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.
The AL West just got a little tougher today when general manager Jack Zduriencik of the Seattle Mariners pulled the trigger on a three team deal that saw former Nationals outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse head to the Emerald City, also involved in the deal was Mariners catcher John Jaso who went to Oakland. Oakland then sent minor league pitchers AJ Cole and Blake Treinen to Washington, who will also receive a player to be named later from Oakland. Morse was being shopped after Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo re-signed first baseman Adam LaRoache to a two-year deal. With Morse’s first base position filled, and Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and the newly-acquired Denard Span patrolling the oufield Morse was out of options. Though he could have played second base and been part of a stacked lineup, Rizzo saw more value in the talent that Morse could bring in than having the extra offense lying around in the lineup.
Michael Morse brought back former Nationals prospect AJ Cole, who was traded away in the Gio Gonzalez deal last year. The year he was traded to the A’s the Nats sold on him high with Cole being the fifty-seventh ranked prospect according to Baseball America. In 2011 at Single-A Hagerstown Cole pitched to a four win and seven loss record, a 4.04 ERA, and a WHIP around 1.2. Solid stats, but they could have been better. What most likely attracted the eye of A’s GM Billy Beane was Cole’s outstanding walk rate which was a relatively cool 2.4 and his high strikeout rate which was at 10.9. In comparison David Price’s career walk rate is 3.0 and his career strikeout rate is an 8.3.
Now more on Michael Morse, who will head to a smaller Safeco field, and be placed in the middle of a now formidable Mariners lineup. Before this offseason the Mariners need to address their offensive needs, and badly. Their best hitters were designated hitter Jesus Montero and third baseman Kyle Seager. However, GM Jack Zduriencik has vastly improved their anemic offense by adding former Angel Kendrys Morales and signing former Mariner great Raul Ibanez. Morse just seems to be the cherry on top. Yet there still lies a problem. As noted by MLB insider Jon Paul Morosi: Jesus Montero, though not the subject of the deal is the key player to making this trade work.
But why is Montero so key? Well that’s because Montero, though listed as a catcher, does not actually catch. Of the 135 games Montero played last year, he was the starting catcher for 55 of them, catching 40% of Seattle’s games. With the DH spot now being occupied by a revolving door of Morse, Morales, and Ibanez; Montero will have to find at-bats elsewhere. But the problem is, the elsewhere might not be catcher for the Mariners, it might be designated hitter elsewhere.
Montero’s fielding numbers at the catching position are not promising. Last year he let up 7 passed balls, in addition to not really being a brick wall behind the plate, Montero also only threw out 25% of base runners attempting to steal on him. In comparison, 35 year old catcher AJ Pierzynski only let up 8 passed balls in about 71 more games than Montero, and Pierzynski also threw out about the same percentage of base runners. Now don’t go saying “well, Pierzynski is one of the best catchers in the game and got by.” That is not the right logic here, Pierzynski is about 14 years older than Montero and had one more passed ball allowed than Montero, while being the backstop for 71 more games than the younger Montero. In order to get the same kind of at-bats a young power hitter like Montero will need, Jack Zduriencik will most likely need to look elsewhere. The good thing is that a player like Montero still holds significant value considering he won’t be arbitration eligable until 2015, and isn’t a free agent until 2018, which still gives the team receiving him about 5 years of cheap control on Montero.
Now we move on to the Moneyball A’s, who essentially gave up prospects AJ Cole, Blake Treinen, and a player to be named later for catcher John Jaso. Yes, the A’s did a three-for-one trade for John Jaso, That’s what I said when I first heard about the deal, and thought Billy Beane had gone mad. But upon further investigation I started to warm up to why Beane did this deal. Though Cole was an elite prospect upon coming to Oakland, he left under much worse circumstances.
Upon his arrival Cole was placed in Single-A ball with Oakland’s Burlington affiliate. Nothing had changed, Cole improved his whip to a 1.0, dropped his walk rate to a 1.8, and had a dazzling 9.6 strikeout rating, all while maintaining a 2.07 ERA. But then Stockton happened. Cole was promoted to A+ ball, and just fell apart. He was not the same pitcher that left Burlington. Though maintaining a 2.4 walk rate, Cole’s strikeout rate decreased to a 7.3 and his home run rate increased a full point to 1.7. Cole’s ERA also ballooned to a near an 8, and he lost all but one of his starts which was a no decision. Now this by no means indicates that Cole is done, considering his size of good work versus bad work is still about 38 starts to 7, but if Cole did continue to tank then Beane would have been SOL (so out of luck). Thus, it pained Beane to part with a promising prospect of Cole’s caliber, but he got someone who could help the big league club in Jaso.
Going into the 2013 season Beane had planned to have Derek Norris and George Kottaras battle it out for the starting catcher job. Norris who came over with Cole in the Gonzalez trade had had a decent year at AAA Sacremento, grinding out a slash line of .271/.329/.477 (avg./obp.%/slg% for those who aren’t familiar), Norris also tacked on 9 home runs and 38 RBI’s. Oh, and not to mention this was all done in less than 250 plate appearances.
Kottaras, the other man battling for the job, came over in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. Though Kottaras doesn’t hit for a high average, he is known for getting on base, something that sources tell me Billy Beane really likes a lot. With Beane ready to let the two duke it out for the job, the opportunity to acquire Jaso came up. Beane had been chasing Jaso for months, and would only let Cole go for Jaso. Jaso was Beane’s man. Jaso is probably thought of so highly by Beane because of his insanely high on-base percentage, which flirted with .400 last year (.394). Having Jaso, who is staying in the same division he played in with the M’s is probably all the more insurance for Beane, as the adjustment period won’t be as long as if he had switched divisions or leagues. Not to mention that 2013 is the first year Jaso is arbitration eligible, and he won’t be a free agent until 2016 which gives Beane so time to think of a creative way to keep Jaso on the cheap.
All in all, I like the deal for all parties involved as the M’s improve their lineup, the A’s get their starting pitcher, and the Nationals stock their system after losing a draft pick from signing reliever Rafael Soriano. This trade was truly a masterpiece, and kudos to Beane, Rizzo, and Zduriencik for making the trade work and make sense for all parties involved.
White Sox News:
- In White Sox related news, second baseman Gordon Beckham and center fielder Alejandro De Aza filed for arbitration. mlbtraderumors.com anticipates a $3.1 million salary for Beckham and $1.7 million for De Aza.
- Javier Vazquez is also still on the market, the White Sox, Nationals, and Red Sox are considered front runners, with the Nats showing the most interest.
Thanks for reading another installment of the Next White Sox GM, if you have any thoughts on the trade or a question anything else in general please leave a comment.