"I feel like the past couple of years, the organization has had a great team, a great fan base," said Kazmir. "I love pitching in the ballpark, and I feel like that definitely swayed my decision a little bit. Pitching in the AL West, I'm very comfortable."
Kazmir, who is 6-5 with a 4.46 ERA in 13 career starts at the Coliseum, says he was mulling over three or four clubs when he pinpointed Oakland as his next destination, after enjoying a career renaissance with the Indians this year by way of a 10-9 record and a 4.04 ERA on a $1 million Minor League deal. He made 29 starts, taking regular turns in a big league rotation for the first time since 2010, and it was enough to convince the A's to hand out the most money they've given a free-agent starting pitcher.
Kazmir's drastic pay raise is very much a sign of the times, with rotation candidates at a premium this year.
"His body of work last year was good," said A's general manager Billy Beane. "We faced him a couple of times, and one game in particular, his stuff was outstanding, and he finished very, very strong. I think just the advantage of having as much good starting pitching as you can get is something that has helped make us successful.
"Being 29, his age is good, and the more we looked at it, the more we thought we should jump on the opportunity to bring him in."
Beane also took note of the fact Kazmir's fastball velocity averaged 92.5 mph this year, back to where it was in 2005, when he was one of the best lefties in the league and routinely hitting 96. That was before a few minor injuries and mechanical issues led to his release by the Angels in 2011, sparking a journey of self-discovery that included a stop in an independent league with the Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012.
This former first-round Draft pick and two-time All-Star realized he could no longer simply throw the ball as hard as he could and hope for a swing and miss. Kazmir has transformed into a more complete pitcher, throwing first-pitch strikes and getting hitters to chase pitches outside the strike zone at a better rate. His changeup has improved, and he also throws a cutter and curveball.
"I'm setting up guys a lot more and learning how to pitch a lot more," Kazmir said. "Stuff-wise, I feel like I'm the same pitcher. But as far as approach, I feel like I'm completely different. Delivery-wise, I feel like I'm a lot more crisp, and I'm able to repeat my delivery a lot more. My delivery has become more complete, simpler.
"After my time with the Angels, I did a lot of self-evaluating and a lot of hard work to get where I was at last year. I continued to progress over the season and was very pleased coming out of the season of where I've been and what I've accomplished."
Kazmir went 7-5 with a 3.06 ERA in his final 18 starts, and for the season, he averaged 9.2 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per nine innings. Beane watched him strike out 10 and walk none over six innings in a win over the A's on May 9.
"He had some parts of the year when he really dominated, including against us," Beane said, "and the way he finished was just spectacular."
It's Kazmir's unorthodox path and questionable future that scared away several clubs, particularly when talk of a multiyear deal came into play. But the A's are risk-takers, most recently proven with 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, whose success in Oakland has him in line for a big pay day elsewhere.
So Kazmir's past is of little concern. Beane even found a way to turn it into a selling point.
"This guy was one of the top prospects coming out of high school in the game," said Beane. "He was a high-profile kid who had a lot of success early in his career, and to have to go back and do what he did to get back to this level certainly shows a character-building experience, which is good.
"I think there's probably an appreciation for having made the climb back and will serve him well going forward. He knows what it's like to have been really good and then to have to start all over again. It's a testament to his desire to really want to play the game."
With Kazmir in the mix, the A's have an abundance of starters, including Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone. Anderson's name has long been at the forefront of the trade-rumor mill, and Beane reiterated on Wednesday, without mentioning names, that dealing one of his starters would be for "needs in the organization." In short, prospects.
"Having a lot of good starting pitching puts you in good position for the season if you have it, and certainly puts you in a position in the offseason where you could use it as an area to help out other parts of the organization," Beane said. "Whether we do or not, time will tell. Having too much starting pitching is a good problem to have."
In order to make room for Kazmir on the 40-man roster, the A's designated left-hander Andrew Werner for assignment. Werner spent the year at Triple-A Sacramento, going 12-14 with a 5.78 ERA.