An argument can be made the American League West is upside down if you make your judgments based on winter activity. The defending West champion Oakland Athletics, as per usual, did very little in the offseason. Based on a team nearly completely full of rookies, it was unexpected for them to threaten the division again in 2013, yet there they are, 13 games over .500 and half a game out of the division lead.
The only team ahead of the A’s are the Texas Rangers, who lost both Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton and weren’t anticipated to be serious division threats. A major collapse down the stretch and an implosion in the play-in game for the two time defending AL champs and all of a sudden the Rangers’ future was in doubt headed into this year.
Instead, the pitching staff has held steady, even with injuries, and has been lead by perhaps the most dominant pitcher in the division in Yu Darvish. The offense, which took big blows from losing big-name players, has journeyed on with help from multiple spots in the lineup.
The Rangers and A’s are neck and neck and nobody else is within nine games of either team as of Saturday.
Here is how the trade deadline should break down in the American League West:
Buyers: Oakland Athletics
The Athletics are in a somewhat similar boat to the Yankees. Though the A’s have a legitimate chance to contend this year (it’d be a big stretch to assume the Yankees are legitimate contenders at the moment), they are not able to take on big contracts or multi-year deals at the deadline. Nor should they have to.
The A’s have a strong rotation, but it’s lead by a 40-year-old in Bartolo Colon, 11-2 with a 2.79 ERA, but with a career ERA more than a run higher and who has made more than 24 starts in a season just once since 2005.
Jarrod Parker, AJ Griffin and Tommy Milone have been ideal middle of the rotation arms and Brett Anderson, who has front-line ability, is currently hurt. Still, the A’s first priority should be acquiring someone who can consistently eat innings in the back of the rotation so they can match the Rangers’ depth and have enough arms to sustain a Colon injury or an Anderson setback.
The Athletics have the third best rotation ERA and have thrown the most innings as starters, and in a pitching ballpark, the issue won’t be finding an elite arm, but simply a “Scott Feldman” like deal on the cheap to round out the staff. In the bullpen, the A’s aren’t much worse, sporting a 3.11 ERA, good for fourth in the league. With the least walks of any bullpen, the A’s would consider a late-inning reliever to improve upon a 19/28 save to opportunity ration a luxury as opposed to a necessity. Much of those issues were early and could be solved with Grant Balfour simply staying healthy.
Offensively, Oakland is 5th in the AL in runs, certainly good enough for a contender and even playing at home in an enormous ballpark, they are middle of the pack hitting the long ball. Still, a combination of Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales at second base is an offensive black hole and the A’s can use a middle infielder in the event Jed Lowrie takes his annual DL stint.
Needs: Fifth starter, 2B.
Buyers: Texas Rangers
It was assumed the Rangers would take a step back this season. An ugly looking collapse at the end of the year coupled with the rise of the Tigers and A’s made Texas an after thought heading into this season in terms of World Series contention. Unfortunately for the A’s, it looks like this will be another division race that can come down to the wire.
The Rangers, with eight players currently on the DL, are 14 games above .500 and in first place in the division. Though they are just ninth in the AL in runs, there is no clear need for offense at any position. Ian Kinsler is back and healthy, and Jurricksen Profar is here to stay. With Profar working out in the outfield, Texas is not in a real need for anything outside of a potential platoon situation with Leonys Martin, Nelson Cruz and David Murphy already on the roster.
Mitch Moreland is healthy again at first and Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus are firmly planted on the left side of the infield for better or worse. AJ Pierzyski, acquired to replace Mike Napoli this past winter, does not look like a 20 HR bat but has held his own offensively behind the plate. Lance Berkman, has been solid as the everyday DH.
After a slow start, it would appear a lot of the offensive woes early in the season will start to work themselves out in the second half, even with a dismal hitting June.
Texas has been extremely resilient in the rotation, specializing in keeping the ball in the ballpark despite playing in a hot weather state in what is usually considered a hitter’s home park. Texas is top five in both the rotation and bullpen in preventing HR’s, which means the middle of the road BAA and WHIP is somewhat neutralized.
Still, With Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison‘s returns questionable, the Rangers can use a front-line starter to stay in contention. Yu Darvish and Derek Holland have been terrific, but the Rangers will need a strong third arm to compete with Detroit, Oakland, Boston and all the other potential teams in its way to a return to the World Series.
Sellers: Seattle Mariners
Next to the Chicago White Sox, the Mariners could make for the most intriguing sellers at the deadline. Seattle’s offensive core has largely been unproductive this season and the team finds itself 10 games under .500 and nearly 10 games out of even a wildcard spot. It would be silly to assume the Mariners, dead last in runs, fourth in strikeouts, last in BA and 13th in OBP and SBs, could possibly generate enough offense to make a run.
Coincidentally, outside of top pitchers, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners have mostly a patchwork, middle of the road, rotation. Joe Saunders, Aaron Harang and Jeremy Bonderman are not the answers, but Seattle does have some exciting pitching prospects in a pitching-rich farm system.
In a weird way, trading offense at the deadline for offense in the future is probably the best solution for Seattle. They have two starters and a few relievers worth building around, but much of the underachieving offense has individual players in walk years who could be sorely needed by contenders. Kendrys Morales (9HR, 42 RBI, .275/.334) is an excellent trade chip as an impact bat and the Mariners already have Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero in the system for the future.
Raul Ibanez has hit 18 HR and driven in 44 RBI, and like Morales, is in a walk year, ideal to trade with sky high value.Though Harang is not a long-term answer for the Mariners, he could be an ideal fifth starter as a rental. Now would be the time to deal him as he has quality starters in five of his last eight trips to the mound. Assuming Michael Morse can get healthy and hit like he did in April, he would be another strong trade candidate.
Needs: OF, Back End Starter
Sellers: Los Angeles Angels
Don’t expect too much to change for LA at the deadline, but don’t expect a crazy second half run either. Los Angeles is tied into big contracts with Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, both of whom are having down years to varying degrees. Pujols is struggling and Hamilton may have been replaced by an empty shell somehow.
So suffice it to say with two major offensive contracts, plus Jered Weaver, plus the value of Mike Trout, the Angels are still in win-now mode, it’s just “now” will have to mean 2014. Los Angeles has one of the worst defenses in baseball, one of the worst records in one run games, a below-average pitching staff and terrible baserunning.
They are just 7.5 games out of a wildcard and have the firepower to get back into it, but at what cost? Poor baserunning and defense doesn’t correct itself over night or with an acquisition and the Angels have fundamental flaws and a lack of rotation depth. Joe Blanton is not a solution in the bullpen and Jason Vargas is hurt, the latter of whom would make an excellent trade candidate since he is due back before the deadline and has been consistent this season.
Scott Downs is a solid reliever who could make a difference for a contending team in the bullpen, but outside of those two players, Los Angeles doesn’t have much to deal or that it should consider deadline. Don’t expect too much movement and it will be interesting to gauge the team’s record over the next three weeks before they truly commit to a franchise decision at the end of July.
Needs: Back-end pitching, left side infielder, catcher
Sellers: Houston Astros
The Astros have made it abundantly clear they had no intention of competing this season, and with reason. Virtually no payroll and very little major league experience is not a recipe for contention, but Houston is content letting its franchise re-develop into a contender in a few years instead. Part of that process is of course being sellers at the deadline to take advantage of desperate teams.
The stats don’t matter much for the Astros, at 30-50 and dead last in the AL, the team knew it wouldn’t be particularly good at anything. Much of the Astros’ game plan is on its farm system, which has gone from non-existent to one of the best with consistent firesales to gain prospects. Most of what Houston has been prepared to deal is already gone, but there are a few more pieces left.
Bud Norris has been great for the Astros, and getting paid seven figures is a quick way to earn a ticket elsewhere. Norris fits both categories and his pace for 200 innings and a current 3.35 ERA will be attractive to a number of teams in need of pitching.
The Astros have a fairly exciting middle infield and will most likely want to improve its outfield, where trading Justin Maxwell could potentially help, as can moving closer, Jose Veras, who has recovered from a dismal April and injuries to pitch well down the stretch. Jason Castro appears to be a long-term solution behind the plate and the trio of: Lucas Harrell, Jordan Lyles and Dallas Keuchel appears to be strong enough to build around going forward.
Some teams may bite on Eric Bedard, like the Red Sox did a couple of years ago, for the simple fact his 4.44 ERA is not hideous, he is presently healthy, a veteran and a lefty. Houston is in a rare position of no expectations and has a few pieces to move to continue its strides towards contention in a few years.
Needs: Front-line pitching, OF, Corner IF.