Sports Illustrated branded the Angels and Rangers as "the AL's new power brokers" this spring, a notion reinforced Friday night when Los Angeles traded for former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to bolster their rotation on a day when the division-leading Rangers were linked to interest in starters Josh Johnson and James Shields.
• VERDUCCI: Angels buck past deadline tendencies
Texas leads the wild card-leading Angels in the AL West by five games thanks to its hot start and Los Angeles' cold one; since April 27, however, the Angels have outplayed the Rangers by four games and now have made the first major trade-deadline move among the burgeoning rivals.
Los Angeles landed Greinke, who is 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with the Brewers this season, though it did so at a steep cost for a player who'll become a free agent at year's end, as Milwaukee received shortstop Jean Segura -- No. 43 on Baseball America's Midseason Prospects list -- and two Double A pitchers, Ariel Peña and John Hellweg, who could be in the big league within a year or two. Segura and Peña were both Futures Game participants.
That's the price of business in this year's sellers' market with so few teams having acknowledged that they're out of the mix this year, turning starting pitching into a "very scarce commodity," according to one NL scout this week.
The acquisition of Greinke may also be a necessary move to keep pace in the powerhouse American League, a circuit shaken up by the recent emergence of the Rangers and Angels not only as successful teams but also as clubs willing to spend the steep cost of money and talent for the game's biggest prizes.
Greinke joins an Angels rotation that, before the season, appeared to have the game's best 1-4 but in recent months has shown some cracks. While Jered Weaver (13-1, 2.26 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) is a Cy Young contender and free-agent prize C.J. Wilson is having a sterling season (9-6, 2.89, 1.21), the rest of the rotation has underperformed, with Dan Haren (7-8, 4.76, 1.39) and Ervin Santana (4-10, 6.00, 1.44) both arguably having the worst seasons of their careers.
Los Angeles has improved its rotation as it makes a playoff push and, should it reach the postseason, will be the team no one wants to play, given its first four of Weaver-Wilson-Greinke-Haren. Greinke has particularly skewed home/road splits this year -- 2.56 ERA at home, 4.09 ERA on the road -- but he has fared well in limited time at Angel Stadium, allowing just two earned runs in 17 2/3 innings.
The Angels and Rangers have by no means supplanted the Yankees as the top power broker in the league, but certainly the gap has continued to narrow.
A move such as a trade for Greinke certainly puts pressure on the Athletics -- who entered the day only a half-game behind the Angels -- and might make the Rangers think about a reactionary move.
Such eye-for-an-eye retaliation would seem out of character for a methodical Texas front office. It may have appeared that the Rangers' signing of Yu Darvish, which followed the Angels' additions of Wilson and first baseman Albert Pujols by a month, was an answer to Los Angeles' moves, but Darvish was carefully scouted by Texas over years, meaning the two events were hardly connected.
Perhaps such planning will change now -- after all, that division is quickly growing into the wild, wild West.
Earlier Friday, USA Today reported that the Rangers were "heavy in talks" for Johnson, who would cost more than Greinke because he is under contract through 2013. Later in the evening CBSSports.com wrote that the Rangers were now "unlikely" to get Johnson but that Shields was "still in play." The Rangers have the best farm system in the game, meaning they have more than ample trade chips to acquire whomever they want even without dealing their own shortstop prospect, the sublime Jurickson Profar.
Either way, Texas' interest in an additional starter stems from losing Colby Lewis for the season and seeing Roy Oswalt have a start pushed back due to back stiffness. The Rangers do have Neftali Feliz, who's been on the 60-day disabled list, likely to return to the big leagues after making two more rehab starts. But either Johnson or Shields would give Texas another All-Star-caliber starter to extend an already formidable rotation.
While the Rangers deliberate, Los Angeles will debut its new acquisition either Sunday against the Rays or Monday against -- who else? -- the Rangers.
The Angels, who spent $317.5 million this offseason on Pujols and Wilson and are currently sporting a franchise-record $151 million payroll, are buoyed by a huge new television contract that gives them a reasonable shot of retaining Greinke beyond this season.
One can speculate that the Angels were willing to part with the haul they did -- which includes a future franchise player at the valuable position of shortstop without the offsetting benefit of draft-pick compensation should Greinke leave at year's end -- because they have some hope of keeping him, though general manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters in L.A. that such talks had not happened yet. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Dipoto said.
Future seasons aren't the Angels' primary concern right now. Winning the West in 2012 is. And the stakes continue to rise.