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July 28, 2011
Divide and Conquer, AL West
Early Wednesday afternoon, the Angels' Ervin Santana nailed down only the 11th no-hitterin the last 93 years where the lack of hits was somehow accompanied by at least one run allowed. Shortly thereafter, the Mariners snapped their historic 17-game losing streak behind a stunning nine-run, 17-hit outburst from an anemic Seattle lineup and seven frames of one-run baseball from Felix Hernandez at Yankee Stadium. A few hours later, the Rangers dropped their second consecutive home game to the sub-.500 Twins and watched their first-place lead slip to a meager two games. A little while after that, the Athletics’ also-anemic offense pounded out 13 runs to seal a clean three-game home sweep of the Rays.
There's a huge part of me that wants to devote ample attention to each one of these stories, but it's late July, which means that the overriding storyline throughout baseball—and, of course, the AL West—is the non-waiver trade deadline. That, I think, deserves the preponderance of the attention this week as we look at two contenders who have every reason in the world to be buyers and two non-contenders that we would naturally assume to be aggressive sellers. As you'll see, however, sometimes our preconceived notions don't cleanly match up with the reality of baseball's trade market. Aside from gazing into each AL West ballclub's trade situation, I've also highlighted the career record of each currently employed general manager in the division, as well as the three most notable July trades that each has made over the last three seasons:
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Tony Reagins (named GM 10/07; 334-257, .565 WP)
The Angels of the present are a prime example of how a contending team's ability to address trade deadline needs can be sabotaged by market incompatibility and restrictive roster circumstances. Case in point: the bulk of the trade buzz around the Angels at this point is focused on their pursuit of relief help (namely, one of Heath Bell or Mike Adams), which would probably impart some benefit to the active roster ... but the much bigger issue is the offense (.252/.315/.384), which ranks in the bottom half of the American League and badly needs an injection of mid-order on-base percentage and power. Alas, several of their weakest offensive positions are tied up by players who aren't going to be moved and almost certainly aren't going to lose meaningful playing time because of their contractual situations (e.g. Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu), so the opportunities for improvement on this front are a bit limited, to say the least.
John Perrotto wrote yesterday about how manager Mike Scioscia was satisfied with his current roster and wasn't stressing the need for outside reinforcements, which is probably a good thing from the standpoint of diminished expectations. The starting rotation is a monster at the front end and solid enough at the back end that adding even a mid-rotation starter wouldn't furnish much of a boost, the bullpen is sturdy enough that there wouldn't be all that much value to be gained from burning prospects on veteran relief help, and there are few potential solutions available at catcher, first base, or third base (where the Angels have reportedly been seeking help despite a decent hot-corner platoon of Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis) that would provide a meaningful offensive boost.
It's odd to think of a second-place team just two games out of first place not making a substantial move at the deadline, but that may very well be a more prudent course of action here than making a move simply for the sake of making a move.
Oakland Athletics: Billy Beane (named GM 10/97; 1179-1029, .534 WP)
After being able to play the role of buyers at the deadline throughout the early- and mid-aughts, the situation has proven a bit less sanguine in recent years, as the Athletics are now staring down the barrel of what will likely become their fifth consecutive non-winning season. Unfortunately for prospective buyers of Oakland's tradable assets, however, Billy Beane isn't outwardly eager to stage a major sale and remarked not even 48 hours ago to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser that Oakland might not pull the trigger on a dealbefore the deadline passes: "We've accepted calls on players, but we made it clear we're not going to give these guys away. We don't have any monetary issues, and we're not looking to dump payroll. If we did anything, it would have to help us significantly moving forward, not some team's prospect No. 37."
I still have a hard time believing that Oakland won't consummate a single deal (particularly where Willingham is concerned), but somebody with a more enlightened read on that situation may be able to convince me otherwise.
Seattle Mariners: Jack Zduriencik (named GM 10/08; 190-238, .444 WP)
Once upon a time not long ago, the Mariners were an improbably contending team within three games of first place in spite of a .500 record. One win and seventeen losses later, the Mariners are sellers in every sense of the word but lack a surfeit of players that they're inclined to move and, in fact, may only end up trading southpaw Erik Bedard, who will start this Friday against the Rays after missing more than a month with an ill-timed knee sprain. Seattle could be operating under the theory that Bedard is signable for a reduced sum after this season (and thus end up holding onto him), but there's definite mid-rotation quality there for a contending team that's reasonably confident in him being able to stay healthy for another three months, and opting for the trade route on Bedard would convey more value than letting him walk after the season for no draft pick compensation. Of course, there are also reports that Seattle is asking for a "ton" for Bedard, so there's that.
And if Bedard is going to command a handsome sum, one almost shudders to think about what would be required to pry loose a controllable upper-mid-rotation starter like Doug Fister, who has been the focus of some interest. Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda are, of course, not available, and the vast majority of the Mariners' position players figure into their plans beyond 2011; they'd love to dump Chone Figgins, but sub-replacement players with $20 million remaining on their deals don't tend to attract much in the way of meaningful trade interest. I can definitely see a Bedard deal going down, but I'm not sure how much I can see going down beyond that.
Texas Rangers: Jon Daniels (named GM 10/05; 470-445, .514 WP)
Jon Daniels proved quite busy during his first two deadline go-rounds, acquiring Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz on July 28th, 2006 and then moving both Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne on July 31st, 2007. In July 2008 and 2009? Absolutely nothing. Last year proved exceptionally busy as the Rangers bolstered their roster in anticipation of their first trip to the playoffs in more than a decade, but this year ... well, perhaps not so much. The Rangers were reported to be in on this year's Carlos Beltran sweepstakes up until the Giants agreed to relinquish top-40 pitching prospect Zach Wheeler, which now leaves Texas in the hottest pursuit of something that they actually do need: bullpen help.
Over the last three weeks, the Rangers have been linked to virtually every potentially available relief pitcher in the game by one baseball scribe or another, but the single strongest name that has surfaced time and time again has been Heath Bell. He's not the dominant high-strikeout monster this season that he has been in past years, but he's still good enough to function capably in a late-inning role, will net two compensatory draft picks after this season, and would, for those reasons, require Texas to part ways with somebody near the top of their second prospect tier, such as lefty Robbie Erlin. I'm still not ruling out a late push for starting pitching help, but the dearth of upper-tier options on that front and the pronounced lack of impact bats on the market aside from Beltran seem to be setting everything up for one, maybe two trades by the Rangers for relief aid in the next couple of days.