1. I like what Houston did in striking early. If you wait too long to make a trade, you could be desperate in the final hours before the trade deadline and give up more than you want. (Think back to the infamous Mariners-Red Sox trade, when the Mariners gave up Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb.) They got a very good pitcher in Kazmir, who has a 2.38 ERA and 3.09 FIP, meaning he's on a level pretty close to guys like Johnny Cueto and David Price but won't cost as much in prospect talent.
2. There is some risk here, of course. Kazmir left a start on July 8 with triceps tightness that "felt very minor." Pitching on nine days' rest after the All-Star break, he did go 8.1 innings in his last start, so those concerns were alleviated to some extent. Kazmir had a similar big first half last season, posting a 2.38 ERA, only to falter with a 5.42 mark in the second half. So how he'll hold up down the stretch is at least a bit of an issue.
3. Still, I like this rotation now: Dallas Keuchel, Kazmir, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers Jr., Vincent Velasquez and Scott Feldman, who just returned from the disabled list, gives A.J. Hinch six starters to choose from. It also gives better depth and decreases the pressure to rely on rookies McCullers and Velasquez as they set new professional highs in innings. McCullers threw just 97 innings last season and Velasquez just 63.2 as he battled injuries. McHugh, who has won more games than any other pitcher in the majors since last Aug. 1, has also had much better results lately, with a 2.85 ERA over his past seven starts. The Angels have soared past the Astros by winning 17 of 20 games, but the lead is still just two games. The division title remains up for grabs.
4. For the A's, Billy Beane picks up 20-year-old catcher Jacob Nottingham, who is hitting .326/.383/.558 between Quad Cities and Lancaster and has a chance to remain behind the plate, and right-hander Daniel Mengden, who has a 3.46 ERA between the same two stops with 84 strikeouts in 88.1 innings. These are good prospects: Nottingham was a sixth-round pick out of high school and Mengden a fourth-rounder in 2013 out of Texas A&M. Nottingham was included in Baseball America's top 10 Astros midseason update, while Mengden was not.
5. The last time Beane picked up a Class A catcher around the trade deadline? He got a kid named Josh Donaldson from the Cubs as part of the package for Rich Harden in 2008. That one worked out for the A's.