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Kazmir is just what they needed

August 29, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

The Angels all but bid farewell to John Lackey on Friday, with neither sadness nor anger. They enhanced the chance that his last season here might end just like his first season, with the World Series, and there is no sorrow in that.

The Angels do not traffic in sentiment. They got better for today with him, and for tomorrow without him.

You might like Scott Kazmir in September, for he is not Trevor Bell, a good kid here two years two soon.

You might love Kazmir in October, for he has twice beaten the Boston Red Sox this season, both times at Fenway Park. In the Angels' last 14 postseason games against Boston, their starters have zero victories.

And you might be delighted in the winter, if some team signs Lackey for twice what the Angels will pay Kazmir, and if the Angels use the difference to bring back Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins.

"We look at this opportunity as a fit for us not only in the short term but in the long term," General Manager Tony Reagins said.

The Angels made a terrific trade in both respects, acquiring Kazmir from the Tampa Bay Rays for three prospects, most notably left-hander Alex Torres.

"I'm excited about it," Lackey said. "We had a pressing need. It's fun to play for an organization that makes things happen to help the team."

The Angels can't hit their way to a ring. They outscored all comers in 2002, but with a far better bullpen than they have now. Kazmir, a two-time All-Star with a dynamic fastball, fits nicely into an uncertain rotation.

Lackey appears solid. Jered Weaver could match his career high in innings pitched tonight, with a month left in the regular season. Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders, who knows?

That middle reliever the Angels so desperately need? They just got him, at least for October, in the person of whichever starter does not make playoff rotation.

The Angels rushed the kids -- Bell, Anthony Ortega, Sean O'Sullivan -- with poor results.

Torres might end up better than all of them. When Manny Ramirez took his rehabilitation road show to the California League in June, Torres struck him out twice. When the Angels asked about Heath Bell in July, the San Diego Padres asked about Torres.

But he's in double-A now, at 21. Kazmir was in the majors by then. He's 25 now, endorsed by and reunited with his old Tampa Bay pitching coach, Mike Butcher.

"He's still in the prime of his career," Reagins said. "We think he's going to improve."

Kazmir had the best strikeout ratio in the American League from 2005 to 2008, with an earned-run average that started with 3 every year.

That ERA starts with 5 now. His velocity has been inconsistent and his strikeouts down, two caution flags. Yet he struck out 10 in his last start, with a fastball that Reagins said hit 95 mph.

The Angels have scouted Kazmir for two months. They say he'll be fine. If he is, the Angels have a bargain, at $8 million next season and $12 million in 2011, with a club option at $13.5 million for 2012.

If Lackey would have taken that kind of money, the Angels would have signed him already. No hard feelings. He earned his chance to try free agency.

But he is at the top of an otherwise dreadful class of free-agent pitchers, one in which the Angels no longer need to worry about shopping. They have Kazmir, Weaver, Saunders and Santana all under control through at least 2011, eradicating any perceived need to overpay for the likes of Jarrod Washburn or Jason Marquis.

We prodded the Angels to pursue Paul Byrd earlier this season, to alleviate the burden from the young and the injured. The Angels preached patience, got to first place with what they had, and now they have acquired not a stopgap but a potential stopper.

Kazmir's future is not guaranteed. He has had elbow and shoulder trouble in the past, and the Angels are on the hook for $22.5 million, including a buyout of the option year. For a major-market team, it's a risk worth taking.

Lackey's future is not guaranteed either. Amid the excitement in the Angels' clubhouse, Lackey said he still could imagine a future in Anaheim.

"I'm not worried at all," he said. "There's plenty of money here, if they want to spend it."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

He's an ex-Ray now

The Angels, in a trade with Tampa Bay, picked up 25-year-old left-handed starter Scott Kazmir:

*--* Year Team GS W L IP H ER BB K WHIP ERA 2004 TB 7 2 3 33.1 33 21 21 41 1.62 5.67 2005 TB 32 10 9 186.0 172 78 100 174 1.46 3.77 2006 TB 24 10 8 144.2 132 52 52 163 1.27 3.24 2007 TB 34 13 9 206.2 196 80 89 239 1.38 3.48 2008 TB 27 12 8 152.1 123 59 70 166 1.27 3.49 2009 TB 20 8 7 111.0 121 73 50 91 1.54 5.92 Career 144 55 44 834.0 777 363 382 874 1.39 3.92 *--*

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