1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Notable Additions: OF Josh Hamilton, SP Tommy Hanson, SP Joe Blanton, RP Sean Burnett, SP Jason Vargas
Notable Losses: SP Zack Grienke, SP Dan Haren, SP Ervin Santana, INF Maicer Izturis, RP Jordan Walden, OF Torii Hunter, 1B Kendrys Morales
The Angels currently have one of the most complete lineups in Major League Baseball. Their outfield is absolutely stacked with Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton manning the corners and Peter Bourjos patrolling center field. Their infield is built on speed as they have Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick as the double play combo up the middle, and Alberto Callaspo who can get on base at will at the hot corner. Bring it all together with former Cardinals great Albert Pujols having a resurgent year and you have a clear World Series favorite. But that is just the Angels lineup that we have seen. They can produce runs alright, but how can does their pitching staff compare? Well they still have ace, Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson, but they needed to scrounge for some help this offseason as they lost Zack Grienke, who was acquired at the deadline, and Dan Haren. In their stead they built around Weaver and Wilson with Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, and Jason Vargas, who was acquired in the Kendrys Morales trade with Seattle. These pitchers, with the exception of Hanson, are not better than Haren or Grienke, not by a long shot, however they should be good enough to keep the Angels in games and in the long run I feel like the Angels will be fine in the starting rotation. Should the starters break down though, the bullpen looks absolutely fantastic with names like Ryan Madson, Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs, and Kevin Jepsen who will be working to hold Angels leads this year. Ultimately the Angels will win this division based on the fact that they have the best ability to produce lots and lots of runs, and opposing pitchers might just cry when they have to face this monstrosity of a team.
2. Oakland Athletics
Notable Additions: C John Jaso, OF Chris Young, SS Hiroyuki Nakajima, 3B Jed Lowrie
Notable Losses: SP Brandon McCarthy, OF Jonny Gomes, SS Cliff Pennington, 1B Chris Carter
In a division that has gotten significantly better, except the Astros, the Oakland A’s will continue to compete despite not being able to deal out cash with the big guns in Los Angeles and Texas. As in the movie, the Oakland A’s are built on players who can get on base, and get on base often, players like John Jaso, Coco Crisp, Jemile Weeks will be providing most of Oakland’s runs this year. In addition the A’s have a couple of power hitters who could bring these guys in en masse such as Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Brandon Moss. The A’s will also be banking their starting rotation to stay as strong as last years with Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, and Tommy Milone being the veterans that the A’s will count on to go deep into games and give the team the best chances to win. The A’s bullpen, as usual, is an island of misfit toys with guys like Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Jeremy Blevins, and Pat Neshek coming out to relieve the A’s starters. The A’s certainly don’t look as strong as some of the other teams in this division, however, they are relatively the same team as last year, and shouldn’t be pushovers in this division. I can see a wild card berth from this team and I expect them to compete heavily in the AL West for first place.
3. Seattle Mariners
Notable Additions: OF Michael Morse, OF/DH Raul Ibanez, 1B/DH Kendrys Morales, SP Joe Saunders, OF Jason Bay
Notable Losses: SP Jason Vargas, SP Kevin Millwood,
The Mariners have vastly improved over the last six months, and I expect them to give the Oakland A’s a ton of trouble in the AL Western division this summer. The Mariners find themselves with a team that seems to have a perfect balance of hitting, pitching, and defense. Unfortunately for them, it’s all highly mediocre. Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Michael Saunders, and Kyle Seager should all provide excellent power for the M’s especially with the fences being moved in to help alleviate the lack of long balls in Safeco Field. Defensively, the M’s have center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who can cover ground with the best of them, and should alleviate some of the pressure defensively from Morse and Saunders in the outfield. Dustin Ackley and Brenden Ryan up the middle are a solid defensive middle infield combination and the M’s should expect almost nothing to fall in the middle of their field, both infield and outfield. The M’s also have relatively decent pitching, headlined by ace Felix Hernandez. After Hernandez though the rotation is relatively weak with the likes of Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beaven, Joe Saunders, and Erasmo Ramirez. Iwakuma, Beaven, and Saunders are all fourth starters at best, but will be able to pitch their six innings and then turn it over to the bullpen. No fear though M’s fans! Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton are on the way! In the interim though, as stated earlier, the M’s will rely on their bullpen. The bullpen is where some of the M’s top prospects have already arrived, with Stephen Pryor (#4 on the M’s Prospect List according to mlb.com) and Carter Capps (#7) in the major league bullpen. In addition to those promising youngsters the Mariners will also have Tom Wilhelmsen returning as the team’s closer and Charlie Furbush as the team’s go-to left-handed reliever. All in all this team is incredibly mediocre but should be able to put up enough of a fight to stay ahead of this next team.
4. Texas Rangers
Notable Additions: C AJ Pierzynski, DH/1B Lance Berkman, RP Joakim Soria, RP Jason Frasor, UTIL Jeff Baker
Notable Losses: OF Josh Hamilton, 3B Michael Young, RP Mike Adams, SP Ryan Dempster, 1B/C Mike Napoli, SP Roy Oswalt, SP Scott Feldman
The Rangers were really depleted this offseason. They lost Josh Hamilton, the heart and soul of their team to the division rival Angels. Michael Young, a man who personified Ranger baseball was traded to Philadelphia. Mike Napoli was let go, and pitchers Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, and Mike Adams walked for sunnier horizons. Amid all these reshuffling and essentially rebranding of the organization, GM Jon Daniels did a poor job of replacing the talent he lost. On paper, Daniels did a solid job of replacing the statistics he lost from last year, however the intangible of age might nip the Rangers in the behind if AJ Pierzynski and Lance Berkman aren’t able to escape father time this year. In addition, Joakim Soria is just returning from injury and no one will know for certain how he will perform. Thus, the Rangers are only left with Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Adrian Beltre as the only true run producers on the team. Everyone else is a question mark. Their rotation could also be stronger as Matt Harrison is not and should not be the ace of a staff. Yu Darvish was figured out by the end of the year as well, and the rest of the staff is just…meh. The bullpen doesn’t exactly wow either, as Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, and Neftali Feliz are the only recognizable names, and two of the three are past their prime. Many are picking the Rangers to do well this year, however I see them seriously regressing this year, and not even having a winning record.
5. Houston Astros
Notable Additions: 1B/DH Carlos Pena, RP Jose Veras, SP Philip Humber, 1B Chris Carter, OF Rick Ankiel, C Jason Jaramillo, RP Alex White, SP Erik Bedard
Notable Losses: C Chris Snyder, 3B Scott Moore, SS Jed Lowrie
It’s sad when you look at a team’s transaction wire and you can’t tell whether a guy will make an impact on the 2013 team or not. The Astros are essentially a minor-league team at this point and I can’t see them competing at any point in the next two to three years.