With the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline exactly two weeks away, we continue our roll through the six divisions to see which teams are buying, which are selling and what moves they can — and should — make. Next up, the game's short stack, the American League West, which features two of the league's powerhouses as well as a surprising contender (NOTE: All teams ranked according to current standings not including Wednesday's play; playoff odds data supplied by Baseball Prospectus.)
Texas Rangers (55-35, 5 1/2 games ahead)
Playoff odds: 88.6% Division/11.4% Wild Card/100.0% Total
Top needs: Starting pitching, bench
Since bolting from the gate with a 17-6 start, the two-time defending AL champions have been a near-lock for the playoffs; their playoff odds currently exceed 99.95 percent according to BP's estimate. Even so, they've hit a rough patch this month, going 5-6 while being outscored 50-30, though most of that is due to a three-game sweep by the White Sox that included a 19-2 drubbing. About that game: midseason addition Roy Oswalt bore the brunt of the beating, yielding 11 runs (nine earned) in 4 2/3 innings. Signed as a boost for the rotation, the former Astro has been seared for a .406 BABIP en route to a 5.22 ERA, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 25/6 in 29 1/3 innings, and outside of that pounding, he's allowed just one homer. Despite stints on the disabled list by Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and swingman Alexi Ogando — not to mention the handicap of a tough park for pitchers — the Rangers rotation has pitched to a 4.00 ERA (sixth in the league) with a 54 percent quality start rate (fifth).
Even with Lewis and Holland back in the fold to join Oswalt and All-Stars Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison, general manager Jon Daniels is on the hunt for more starting pitching, and he's willing to start at the top of the market, with Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke and Matt Garza all under consideration. This isn't about making the playoffs, this is about winning a World Series after losing in each of the last two years, and they — not the Yankees, not the Red Sox — are the market's big dog given the strength of their farm system. They can pull off just about any blockbuster they want, though they're said to be reluctant to trade top prospects Mike Olt, Martin Perez and especially Jurickson Profar for a mere rental. Their lineup doesn't have any major holes, though first baseman Mitch Moreland is on the disabled list due to a hamstring strain, and fill-in/DH Michael Young is struggling (.273/.304/.352). They've checked in on Justin Upton, and could be on the hunt for a backup catcher to replace Yorvit Torrealba, who gets a fair amount of work when Mike Napoli shifts to first base. The bottom line is that you can expect an already strong team to fortfy itself for the stretch drive.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (50-41, 5 1/2 games behind in division, 3 ahead in Wild Card)
Playoff odds: 11.4% Division/79.5% Wild Card/90.9% Total
Top needs: Starting and relief pitching
Despite a 7-15 start, the Angels now have the AL's fourth-best record and run differential (+54), and after missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, there's a sense of urgency to return, particularly with their payroll having risen 33 percent since the last time they made it in 2009. With the promotion of Mike Trout and the emergence of Mark Trumbo, they have a glut of outfielders, though Vernon Wells is virtually immovable given his performance (.244/.282/.422) and contract (around $52 million remaining through 2014), and at least one report says that highly coveted defensive whiz Peter Bourjos is not available. It's quite possible that could change given that the Angels are said to be fishing for a frontline starter, in part out of concern for the condition and performance of Dan Haren (on the DL since July 3 due to lower back pain, and sporting a 4.86 ERA), and in part because Ervin Santana has flopped spectacularly, with a 5.60 ERA. California native Hamels is in play, as is Greinke, and the Brewers are said to be willing to pit the Halos against their AL West rivals in what amounts to an auction for the latter's services.
General manager Jerry Dipoto is also said to be in the hunt for relief help, not surprising given that his bullpen's 3.45 ERA ranks ninth in the AL, with the third-lowest strikeout rate (7.6 per nine) and second-highest unintentional walk rate (3.6 per nine) undoubtedly trying the patience of manager Mike Scioscia. Beyond Trout, the Angels' system was characterized as "a nightmare" by Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein, who ranked them 23rd back in the spring even with the phenom still qualifying. Even so, fill-in fifth starter Garrett Richards (3.53 ERA in 43 1/3 innings) and Double-A shortstop Jean Segura have drawn interest, and names such as 6-foot-9 heat-thrower John Hellweg and 2010 first round pick Kaleb Cowart, a third baseman, have been mentioned as well.
Oakland A's (46-44, 9 games behind in division, 1/2 game behind in Wild Card)
Playoff odds: 0.1% Division/7.5% Wild Card/7.5% Total
Buying/selling: Buying and selling
Top needs: Offense
Nobody figured the A's for contenders until a 9-2 run bumped them over .500 and into the middle of the Wild Card hunt. Dating back to June 10, they're 20-9, tied with the Rangers for the second-best record in the league, with the top Pythagorean winning percentage (.654) in that span. Given that they're longshots, and that general manager Billy Beane is likely to keep his head even when those around him are losing theirs, expect the A's to hedge their bets at the deadline by working both sides of the fence. ESPN's Buster Olney suggests they could be buyers and sellers, moving a starting pitcher such as Brandon McCarthy or Bartolo Colon or an outfielder such as Coco Crisp to fill other needs.
For a team that's either last or second-to-last in the league in scoring (3.82) and slash stats (.227/.302/.372), offense is a glaring need; even while awash in outfielders, Beane has checked in on Justin Upton, and is said to be in the market for an upgrade to shortstop Cliff Pennington (.201/.263/.287), with Toronto's Yunel Escobar and Arizona's Stephen Drew both available. Third base, where Brandon Inge has hit just .205/.274/.342 since being claimed off the scrap heap, and catcher, where Kurt Suzuki is hitting .213/.248/.263 and now in a job share with heir apparent Derek Norris, have glaring needs for offensive help as well. But even with the team's surprising burst into relevancy, don't expect Beane to dig too deeply into his well-stocked farm system, as the A's continue to focus on a brighter future in a new ballpark rather than the fairly dismal reality of a venue where they're just 12th in the league in attendance.
Seattle Mariners (39-53, 17 games behind in division, 8 1/2 behind in Wild Card)
Playoff odds: 0.0% Division/0.0% Wild Card/0.0% Total
Top needs: Offense
You've read those playoff odds right: the Mariners have already flatlined; they're further out of first place than any team besides the Astros, and headed towards their fourth losing season out of five. Worse, their rebuilding effort appears to be faltering, with youngsters such as Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero burning service time while barely producing; of that trio, only Ackley has a positive WARP (0.6, on .236/.313/.340 hitting). Indeed, the offense is scoring just 3.96 runs per game, 13th in the league, on .231/.294/.363 hitting, and the lineup lacks hitters who might appeal to another team. Catcher Miguel Olivo, who can generally stop the ball from rolling to the backstop even if he can't hit a lick these days (.200/.216/.342) can probably be had, as can sub-Menzoza Line shortstop Brendan Ryan (.188/.288/.279), and Chone Figgins (.185/.253/.274) couldn't help but benefit from a change of scenery if the team simply sinks the remaining $13 million or so on his contract to reclaim the roster spot. What the Mariners do have is pitching. Ace Felix Hernandez would reinvigorate the rebuilding effort if he were traded, but general manager Jack Zduriencik is unwilling to go that route, so what's on offer are patches such as the resurgent Kevin Millwood (3.71 ERA) and Jason Vargas (4.09 ERA, with an unsightly 1.7 HR/9). Neither is as good as Doug Fister, who put in one of the best post-deadline performances after being dealt to the Tigers last July, but a team in need of a back-end starter can squint and dream.