NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- At some point soon -- by the end of the winter, by the end of the week or maybe even by time you're done reading this article -- something big is bound to go down in the American League West.
To date, the division generally regarded to be among baseball's best has leaned toward the quiet side of the winter activity. The Astros made the move from the National League Central, but that's one of the few major moves to go down.
The Angels added a couple arms to their bullpen in comeback closer candidate Ryan Madson and lefty Sean Burnett and a couple to their rotation in Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton. The Rangers took a chance on two-time Tommy John recipient Joakim Soria, and the Mariners did likewise with Jason Bay. The A's brought outfielder Chris Young aboard in a trade with the D-backs.
What we're waiting for -- and, frankly, what a number of teams are waiting for -- is some dynamic development on the free-agent or trade front, and the AL West is a big part of that picture. After all, this division features two clubs -- the Rangers and Angels -- armed with two of the largest local television contracts in the sport. We saw last winter, through the Yu Darvish, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson deals, how quickly those contracts have reinvented the payroll possibilities in those two markets, and so you can't help but wonder what direction those two clubs will take after the frustrating way their 2012 seasons finished.
The Rangers, as you well know, have kept open the possibility of bringing Josh Hamilton back. But if they don't get a deal done with their former MVP, they might have all the more incentive to complete the much-discussed discussions with the D-backs about Justin Upton. And if the Upton talks do, indeed, involve several other teams in a multi-trade proposal, as has been reported here and elsewhere, you see what a clog the unresolved Hamilton issue is causing as the Winter Meetings wind down.
Same goes for the Zack Greinke derby, in which the Rangers join the Dodgers as the likely finalists. The Angels obviously have an interest in bringing Greinke back, but they are unlikely to do so if his deal is anywhere near the CC Sabathia territory of $161 million. And until Greinke finds a home, much of the starting market will remain unsettled.
Look to the West, then, when wondering if baseball's winter bottleneck is about to break.
And however this all unfolds, look to the West to once again be one of the game's more daunting divisions.
What the A's accomplished last season, winning the West in the season's final week with a rousing sweep of the Rangers, is proof that the division's difficulties go well beyond its most moneyed members.
"Good pitching usually will keep the hitting down," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We feel like, as far as that goes, we're ahead of the game."
And with the Mariners, who also possess some attractive pitching pieces, possibly getting more frisky on the offense acquisition front (thanks in no small part to the savings that come with having Ichiro Suzuki off the books and possibly the appeal of Safeco Field's less punitive new dimensions) you have another intriguing aspect of the West's offseason outlook.
"You look at just everything that's happened here in my first two years versus maybe the way you looked upon this division five or six years ago, and it is different," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "I mean, it is arguably the best division in baseball I think that that's a good thing. We're not looking to backdoor our way into anything. We want to face everybody head up, and we're doing this the right way. We're taking our time and making sure that we're patient, but yet we're steady and true as we move forward."
Wedge's Mariners have been linked to names of all sorts. Hamilton is likely a stretch, unless he takes a shorter-term deal, but other bats -- from Michael Bourn to Nick Swisher to Raul Ibanez or perhaps even Upton -- are firmly on their radar.
The radar of the Rangers is wide, as they have an enviable amount of flexibility in both payroll and roster makeup. They have enough depth of talent to pull off a significant swap for a dynamic lineup presence like Upton or a game-changing rotation piece like James Shields. And they have the money to be in on the likes of Greinke and Hamilton.
For the Angels, that level of financial fortitude doesn't seem as likely, if only because so much was already committed to Pujols and Wilson last winter. But they could very well be in the final mix for the other impact starters -- Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Dempster and Brandon McCarthy -- available on the open market.
The A's obviously have to operate from an entirely different financial perspective. But with Billy Beane and Co., the intrigue arises from the sheer shrewdness the organization has shown over the years, perhaps never more notably than 2012. It's the kind of shrewdness that Jeff Luhnow is going to have to apply if the rebuilding Astros are one day soon going to be counted as a factor in the wild, wild West.
"What Oakland was able to do from their transformation, that makes you sit back and go, 'It is possible to do it without a $150 million payroll,'" new Astros manager Bo Porter said. "They have some very smart people over there, they made some good trades, they acquired the right players. Yes, they are young, but they also added the right veteran players to that young group, and that's something that we look at in Houston."
For now, frankly, the attention is not on Houston. But much of it is directed at the West at large. It's a particularly difficult division. And in the coming days, the degree of difficulty could increase yet again.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.