The other day I took a look at the senior circuit. Now it’s time for our AL West preview. Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Oakland A’s have won the division two years in a row. One of the most historically frugal franchises actually spent some money this offseason acquiring a couple of arms to strengthen their already incredibly deep pitching staff.
The AL West was one of the busiest divisions in the offseason. In addition to Oakland’s surprising moves, the Texas Rangers made one of the biggest moves of the offseason acquiring Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers for long-time second baseman Ian Kinsler. The Angels traded slugger Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks for young, unproven pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. The long dormant Seattle Mariners also made major noise by claiming the biggest free agent of the offseason, former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. The Mariners signed Cano to a 10-year/$240 million contract. Although Cano’s arrival doesn’t turn the Mariners into immediate contenders, it does raise their stock in the division and puts the entire league on notice that Seattle is not messing around anymore. Even the hapless Houston Astros made moves this offseason. Let’s take a look at the AL West.
Last year (96-66, 1st place)
Key additions: Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson, Nick Punto
Key losses: Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour, Chris Young
The A’s were a Cinderella story in 2012, in 2013 they were a machine. Despite fielding the third lowest payroll in all of baseball last year, the A’s still managed to send out a team with virtually no weaknesses. They will attempt to do the same this year, imbued with new money that GM Billy Beane has never had at his disposal. The A’s don’t really have any superstars, however, most baseball people will point to the fact that they don’t have any holes in the lineup or anyone who sucks. The have tons of infield depth with emerging star Josh Donaldson and solid players like Brandon Moss and Jed Lowrie, not flashy, but highly capable guys. The starting pitching lost some depth with the departure of Bartolo Colon and the injury to Jarrod Parker. The A’s have the arms, but they lack an elite, front-line starter to intimidate opposing teams. The starting lineup remains virtually the same revolving around Donaldson, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes. The bullpen remains one of Oakland’s strengths, although they essentially swapped out Grant Balfour for Jim Johnson in the closer roles. So long as Oakland’s young pitching staff can hold their own in the friendly confines of Oakland Coliseum, the team should be able to contend for a playoff spot, if anyone misses a beat, we’ll see what happens.
Last year (91-72, 2nd place)
Key additions: Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, J.P. Arencibia, Tommy Hunter
Key losses: Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Joe Nathan
After making the World Series in consecutive seasons in 2010-11 and winning the Wild Card in 2012, the Rangers failed to make the playoffs in 2013. Despite winning their final seven games, they lost a play-in game to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rangers addressed their loss of power bats over the offseason by acquiring Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers for long time second baseman Ian Kinsler. They also signed coveted free agent and hitting guru Shin-Soo Choo during the offseason. Both Fielder and Choo should thrive in Arlington. Trading away Kinsler also paves the way for wunderkind Jurickson Profar, giving the Rangers one of the sweetest double play combos in the game with Elvis Andrus. Yu Darvish has emerged as one of the premiere starters in the game, and the Rangers continue to trot out quality arms including Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Derek Holland (when he returns from injury). The Rangers will score a bevy of runs, and they appear to have enough in the starting pitching department to contend. The Rangers one weakness could be in the bullpen where they lost closer Joe Nathan (just turned 39 in November) to free agency. Joakim Soria will take over closer duties, and Neftali Feliz waits in the wings as well. After two years of disappointment, the Rangers are reloaded as well. There’s no doubt they will trot out one of the elite offenses in the game yet again, but, they lack the pitching depth behind Yu Darvish to truly contend for a title.
Last year (78-84, 3rd place)
Key additions: David Freese, Hector Santiago, Joe Smith, Raul Ibanez, Tyler Skaggs
Key losses: Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Jason Vargas
Ah, the old adage, money can’t buy happiness. This is no truer than with the Angels. The Angels have the consensus best player in all of baseball in Mike Trout and they’re not even close to sniffing the playoffs. The Angels have the sixth highest payroll in all of baseball, and in terms of baseball savvy they’ve been well outdone by division rivals Oakland and Texas. As far as what they’ve got on the field, Angels’ GM Jerry DiPoto did his best tryin g to acquire young, cheap, pitching talent with upside (Skaggs and Santiago), since they just don’t have the money to shell out for premier pitchers in free agency. Skaggs and Santiago will be a nice upgrade. Hard throwing Garrett Richards should also crack the rotation. This is a huge upgrade over the 33 starts of sheer dung they got from Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson (5.82 ERA combined). Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton should each rebound from the worst seasons of their professional careers. There’s no doubt that the Angels will do better than they have over the past couple of years, but they still lack the pitching depth to get to the postseason. At this point, Yu Darvish is far superior to both Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Texas is trotting out a solid guy 1-5 every night, Oakland is too, the Angels just don’t have that guarantee. Look for the Angels to contend for a Wild Card spot at best, but I would anticipate them coming up short again in 2014.
Last year (71-91, 4th place)
Key additions: Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison, Fernando Rodney, Corey Hart, Manager Lloyd McClendon
Key losses: Manager Eric Wedge, Aaron Harang, Joe Saunders, Kendrys Morales, Brendan Ryan, Jason Bay (lol)
The Mariners were one of the most aggressive teams in free agency this offseason. They made the splash of the offseason by signing Robinson Cano to a 10 year/$240 million deal. They also picked up other possible contributors in Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, instantly upgrading one of the AL’s worst offenses (AL worst .237 team batting average). Kudos to the Mariners for spending some money, and why not. Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, and before last year, the Mariners finished in last place in the AL West four of the previous five years. The Mariners have some solid young talent on the squad (Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino), as well as two of the best arms in the game in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma (out with a finger injury). Even with the addition of Cano, it’s tough to view the Mariners as any type of a threat in the division. They have one of the youngest lineups in the league (the only projected starters over 30 are Cano and Hart). Behind Hernandez and Iwakuma, the rotation is also very young and untested. Fernando Rodney is an upgrade at closer, but they Mariners don’t have the same bullpen depth of the Rangers, A’s, or even Angels in this case. The Mariners should finish a lot closer to .500 this year, but that won’t be enough to end their postseason drought.
Last year (51-111, 5th place)
Key additions: Dexter Fowler, Scott Feldman, Chad Qualls, Jesse Crain
Key losses: none
The Astros were beyond horrible last year. They epitomized suck in such a way that one of the lasting images of their season is Jonathan Villar sliding into Brandon Phillips’ butt. But this has all been for a purpose, the Astros are essentially conducting the MLB equivalent of what the Philadelphia 76ers are doing. They have had three straight number one picks and they are letting their young talent sink and swim together. After three straight 100-loss seasons (not a typo), the Astros have finally invested in some veteran players. They acquired Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies, and greatly improved their pitching (major league worst 4.79 team ERA) with the acquisition of veteran starter Feldman and some experienced arms for the bullpen. This team is incredibly young, and they are so overmatched against the rest of the division that it’s not even funny. However, this might be the first year the Astros improve, say 90-95 losses this year. Help is on the way, Houston, just not in 2014.