A's-Astros trade fills needs on both sides
The Scott Kazmir trade made perfect sense for both clubs. The contending Astros got a veteran starting pitcher, while the Athletics netted two prospects -- catcher Jacob Nottingham and right-hander Daniel Mengden -- for the future.
Kazmir returns to his hometown to give Houston a serious rotation upgrade. Assuming the Astros hold on to their current playoff position, they could trot out All-Star Game starter Dallas Keuchel, Kazmir and rookie sensation Lance McCullers in their first three postseason games.
The 31-year-old Kazmir ranks third in the Majors with a 0.47 ERA in July, and with a 2.38 overall mark, he's on course for the best full-season ERA of his 11-year career. His .213 opponent average is also a personal best, and he also has a strong 101/35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 109 2/3 innings.
Nottingham, 20, has emerged as one of the better catching prospects in the Minors during a breakout 2015 season. Signed for an overslot $300,000 as a sixth-round pick from Redlands (Calif.) High School in '13, he hit .326/.383/.558 in 76 games between Houston's two full-season Class A clubs this season. Nottingham enters the A's Top 30 Prospects list at No. 5.
Nottingham's best tool is his solid power, the product of bat speed and strength. He has improved his plate discipline and his defense behind the plate, though it's still uncertain if he can clean up his receiving well enough to remain a catcher in the long run.
Mengden, 22, slots in at No. 13 on Oakland's Top 30 list. He doesn't have a huge celing, but he adds a starting-pitching prospect to an A's system deficient in that regard. A fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M last June, Mengden has gone 6-2 with a 3.46 ERA in 18 games (14 starts) between two Class A stops this season. He has an 84/26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 88 1/3 innings.
Mengden's two best pitches are his low-90s fastball and his slider, and he also throws a curveball and a changeup. Though his delivery features more effort than scouts would like, it also adds deception and doesn't prevent him from throwing strikes.
Kazmir has roughly $5 million remaining in his 2015 salary before becoming a free agent at season's end, so Oakland had little reason to hang on to him. The Astros have a deep farm system that won't terribly miss the departing Nottingham and Mengden.
Each side had reason to place a higher value on what the other was giving up, and thus, we have the first of what should be several trades in the final week before the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31.