With Scott Kazmir, the Astros May Have the Best Rotation in the American League

The first domino in baseball's month-long bazaar has fallen. What does the trade for Scott Kazmir mean?

It has begun.

On Thursday, the Houston Astros made the first big strike in Major League Baseball's trade deadline season, acquiring Oakland's Scott Kazmir for two prospects, right-hander Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham.

The deal makes a lot of sense for Houston, who had been looking to add a top-of-the-rotation starter to slot into their number-two slot after ace Dallas Keuchel. In 18 starts for Oakland this year, Kazmir went 5-5 with a 2.38 ERA, a 3.09 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and an fWAR of 2.2. That 2.38 ERA is fifth-best in the American League, his 8.29 strikeouts per nine (K/9) is 15th among qualified starters and his 1.88 nERD, the amount of runs he is preventing over a league-average pitcher per nine innings, is 43rd among in all of baseball.

That means the Astros now have the highest total nERD among team starters (with at least 60 innings pitched) in the American League at 9.66.

But Kazmir hasn't been a one-year wonder. After making just one start in 2011 and missing all of 2012 due to injury, he bounced back in 2013 with a 4.04 ERA and 3.51 FIP in 29 starts for Cleveland. He then signed with Oakland and had an even better season last year, 15-9 with a 3.55 ERA and 3.35 FIP. This year has been even better.

The acquisition of Kazmir allows the Astros to slide Collin McHugh down to the three spot in the rotation (11-5, 4.25 ERA, 1.28 WHIP), with Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.93 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) at four and talented rookie Lance McCullers (4-3, 2.52 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 46.1 IP) to five. General Manager Leff Luhnow is right. Houston's rotation must now be considered among the best in the American League right now.

The Astros had been rumored to be interested in some of the upper tier starters on the market, like Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, Philadephia's Cole Hamels, Chicago's Jeff Samardzija and potentially Detroit's David Price, were he to be made available. Given Hamels would be under team control for the next three to four years (depending on his vesting option), the Astros likely decided to wade into the rental market and chose Kazmir over Cueto, Samardzija and Price because the prospect haul was a bit less.

As for Oakland, Billy Beane was once again proactive. He acquired right-handed pitcher Daniel Mengden, the Astros' fourth round pick last year. He has a 3.46 ERA in 18 appearances (14 starts) between two levels of A-ball. Jacob Nottingham is a 20-year-old catcher who is hitting .326/.383/.558 with two home runs in 76 games in two levels of A-Ball as well.

With Houston trailing the Los Angeles Angels by two games in the American League West but five games clear of one of the league's two wild card spots, they took the opportunity to strike first.