You know, for a division race that is supposed to be the most exciting one still going with major post-season implications attached (I don't count that back-and-forth affair between Boston and New York in the AL East, since both clubs are all but assured of playing on into October anyway), I'm not so sure the AL West's two-team battle is really living up to its top billing. The Rangers' division-winning chances have fluctuated within the 80-95 percent range for the better part of two months and still rest within close proximity of the 90 percent mark as of this morning, and Texas has spent 140 days in first place this season compared to just 25 days for Los Angeles. It does still fit within the parameters of what we would define as a legitimate playoff race, and both clubs have done their respective parts to ensure the Angels sticking around, but the "race" is beginning to feel a bit one-sided.
And on Wednesday, the final day where players could be traded and still retain post-season eligibility with their new clubs, the deepest and most talented team in the division continued to pile on the talent while the two cellar-dwellers pulled off a couple of largely inconsequential—but nevertheless interesting—deals, and the second-running Angels did nothing … again. Running concurrent to those waiver-period trade storylines are a few different chunks of news and speculation relating to the front offices of each AL West club, and so it strikes me that this might be a good opportunity to juxtapose the trade storylines alongside those front-office storylines, and see what comes of the whole process.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Front Office: If you pay close enough attention to the reports of what's transpiring out in Orange County these days, you discover rather quickly that Tony Reagins has emerged as the most disliked team executive in the division. Aside from putting on a veritable "Don't Let This Happen To You" clinic for his fellow general managers with that one trade that you probably don't want to hear anything more about (and a few other moves that haven't panned out as expected, leaving the Angels saddled with a high proportion of inefficiently spent dollars), Reagins has taken something of a beating on both a local and national level for not consummating a deal to improve his ballclub at the non-waiver trade deadline. Case in point: Reagins found himself "booed and heckled … loudly and for almost the entire time he spoke" by Angels fans during last week's outdoor press conference to announce Jered Weaver's new contract. That isn't to say that fans are always justified in committing such actions, but it's a rather foreboding sign nevertheless.
And last month, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote that the consensus within baseball is that the actual organizational power "rests with manager Mike Scioscia and owner Arte Moreno," which could obviously be interpreted to mean that he's not the most critical piece on the organizational chess board. That said, there's absolutely no indication that Reagins's job is in any kind of immediate danger, but another ugly winter from a talent acquisition standpoint—and all the negative P.R. that would accompany such a setback—would likely place him on even more tenuous footing.
The (Non) Trade: A month ago, I wrote that the Angels' inertia with respect to the trade market actually may have been the right approach, as their needs didn't match up well with what the market had to offer, and standing pat appeared to be preferable to mortgaging a chunk of the future to complete a trade that would almost certainly fail to vault the Angels ahead of the Rangers. I stand by that assessment now, and now the Angels have ended up standing pat yet again at the August 31st deadline. According to the Orange County Register's Bill Plunkett, the Angels put in a waiver claim on at least one player, but nothing ultimately came of it and, to quote Reagins on the matter, "Some things that looked like they might make sense for [the Angels] didn't materialize." It's all in the hands of Scioscia, his coaching staff, and the players now.
The Front Office: Well, you can't say you didn't see this coming. With long-time GM Billy Beane disgruntled due to the Athletics' lack of progress on the field and in building a new stadium, there is reportedly growing thought within baseball circles that Beane would consider an offer from the Chicago Cubs if they were to approach him about filling their current GM vacancy. Owner Lew Wolff apparently won't stand in Beane's way if he receives an opportunity to pursue such a position, and Beane is no longer tied down by the family commitments that played some role in his rejection of the Red Sox' GM offer back in 2002.
Since I'm not clear on what exactly the Cubs are seeking from their next GM, I won't bother to speculate on Beane's chances of actually acquiring the job. I do, however, find myself wondering about what he could pull off with a nine-digit payroll and reliable revenue streams at his disposal and whether he could reverse the increasingly negative perception of his work in Oakland in recent years. There’s some thought out there that a Beane hire would be uninspired and unlikely to bring about the results desired by the Cubs; that could prove to be the case, but I’m not quite as sold on the idea as some of my other saber-inclined brethren.
The Trade: How does the classification of Conor Jackson as a "super-utility player" sit with you? Pretty well? No? Oh, well, alright then. Just before midnight Wednesday, Oakland finalized a deal sending Jackson—and his punchless .249/.315/.342 batting line—to Boston for minor league reliever Jason Rice, who is said to wield a lively fastball but uninspiring secondary pitches. Jackson, now 29, wasn't going to be back with Oakland next year, and his "super-utility" label—which derives from him playing both of the corners in the infield and the outfield this season—comes complete with an ample helping of defensive mediocrity. If nothing else, Oakland gets to enjoy a little salary relief, a middle-relief prospect who could chip in some cheap and productive innings, and that warm and fuzzy feeling that goes along with sending a veteran out of baseball hell and into first place.
The Front Office: With his original three-year deal on the verge of expiring, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik nabbed a shiny new multi-year extension on Wednesday—obviously a good development for an organization at a critical point in its rebuilding movement. Some of the luster has worn off the Zduriencik regime (hello, Chone Figgins), and it's anything but clear whether Zduriencik will still be presiding over this team once it finally does re-emerge as a perennial playoff threat, but perhaps the single greatest threat to a successful rebuilding plan is a lack of front-office continuity. The Mariners aren't yet where they want to be and probably won't be where they want to be next season either, but the young talent is building, and the plan needs to be seen through by the people charged with devising it in the first place. Deciding to go in another direction and attempting to take an ill-fated shortcut to winning would likely have proven disastrous, and so you really do have to applaud the Mariners here for upholding that continuity—even if it was the obvious choice all along.
The Trade: Like their Bay Area counterparts, the Mariners get to experience that nice warm, fuzzy feeling that accompanies the trade of a veteran from a non-contender to a playoff-bound team, but in this case, the story is a bit warmer and fuzzier. Per Lookout Landing's Jeff Sullivan, Jack Wilson had played in 1,313 career major league games going into Wednesday without having ever gone to the playoffs, which was the third-highest total among active players. Now, he'll stand a good chance of serving as the Braves' playoff utility infielder (so long as he remains healthy, that is), and that's just about all a 33-year-old shortstop hitting .249/.283/.295 on the season could possibly ask for at this point in his career. Neither the player to be named later nor the salary relief are going to be of much consequence, but the narrative here is compelling enough to render this deal at least somewhat noteworthy.
The Front Office: After an extended period of turmoil, controversy, and occasional strong-arming (who could forget that one magical Buck Showalter power play that culminated in Tom Hicks reneging on his agreement to promote assistant GM Grady Fuson to the big chair), the Rangers' front office has finally emerged on the other side as a laudable pillar of stability and continuity. The tight integration of scouting and player development and a wealth of executive talent has proven essential to the Rangers' recent success, but one of the (few) downsides of that kind of success is other teams wanting a piece of the action.
Both assistant GM Thad Levine and senior director of player personnel A.J. Preller have been connected to the GM vacancy on Chicago's north side, and it is conceivable that one or both could emerge as finalists for the position. In addition, director of professional scouting Josh Boyd was deemed a legitimate GM prospect by John Perrotto at the end of July. This entire group could remain intact beyond the 2011-12 off-season, but at least one of these names is destined for a grander and more visible role on the major league stage in the not-so-distant future.
The Trades: After the rumors of Texas acquiring Cardinals slugger Lance Berkman fizzled out, Texas went out and executed a pair of shrewd moves on Wednesday, grabbing .226/.351/.306-hitting Royals backup catcher Matt Treanor—who the Rangers dealt to Kansas City just before the season began—for mere cash considerations and then swapping talented but inconsistent righty reliever Pedro Strop with the Orioles in exchange for southpaw Mike Gonzalez. The Rangers could come to regret dealing Strop on the basis of his legitimate late-inning stuff, but he never seemed to gain the trust of the Rangers' coaching staff over three separate stints in the majors, and he'll be out of minor league options after the 2011 season.
Treanor earned plaudits from the Rangers' pitching staff for his work last season and would now seem to be well-positioned to grab one of 14 position-player spots on the Rangers' playoff roster (should they reach that stage, of course), as the presence of a third catcher would enable Texas to play Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate and Mike Napoli at first base against left-handed starters while still having a backup catcher on hand. Gonzalez, meanwhile, figures to slot in behind Darren Oliver as the club's No. 2 lefty relief option, and though he has been plagued by injuries and early-2011 struggles on the mound, he has also managed to limit left-handed hitters to a .211/.253/.322 line at the plate this year and has been untouchable for nearly the last month and a half. If everything goes as planned for Texas, both Treanor and Gonzalez will reside on the Rangers' playoff roster come October.