July is for the dreamers, for those who toss apprehension to the cosmos and swallow the hell out of the moment. It's easy to whisper sweet nothings to a lineup with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo, easier still to fall head over heels for a rotation with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren. Part of the beauty of dreamers is that their love is unrequited. What they have is never enough.
For the Los Angeles Angels and their somnambulist owner, Arte Moreno, that held true and led to perhaps the boldest move of a trading season that gets more intriguing by the maneuver: Zack Greinke, the most coveted pitcher to be had, is now an Angel, which the other teams in the American League wish was an REM cycle and not reality.
The only solace to be taken from the deal Friday that sent prospects Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena to Milwaukee is the five-game cushion that separates the first-place Texas Rangers from the second-place Angels, and the half-game the surprising Oakland Athletics sit behind Los Angeles. However great these Angels look on paper – and it's as though a calligrapher is drawing the team that general manager Jerry Dipoto has assembled – what's in front of them is formidable, what's behind them is dangerous and the alternative to an American League West title is downright scary.
The play-in game, the one-game playoff, the wild-card shootout, the stupid money grab that renders the previous 162 games moot – whatever you want to call it, that's what teams that don't win their division face. And as wonderful as Weaver has been (13-1 with an AL-best 2.26 ERA), even he is fallible in the face of a win-or-go-home contest. Moreno and Dipoto are gambling simultaneously that the A's and Rangers will fade and the Angels will surge like they have since May, when only Cincinnati has a better record than the Angels' 46-30.
In Greinke, the Angels get a perfect complement to what their rotation already showcases. He is not the pinpoint sidewinder of Weaver, not the crafty lefty of Wilson, not the cutter-sinker-move-move-move baron of Haren. He combines elements of all three, throws harder and, with his slider, possesses among the game's best out pitches.
Greinke was dreadful last October. Given another chance this fall, a repeat is far less likely. He pitched three bad games, as he, and pretty much anyone else, is prone to do. It looked ugly because he had forced a trade from Kansas City specifically to pitch on a contender, then was a postseason disaster. To cast it as nerves, or his anxiety issues of the past rearing their head suddenly, was disingenuous at best and plain wrong at worst.
He's exactly the sort of pitcher teams want in the postseason: one who can dominate. It's why the Rangers chased him to the end, only for Brewers GM Doug Melvin to choose the Angels' offer instead. The Brewers believe Segura, signed as a second baseman, can stay at shortstop and be a better-hitting, if worse-fielding, version of Alcides Escobar, whom they traded to get Greinke. The 6-foot-9 Hellweg or hard-throwing Pena could fill the Jake Odorizzi role as a potential impact starter, though both could end up in the bullpen, like Jeremy Jeffress, another player in Milwaukee's original Grienke deal. If those pieces happen to even out, that means the Brewers got to an NLCS and had 1 2/3 years of Greinke for Lorenzo Cain, a trade they'd make a million times again.
Whether the Angels will regret this deal depends strictly on October, and where they stand in October may well depend on what the Rangers choose to do. They have the best farm system in baseball, with Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt and Martin Perez and Cody Buckel and Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara and Jairo Beras and Wilmer Font. Which is to say the Rangers can get whomever they want, whether it's Josh Johnson (a source said they're tepid), James Shields (they don't want to overpay) or Felix Hernandez (it's not happening; just saying, they're that deep).
Texas has reached back-to-back World Series with teams very similar to this one, though Colby Lewis' season-ending surgery twists their rotation from exclamation point to question mark. Who starts Game 1 of their playoff series? Not Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Roy Oswalt or Perez. Matt Harrison? Really?
Because of their lead, and their lineup, the Rangers' playoff position is safe. And October is such a crapshoot, it's eminently possible they could head into the month with this very team and head out with an appointment to meet the jeweler for sizing. And yet this race looks way different now, three Angels pitchers better than any of the Rangers' and the advantages in Texas' bullpen and lineup not enough to make up the difference.
It's still in a calligrapher's swoosh, of course, and that's the fun of July, when the Angels say carpe diem and the Rangers wonder the pragmatism in keeping up with the Joneses when the Joneses just traded 18 years of controllable talent for two-plus months of one guy.
This time of year the game is far more than what happens on the field. It's in the boardroom, in these moments of blind projection, when championships are won and lost on guesswork. That, and some dreams that are more strokes of genius than delusions of grandeur.
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