2013 MLB Preview: AL West

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The West is looking to rule this time around as there are a number of teams looking for their chance to represent the division in the postseason. The American League West is likely the only division that can even challenge the American League East for the title of the best division in baseball. They are making an even better case for it as the season approaches with teams making moves and winning games. The division is full of good talent and had one of the biggest changes in the MLB this offseason. They would gain another team in the division that should make them even more of a challenge in the postseason race. It is not because the Houston Astros are good but instead because they are terrible and should give a boost to the records of the rest of the teams. The division will be a factor in the postseason race as they have plenty of good teams that will be a part of this postseason. The Houston Astros will likely not be a part of this as they continue to try to find an identity this time in a new division. The Mariners are looking to find their own identity in the division and trying to keep up with the top teams. Meanwhile the three top teams in the division will fight it out to win the spot in the postseason. The Angels are a team that has added yet another major star in the hopes that it will finally get them to the World Series. Meanwhile the surprising Athletics are looking for a repeat of last season with a very talented young team. Then there is the old guard in the Texas Rangers who are looking to finally take that last step before it is too late. The division will be another great race with plenty of talent in the division to make it one of the best in the league. It is a tough call to say where the top three will finish but one thing is for sure, the race for the top spot could be the best race in the league.

 

Houston Astros

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The Houston Astros are in a unique position this year as they sat at the bottom of the MLB last year and now will have an even tougher time to get out of there. The Astros were a terrible team last year as they continued to be the worst team in the MLB with little hope for the near future. Now they enter 2013 in a new division that is sure to make things tougher for them to get out of the basement. They would get the move to the American League East from the National League Central. Not only do they now have to adjust to a new style of play in the new league but they were put in one of the toughest divisions in the MLB. The Astros are not considered to have much of an impact in the division other than giving most of the division teams a boost in their records. The Astros are at the very beginning of their rebuild and a move to the new division is not the best timing but it won’t make a big difference. This year is all about getting better and beginning to figure out who they can build their team around. Expect the Astros to give different players a look this year as they try to see what they have. The Astros are clearly the worst team in the division and will be for a while as they have no hope of a postseason appearance this year.

 

Strength:
Nothing
– The Astros really aren’t strong in any aspect of the game which is why they have been the worst team in the league for the last two years and they are in a rebuild and beginning to look for an identity

Weakness:
Their New Division
– It could be the strongest division in the MLB and when the worst team in the league moves to one of the best divisions in the league that is not the best for that bad team as they will in a tough spot throughout the season

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– There wasn’t a lot of movement for the Astros in the offseason and they did not have any impact players leave as they have little to give up and are just looking to add prospects to begin their rebuild

Biggest Addition:
Carlos Pena, DH (Free Agency)
– He is not a prospect but he is a stable veteran in the lineup that the Astros will welcome and although he is nearing the end of his career he may be able to be a good leader for some of the young players that might make their appearance in the MLB this season

Player to Watch:
Jonathan Singleton, 1B
– The Astros are waiting for this player as he seems to be the building block that the Astros are looking to bring up this year he will spend the start of the season in Triple A but expect him to make his debut as he could be the lone bright spot for the Astros this year

 

Los Angeles Angels

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A theme around the Los Angeles area seems to be the money that the two teams in the city are willing to spend to win a championship. Last year the Angels would give Albert Pujols the biggest contract in MLB history singing a 10-year $240 million contract to land 2012’s most sought after free agent. They would attempt the same thing in the 2013 offseason as they would go hard for the most sought after free agent of the year. It would not be a record-breaking contract but they would still hand Josh Hamilton $125 million, minus $2 million for Hamilton’s charity, over 5 years. With the contract signed the Angels had created what could be the best 2-4 batting order in the league. Not only would the powerful Hamilton join Albert Pujols in the heart of the lineup but he would also join Mike Trout. He was the surprise of last year’s season as the 20-year-old rookie of the year would pick up the slack for Pujols slow start to the season. Pitchers who have to now face Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton will not be very happy or comfortable. Then again Pujols could start slow again, Hamilton may suffer from a contract hangover, and Mike Trout, who put on muscle this year, may not be the same player he was last year. The Angels are clearly a powerhouse in the division and will be a part of the battle for the division title and the wild card throughout the season.

 

Strength:
The Heart of the Order
– Rookie of the Year Mike Trout, three-time MVP Albert Pujols, and 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton are a 2-4 combination that no pitcher will want to face as all are power hitters and Trout adds that speed which he has hopefully not lost in the offseason

Weakness:
The Expectations
– Two years in a row now the Angels have made a massive splash in the free agent market as they signed two of the biggest free agents in the league the last two years but that means expectations that adds a lot pressure to this team

Biggest Loss:
Torii Hunter, OF (Free Agency)
– The trade-off between him and Hamilton will only be seen later but the fact is Hunter was a good veteran player who added devastating speed to the lineup that is now full of power and his speed may be something they miss

Biggest Addition:
Josh Hamilton, OF (Free Agency)
– Hamilton has had an up and down career with his issues off the field but he has turned things around with the Texas Rangers and is now looking for his next opportunity as he adds another power bat to the Angels lineup

Player to Watch:
Mike Trout, 1B
– The Rookie of the Year in 2012 Trout was an unbelievable player last year and now he has to try to do it again but with some added muscle weight there is some concern that the speed and range that made him so great might be gone making him less effective

 

Oakland Athletics
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In one of the best divisions in the league it can be very hard to find your identity and start to emerge as a contender. The Athletics did just that last year as they would seem to follow a pattern laid out by a movie that had come out only a year before. The movie Moneyball was about the Oakland Athletics and their General Manager, Billy Beane. It was a movie, based on a book, about the A’s 2002 season where new GM Billy Beane found ways, aside from spending money, to win games. The A’s and Billy Beane seemed to have the same success that they had in 2002 that the movie had profiled. The Athletics would have the second lowest payroll in baseball in 2012 and yet they would find ways to win games with talented players. This year the Athletics are looking to do the same and win their second division title in as many years. As the defending division champions the A’s have a target on their back and will not sneak up on anyone this year. Still they did not lose too many players and have proven that they are a very talented team. After being eliminated in the ALDS last year they still have some unfinished business and are looking to be considered serious contenders this year. With plenty of talent and a well-rounded team the A’s are a team to look out for as they will be a part of the division race.

 

Strength:
Well Balanced
– The Athletics are a team made up of a lot of different types of players meaning that they are not great at any one thing but can do almost everything which makes them dangerous because they can win in many different ways

Weakness:
The Pressure to Repeat
– They may be back to being a contender but there is still a lot of pressure going into this year as they are in a new position where people are now expecting them to be as good as last year which, in this division, is a tough place to be

Biggest Loss:
Brandon McCarthy, OF (Free Agency)
– He was the opening day starter for the A’s and then suffered a severe head injury and although the A’s likely didn’t want to take the risk of having him on the team with the injury he is still a good arm that they will miss

Biggest Addition:
Chris Young, OF (Trade)
– They did not necessarily need Young with so many outfielders already but he does provide a solid outfielder who can give the A’s some depth in case of an injury or if they want to trade depending on where they are midseason

Player to Watch:
Yoenis Cespedes, DH
– Cespedes was an amazing rookie last year and if it wasn’t for the amazing numbers by Mike Trout he would have won the Rookie of the Year but now he goes into his second year looking to avoid the sophomore slump

 

Seattle Mariners

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The Seattle Mariners might have been the happiest team when the Houston Astros moved to the division. It meant that the Mariners were no longer the worst team in the division although they may still not keep up with the top three. The Mariners are a team in transition and not so much rebuilding as they have some very good talent with some major holes. Last year they would struggle through the year and finish in last place in the division for the third consecutive year. This year they will try to balance the team out and begin showing that they can be contenders. The Mariners are a good pitching team and after locking up “King” Felix with a 7-year $175 million contract. That move sent a message to the team that Felix Hernandez is the cornerstone of the Seattle team for the foreseeable future. He is the head of the strongest part of the Seattle team as their pitching staff is what carries them year after year. The only problem is that their offence continues to let them down and not provide the support the pitching needs. The Mariners have tried to remedy this in the offseason as they would change the dimensions of the cavernous Safeco Field. It should provide their offence with an easier time at home although their pitching staff may suffer from it. The Mariners need to fix the offence if they hope to contend and if they don’t expect them to sit near the bottom of the division again.

 

Strength:
Pitching Staff
– The staff starts with Felix Hernandez but has a lot more to them than just King Felix as the rest of the starting rotation keeps offences in check and the bullpen is one of the best in the division although the new dimensions at Safeco Field might not help them

Weakness:
Run Production
– The Mariners just have no offence and after getting rid of Ichiro Suzuki there is not much left to try to put runs up on the board but some additions to the batting order and the move of the fences might be the key to getting their offence going

Biggest Loss:
Jason Vargas, RHP (Free Agency)
– The rotation of the Mariners took a hit in the offseason losing Vargas who gave them over 200 innings last year and was a good pitcher to add to the list of contributors that is now down one more good pitcher

Biggest Addition:
Kendrys Morales, 1B (Trade)
– The offence is the problem in Seattle and Kendrys Morales should help them as his 22 HRs and .273 avg from last season should add a lot more to the offence and give a booszt to the other batters in then lineup

Player to Watch:
Jason Bay, OF
– In 2004 he was the Rookie of the Year with the Pirates but injuries hampered his rise and since 2008 has bounced around the MLB as he looks for new life in a new city and if he can get back to his Pirates days he will be a big boost to the offence

 

Texas Rangers

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The Rangers enjoyed a period where they were the unbeatable team in the division and in the American League. Two years in a row the Rangers would make the World Series but they could never finish the job. In 2012 they were looking to try to get back and finally finish what they had started. They would finish in second place and would lose in the first wild card game in MLB history to the rising Orioles. The Rangers now sit at a point that a lot of teams worry about as they are a good team on the edge of a decline. The Rangers are a veteran team that has had some very good players but their time may have come and gone. When a team builds themselves with top veteran talent they give themselves a small window. They are essentially investing for the next few seasons and if they do not win will have to begin selling off or will not be able to sign top talent. This is where the Rangers stand as they are clearly dropping in the division and are beginning to lose top talent to teams that may have a better shot. This offseason the Rangers would lose Michael Young and Josh Hamilton in free agency as the first players left the strong team. There is still a lot of talent on this team though and they are looking to make a run which could be their last chance before the rest of the team leaves.

 

Strength:
Offence
– The team still has plenty of talent on this team with Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and the leader of this offence Adrian Beltre still with the team there is plenty of power in the offence to make a run

Weakness:
The Window is Closing
– The Rangers are beginning to lose the core players that have helped them to their recent success and the ones that are left are not getting any younger as there are only so many years left in this team and they need to make their run now

Biggest Loss:
Josh Hamilton, OF (Free Agency)
– Hamilton was a crowd favorite for his story off of the field and for his performance on the field as he seemed to always come up with a big hit when they needed it and now he moves on to their division rivals removing one of their best weapons

Biggest Addition:
AJ Pierzynski, C (Free Agency)
– Pierzynski is not the youngest player in the MLB but he has the experience that every team wants behind the plate as he will be able to manage games and will provide some solid hitting that won’t replace Hamilton but should lessen the sting

Player to Watch:
Yu Darvish, RHP
– After going into the 2012 season as the most hyped Japanese recruit in the MLB the money the Rangers paid to get Darvish seemed to pay off as he kept hitters on the edge all year but can he do it again now that people know his pitches

 

Prediction:
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners
5. Houston Astros

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