The AL West might be the most intriguing division in baseball to watch at the deadline. The division possesses two teams that will (or at least should) be holding fire sales, one big money giant that hasn't yet decided to buy or sell, one contender with a trigger happy GM and another contender desperate to put themselves into prime World Series winning position.
Houston Astros, 30-54. Fifth in division, 17 back of second wild card.
As expected, the Astros are terrible. That is all just part of their plan though. Houston has absolutely no illusions about what they are trying to do and how they are going to rebuild. In other words, with trade season starting up, there is a big, fat "OPEN FOR BUSINESS" sign outside the Juice Box right now.
What that means is that just about every player on the roster who is past their pre-arbitration years should probably start packing up their apartments. They've got a little something for every trade deadline buyer. Need a veteran bat who can work a count and pop a few homers? There's Carlos Pena for you. How about a late-inning reliever? Jose Veras can be yours, though he will be more expensive now that he has pitched so well over the last month. Is it an experienced back-end starter you need? Well, perhaps they can interest you in an Erik Bedard. If you just need a garden variety lefty reliever, look no further than Wesley Wright or they can give you a discount on Travis Blackley.
The big ticket item that Houston will no doubt be driving a hard bargain on is Bud Norris. Everyone knows his days in Houston are numbered which is why it is so very convenient for the Astros that Norris decided to embark on what is shaping up to be the best year of his career. Norris is hardly a rotation savior, but he could easily slot in as a #3 starter on several contenders right now. What makes him more attractive though is that Norris is still has two years of arbitration left after this season which means that he isn't all that expensive salary-wise this year and also isn't a rental, so teams averse to rental players should be keenly interested. That also should give Houston all the ammunition they need to ask for a hefty return for Norris since they aren't at risk of getting nothing in return for him at the end of the year. They can set their price and hold to it knowing they can shop him around again in the winter if nobody bites at the deadline.
What remains unclear with Houston is if they would be willing to part with Jose Altuve, who would surely be coveted if made available. There are no indications that he is available right now, but with the way the Astros operate, they'd surely give him up if they received an offer they couldn't refuse.
Los Angeles Angels, 40-43. Third place in division, 6.5 games out of second wild card.
Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said it himself last week. They aren't buyers. They aren't sellers. They're the Angels. No team in this division, maybe even all of baseball, faces a tougher decision when it comes to a trade deadline strategy than the Halos. They've gotten just hot enough recently to fool themselves into thinking that they could work their way into wild card contention by the end of the month. They've also been pretty terrible most of the season and have some glaring holes in their roster that would suggest that this isn't a team capable of having a huge second half.
If the Angels do go into buying mode, expect them to focus almost entirely on their pitching staff. With Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas on the DL and Joe Blanton being Joe Blanton, they'll be in on just about every available starting pitcher. They also have had some real ups and downs with their relief corps the last few years, so they could make a play for a more reliable closer than Ernesto Frieri or try and bolster their middle relief with another lefty to replace Sean Burnett or another righty to fill the void Ryan Madson never did.
What will be interesting to see though is if the Angels would be willing to make a play for a rental player after having the Zack Greinke trade blow up in their case as badly as it did with Jean Segura turning into a star in Milwaukee. Of course, that trade left almost nothing in the Angel farm system, so the Halos don't really have much to offer in the way of big prospect packages in any kind of trade this season.
On the other hand, if the Angels have to sell, they have some minor pieces that could interest clubs. Scott Downs is a quality lefty reliever that just about any team could use. Both Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas could also be had if either can get healthy before deadline day with Vargas. There has been some talk that they could make second baseman Howie Kendrick available as well. Don't expect a full scale fire sale though as the Angels have paid too much money to too many people to go into a rebuild. Any move they make will be made with eyes on next season.
Oakland Athletics, 49-35. First place in division.
There is no question that the A's will be making some trades before the end of the month. This is still Billy Beane we are dealing with, after all. That is just what he does.
Unlike last season, the Athletics are heading into the deadline as a bona fide contender rather than as a question mark like they were last season. Oakland is still hampered by a lack of financial resources, but that doesn't mean they can't make significant moves as Beane has shown over the years that he can get very creative when he needs to. Somteimes that means selling off a little bit of something so that he can load up to buy a bigger something.
With the A's employing a number of platoons in their lineup, Beane has numerous areas where he can look to upgrade if he gets the right deal. The Sogard-Morales pairing at second base seems like the most obvious area for an upgrade, so it wouldn't be a big surprise if the A's got involved in a Chase Utley pursuit. The Moss-Freiman pairing could stand some upgrading as well but it isn't a glaring need but also isn't good enough for Oakland to rule finding a full-time first baseman to supplant the duo.
We really shouldn't rule out anything else with the A's though since Beane is always thinking about the long-term and how he can stockpile more assets even when his team is in the thick of the divisional race.
Seattle Mariners, 36-47. Fourth place in division, 10.5 games out of second wild card.
By all rights the Mariners should be sellers at the deadline and they probably will be, just maybe not in as big of a way as they should. Seattle is terrible again but the problem is that they made a run at being good this season only to have it blow up in their face. Now the manager and front office all find themselves as prime candidates to be fired at the end of the season which creates a conflict of interest as they debate whether to sell off minor pieces or hold a full scale fire sale.
What the Mariners should be doing is shopping sluggers Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse, but they may opt not to since it would make GM Jack Zduriencik look bad since he only just acquired those two in trades this last off-season. In fact, there has even been rumblings that Seattle is looking to work out new contracts with each of them.
What they should be willing to do regardless of how much Jack Z. wants to pretend that this team is "close" is moving lesser veterans like Joe Saunders, Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Aaron Harang and Brendan Ryan. None of them are going to returning anything other than fringe prospects.
At least we can take consolation that for the first time in a long time, there will be no rumors about the Mariners possibly trading Felix Hernandez.
Texas Rangers, 48-35. Second place in division, 0.5 games out of division lead and currently hold first wild card spot.
After two straight World Series appearances, the Rangers took a step backwards in 2012 and capped it with an embarrassing collapse down the stretch. That could prompt Texas to make a big, splashy move at the deadline this year to make sure that doesn't happen again.
The one major move that it seems like most everyone has been anticipating for years is the Rangers reuniting with Cliff Lee. They've coveted him for years and certainly have the resources to acquire him. They just need the Phillies to actually decide to trade him first.
Even if it isn't Lee that they have their heart set on, there is no target that should out of Texas' price range with their rich farm system that is highlighted by elite prospect Jurickson Profar as well as top prospect Mike Olt who appears to be blocked from ever contributing to the Rangers. It remains to be seen if they'd be willing to part with Profar, but if they were to make a run at Lee or Giancarlo Stanton, they'd likely have to.
At the past few deadlines, Texas has been predominantly targeting pitching, but that could change this year. They could stand to bring in an upgrade of the struggling David Murphy in left field and they might have to cover their butts in the event that Nelson Cruz gets hit with a suspension down the stratch once this Biogenesis nonsense gets resolved. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising if Texas was the team that pulled off a trade for a big bat that few other teams even realized was even available (i.e. Jose Bautista). Their window to win a World Series is still pretty wide open, but after getting so close over the last three years, one has to think that they are getting pretty anxious to make it happen.