then there's B.J. Upton. What about Jason Bartlett? He's going to arbitration. Think he won't get a huge raise?

If you're going to move Kazmir, now is the time that makes business sense, as teams needing pitching help, though the way Matt Garza gave up it up Friday, you'd think the Rays are one of those teams. Why now? Kazmir is finally pitching well enough to move him. That's why.

The Rays have Shields and Garza, who better get it in gear. They have Jeff Niemann, a rookie of the year contender. They have David Price. And Wade Davis will be on the way.

The real bottom line is Kazmir didn't become the pitcher he should be - or maybe he did. He had some vivacious moments, some moments that spoke to greatness, but thrown in there were a lot of nights you went through a bag of peanuts while he got through a single inning.

He's still only 25, but we already wondered if his arm and head would ever come together one whole breakout season. Actually, I wonder that about Shields and Garza, too. Well, the Rays are through wondering about Kaz. They'll take the risk.

Yes, there is risk, real risk. There always is. There was risk when the Rays let party boy Josh Hamilton go. There was risk when they traded Edwin Jackson. Then again, there was risk when they traded Delmon Young, and that one worked out, didn't it?

Scott Kazmir? He was always a nice guy, even when he was at the bottom of a well. Friday, he was at the top of the bottom line. Maybe he goes to California and finds his star on another contender and makes the Rays look awful. He never completely found that star here. He was the Ace Who Never Was.

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