The battle for Major League Baseball’s division has been dominated by the American League East over the past few years.  In fact, since 1996, the AL East has produced eight of the past 18 World Series Champions, and 15 of the 20 Wild Card winners.  This year, the AL East will be competitive and stacked all over again. 

The American League West is about to become the best division in the Majors.  In this preview, we will look at each team’s major move and how they are positioning themselves for the year. 

 

Oakland Athletics: 2013 record: 96 – 66.  Projected 2014 record: 91 – 71.

The defending Division Champions made a lot of moves in the off-season.  Some of their moves are head scratchers, like trading Ace and 2013 opening day starter Brett Anderson to the Colorado Rockies for Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen.  With Billy Beane at the helm, Oakland will get the benefit of the doubt.  A robbery by Mr. Beane also took place when they traded Jemile Weeks to the Baltimore Orioles for Jim Johnson.  Another major addition in the bullpen was Luke Gregorson from the San Diego Padres. 

The A’s lost the seemingly ageless Bartolo Colon.  Scott Kazmir is the direct replacement for Colon.  Again, with Beane’s track record, we can reasonably expect another pitcher at the back end of his career performing at an Ace level.  All other moves made by Oakland are back up and role players, both in and out. 

Oakland will be returning 100% of their everyday starting lineup.  Seth Smith is the most notable departure as he started 97 games for Oakland covering for the extensive injuries they had last year in the outfield.  The overall outcome of a busy off-season for Oakland is a bulked up bullpen that will be in the top three by then end of the year, and very young starting rotation. 

Texas Rangers:  2013 record: 91 – 71.  Projected 2014 record: 95 – 67.

The Texas Rangers wanted to make sure they keep to their winning ways in 2014.  They made the right moves in the off-season to make that happen and to play deep into October.  Texas made a huge move, one that has been just as difficult as was necessary; when they traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, they were letting go a top 5 middle infielder for a first baseman that saw career lows in homeruns (25), slugging percentage (.457) and OPS (.819). 

The good news for Texas is career lows for Prince are better than 75% of first baseman in Major League Baseball and he plays every game.  Prince has only missed one game in the last five years.  How do they replace Ian Kinsler? …with the top prospect in baseball heading into the 2013 season, Jurickson Profar.  An everyday role will allow Profar to relax and play to his full capability.  The Rangers upgraded at all other positions they made moves for this off-season.  AJ “Double Play” Pierzynski moved to Boston. 

Texas replaced him with a combination of Giovanni Soto and JP Arencibia.  This is a slight upgrade, offensively, and a huge upgrade, defensively, with Soto.  In the outfield The Rangers lost Craig Gentry and (more than likely) Nelson Cruz.  It is hard to replace both of those players but Shin-Soo Choo will do just fine. The trade that sent Gentry to Oakland brought back highly touted outfield prospect Michael Choice.  The relieving team of Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria will make sure Texas does not notice the loss of Joe Nathan. 

For the starting staff, they did not add any players, instead, they added health.  Colby Lewis will see if he can still be effective and Matt Harrison will be recovered from his mid season injury that cost him the second half of last year.  Two big player acquisitions and an abundance of middle infield talent put the Rangers in the driver’s seat for the division.

Los Angeles Angels: 2013 Record: 78 – 84.  Projected 2014 Record: 76 – 86

Mike Trout is clearly the best player on the Los Angeles Angels, in the AL West, and by the end of this year, we might be able to add all of Major League Baseball to that list.  The Angels made moves to save some money by trading Mark Trumbo and his big future payday to the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The money saved will go towards keeping Mike Trout as the face of the franchise for at least a decade. 

Los Angeles knew they needed to strengthen a weak pitching staff (24th overall earned run average in Major League Baseball in 2013) and did so by adding Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago.  Neither project to be an Ace of the staff.  The team will be a much stronger back of the rotation than Jerome Williams and Joe Blanton.  The bullpen needs still have to be addressed, but Skaggs and Santiago will throw more innings and help the bullpen work less.

 The loss of Mark Trumbo’s power will be felt and the Angels will look to recoup his power numbers with a rebound year from their Mega Deal superstars, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.  If both of these players can bounce back, the Angels will be able to maintain their top five offense from last season.  Unfortunately, for the Angels, there isn’t enough different from last year to warrant an optimistic outlook for 2014.

Seattle Mariners: 2013 Record: 71 – 91. Projected 2014 Record: 85 – 77

The Mariners have done an excellent job of addressing their weaknesses without losing too much from their strengths -not that they had many strengths last year.  The biggest move was the signing of Robinson Cano. 

Cano can already be written in for at least 158 games played while hitting .300 with 25 homeruns and 95 runs batted in.  The most important move from The Mariners this off-season was placing focus on offense.  The signing of Cano showed promise to the philosophy and the hiring of Lloyd McClendon solidified it.  McClendon was Miguel Cabrera’s hitting coach in Detroit and helped, arguably, the best right handed hitter in baseball to become the clear choice for best overall hitter in the game.  Logan Morrison and Corey Hart will be wearing Teal this year and look to make this offense the most potent in the league. 

A highly overlooked fact, with the Cano signing is the winning mentality and leadership he brings to the Mariners.  While he did not have to lead the New York Yankees while Derek Jeter was there, Cano showed his team leader mentality with the Dominican Republic team during 2013’s World Baseball Classic. 

The Mariners still need help with their outfield, starting pitching, and relief pitching.  Their owner, Howard Lincoln (representing Nintendo of America), has committed to spending the money needed to bring winning baseball to the Pacific Northwest.

Houston Astros: 2013 Record: 51 – 111.  Projected 2014 Record: 60 – 102.

The Houston Astros’ starting lineup look like a split squad for Spring Training.  Houston is starting to attract and sign players that in the future will create a winning culture and make other players want to join the team. 

Having a lot of money to spend will not hurt their chances of becoming competitive in the near future. It just will not be happening this year.  At this point, improvement is all you can ask for.  If the Astros can stop from getting to triple digit losses, this season will have to be considered a victory.  Some key pieces added in the off-season are: Dexter Fowler, Scott Feldman, and Jesse Crain. 

With their current star, Jose Altuve, a solid core of players is coming together in Houston.  They didn’t have anyone to lose, so all moves made this Winter break improved the team.  The upside for the Astros is they will allow their prospects as much needed development time this year in the Major Leagues and their starting rotation can surprise a lot of teams this year.

Scott Feldman is not your typical number one starter, but is better than any other option this year or last year.  Young guns Lucas Harrell, Brad Peacock, Brett Oberholtzer, Jarred Cosart, and Dallas Keuchel will be fighting for a starting spot out of Spring Training and will be exciting to watch all year.

Summary

The American League West has two proven winning teams in the Athletics and Rangers.  Their second tier of teams, the Mariners and Angels, has the pieces in place to contend with the Athletics and Rangers.  Finally, the Astros will entertain fans with some young exciting baseball.  As a Division, the AL West is improving and has a legitimate chance to earn the title, “best division in baseball.”

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