Recurring theme at Trade Deadline: Go West
There are many takeaways from the MLB Trade Deadline, which, mercifully for your Twitter timeline, passed Tuesday afternoon. But if you want one that's particularly telling of the times, it can be summed up as follows:When it comes to in-season arms races, the West was best. We used to turn to the Yankees and Red Sox for the hooks and jabs on the transaction wire in the winter and summer swapping seasons. But with the Yankees trying to stay reasonably near the realm of the luxury tax threshold and hesitant to part with top prospects, and the Red Sox still rather uncertain of their standing as contenders, the most potentially impactful names dangled at the Deadline went elsewhere. Ichiro Suzuki intrigues and Casey McGehee should help in the Bronx. And Craig Breslow lets Boston bump Franklin Morales back into the rotation. So you could say both clubs made meaningful moves while their neighbors in the East basically stood pat. In both West divisions, however, you had the classic competitive dueling and dealing that, rightly or wrongly, gets us excited this time of year. The Rangers, Angels, Giants and Dodgers all got aggressive, and now you have two too-close-for-comfort division races -- made all the more complicated by the emergence of the A's and the doggedness of the D-backs -- that could very well hinge on which clubs made the more significant swaps. This Rangers-Angels stuff has been brewing for months, what with the Angels going all-in on Albert Pujols and bringing former Ranger ace C.J. Wilson aboard. The Rangers made a record-breaking commitment to Yu Darvish to deepen an already robust rotation. When the regular season arrived, the Rangers looked ripe to run away with the West, holding a nine-game advantage on the Halos at the end of April. That advantage, however, has eroded in recent weeks, as the Rangers' offense has shown some cracks and their starting depth, now robbed of both Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz for the rest of the season, has eroded. Entering Tuesday, the Rangers were 9-13 in July, while the A's were a scalding 19-4 and the Angels were 13-12. So these are not what you'd call halcyon days in Arlington. While the A's made a push for a shortstop at the Deadline, they couldn't align the pieces and will keep trying via the August waiver wire route. The Angels, on the other hand, had a clear and pressing need for a starter, with Dan Haren still battling back issues and Ervin Santana shaky. And they filled that need in the most dramatic way available, acquiring a former Cy Young winner in Zack Greinke. The prospect haul hurt, especially given that Greinke is free-agent eligible in a couple months, but they have a seemingly good chance of re-signing him, and the three-headed monster they've assembled atop their rotation would be a handful in a postseason series. They could, however, still use some help in the bullpen, especially now that Scott Downs has landed on the disabled list. If we're following the standings and transaction wire trend, then the Rangers had the most incentive to make a meaningful move at the Deadline, and they did -- right at the Deadline, in fact. They swooped in and landed Ryan Dempster, who was among the NL leaders with a 2.25 ERA and has posted a 2.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio since returning to starting in 2008. The Rangers dabbled in the Cliff Lee market, reportedly balking, like several others, at the price tag. And they might have inquired about Josh Beckett. But getting Dempster for two Class A guys while keeping Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar has to be considered a win. And while acquiring the Cubs' battery of Dempster and Geovany Soto might be viewed as dueling with the "Billygoat" ghosts in the search for another World Series appearance, the Rangers have to feel better about their hopes of holding off the Halos and A's. In the National League West, the Dodgers and Giants entered Deadline day with nearly identical winning percentages, with the D-backs looming 3 1/2 games back. So Tuesday's transactions carried a certain gravitas. The transactions came in rapid fire, with the Phillies at the forefront. First, Shane Victorino went to a Dodgers team that sorely needed a left-field upgrade. Then, minutes later, came the news that the Giants had further depleted the fire-selling Phillies' outfield by landing Hunter Pence. Much like the Hanley Ramirez trade from a week earlier, the Victorino acquisition falls in the low-risk, high-reward realm. The prospect package given up -- Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin -- wasn't extremely substantial, and Victorino, even in the midst of posting career lows in all three segments of the slash line (.261 average, .324 OBP, .401 SLG), has more to offer than Bobby Abreu and Tony Gwynn Jr. For the Giants, the costs of acquiring Pence (Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin and Nate Schierholtz) were higher, given that he's under their contractual control through 2013. But they were in clear need of right-handed power, and Pence, with a career .481 SLG, provides it. But Pence has been inconsistent this season, and moving from Citizens Bank Park to AT&T Park could hurt his home-run production. He could also be a downgrade defensively. The Giants are willing to take those chances, because their .380 team slugging percentage ranks fourth-worst in the league. They needed a bat, and they stocked up on one at a time when the Dodgers have also improved. The D-backs, frankly, didn't seem to know whether to buy or sell. They dangled Justin Upton and Stephen Drew, only to keep them both, and they kicked the tires in the starting pitching market, only to come up empty. The D-backs dealt Breslow to the Red Sox in exchange for Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik. They are, on paper at least, not significantly better or worse than they were a few days ago, but they're still in the hunt in an NL West that was made all the more intriguing by the Giants' and Dodgers' dealings.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.