2014 MLB Preview: AL West

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The American League West was much like its counterpart from the National League as there was a sense that it was falling behind the other divisions. When trying to earn a spot against the AL East it can be a difficult road as it essentially means that the division is the best bet to make the postseason. That can be said for every division but with only two Wild Card spots and the East consistently in the hunt for both other divisions make their division race much more important. That is getting more difficult every year for the teams in the West as a lot of teams are beginning to catch up. The most unusual part of the West is that there are a number of teams becoming true contenders for the World Series in drastically different ways. Of course there are the teams that have not been able to make much of an impact as the Houston Astros have been the worst team in the league for a number of years and the Seattle Mariners have not fared very well themselves. As these teams try to figure it out they are being left behind by a trio of teams with different attitudes on how to build a team. There are the Los Angeles Angels who have long believed in spending money to buy a championship. Amid the constant spending of the team on the opposite coast and a spending spree by a team in their own city the Angels have spent plenty of money to try to compete. They have believed this for some time but a new team to this thinking has emerged in the division as well. The Texas Rangers were not always big spenders but when they singed a massive TV deal the money and the pressure was there. They are fairly new to spending but they are competing with the top of the spending teams as they are now mentioned among the Dodgers, Yankees, and Angels. As the Angels and the Rangers spend to win the Oakland Athletics hold the torch for the new age of Moneyball. In Moneyball the mindset set is finding the best players on a budget using statistical analysis to find players that do certain things the right way. The new way is beginning to work as the A’s have had plenty of success using Moneyball in the last few years. The battle continues in 2014 as the A’s continue to use the budge minded strategy while the Rangers and Angels continue to spend money. As these two strategies fight it out again only one team can win but that will be a tough thing to do this year. The AL West went from being a mediocre division with one team making the postseason to being a very competitive division that will challenge the AL East for a spot in the wild card as it will be a good competition with only one mindset coming out on top as the West will once again go down to the wire.

 

Houston Astros

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The Houston Astros’ biggest story last year was their switch from the National League to the American League. That is not a good thing for the Astros as they would not make a whole lot of noise in the division last year. That would be just the continuation of a pattern of terrible performances by the worst team in the MLB. The last three years have all ended the same as the Astros have finished all three of their last seasons at the bottom of the MLB with over 100 losses in each season. The improvements are almost always limited as the Astros continue to try to win on a budget and yet cannot get the same results as other budget teams. They continue to struggle as they continue to sit at the bottom of the league year after year and this year looks no different. The Astros would not do a great amount to improve their team signing a number of good but not great players. The main focus was on their bullpen signing Jesse Crain, Matt Albers, and Chad Qualls to bolster the bullpen. All of those pitchers are good but none of them look to be a superstar in the bullpen as the best of the signings was Jesse Crain who just had surgery this offseason. The moves were at least enough to show that the Astros are willing to sign players that can at least fill holes. Other than the bullpen signings the Astros would add Dexter Fowler who should provide at least a small upgrade in the outfield. These signings were essentially a way for the Astros to stay afloat as they continue to wait for their young pool of talent to show their potential. The Astros have one of the top farm systems in the MLB after picking 1st overall multiple years. With players like Jon Singleton, George Springer, and Domingo Santana potentially making their debuts this year the Astros may start to see the beginning of that potential. Still top prospects like Carlos Correa and Mark Appel are far from breaking into the MLB and it will be a while before the Astros reap the benefits of this system. For that reason and the act that they did little to truly improve themselves for 2014 the Astros are looking at another rough year. They may see a small improvement and begin to climb out of the 100 loss pit they will still remain far from the postseason and will once again be picking high in the draft to add to their impressive farm system that may pay dividends at some point but it will not be in 2014.

 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Astros would lose a handful of players but when they are the worst team in the league anyone they lose does not have a huge effect as all of the players clearly did not have much of a positive impact on the team in 2013

Biggest Addition:
Dexter Fowler, OF (Trade, Col)
– He is not a superstar despite his potential when he was younger but he is a better outfielder than the Astros have right now and he will provide at least a better upgrade for the team as he hopes to add some excitement for the fans

Player to Watch:
Scott Feldman, RHP
– He was another addition for the Astros this year and could be an important one as he will serve as the veteran in the rotation full of a young talent as his performance this year could make the difference between go over or under 100 losses this year

 

Los Angeles Angels

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The LA Angels have been known to spend money from time to time and the last two years have shown that attitude. For two years in a row the Angels have made a massive impact on the free agent market signing the biggest free agents in each year. 2012 would see the Angels sign Albert Pujols to a 10-year $240 million contract that would make him the highest paid player in the MLB. Pujols would not honour much of that contract as he has still struggled to return to the form that made him one of the best hitting first basemen in the league. After one massive deal that seemed to be going wrong the Angels would roll the dice again in 2013 when they signed Josh Hamilton to a 5-year $125 million contract. Much like Pujols, Hamilton would not make the best of his new contract struggling to be the power hitter that the Angels signed him to be. The expectations were not even close to being met with these two signings as they would finish with a sub-.500 record, in 3rd place and out of the postseason. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton seemed like they would provide a devastating middle of the lineup while Mike Trout was to continue to develop into a consistent all-star and create another tough out in the lineup. The Angels seemed to be building a solid foundation for a team but they would not be able to put it on the field. As the 2013 season ended the Angels would look to try to put more support staff around their base in order to provide a more balanced team. They would add a handful of good players including Raul Ibanez, Fernando Salas, and David Freese. All of these players are not the superstar acquisitions that the Angels had in the last two seasons but they are all good additions to the team. There is a lot of talent on this team that includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton but their issue has been not getting the performances they need from some of these players. Wilson and Weaver have been doing well in the rotation but do not have much support behind them, even with the addition of Fernando Salas. Meanwhile Pujols and Hamilton have to step up if the Angels want to get to the postseason and that will be the difference. The Angels will get better this year but the postseason might not be in the cards for them as the struggles will continue and they will stop the Angels from passing the other two powers in the division.

 

Biggest Loss:
Mark Trumbo, 1B (Trade, Ari)
– He may not have been a big signing for the Angles but he was one of the power hitters that would produce hitting 34 HRs and 100 RBIs but the Angels would trade him away to try to get younger but if nobody else produces this trade could turn bad

Biggest Addition:
David Freese, 3B (Trade, STL)
– He was a hero in the 2011 World Series for the Cardinals and his legend has been built from there and although he is not a superstar like he was in the World Series he is a good player that will consistently produce which is what the Angels need

Player to Watch:
Mike Trout, OF
– He is the future of the Angles and has been for the last two years but the Angels are being cautious with him as he signed a 1-year $1 million contract as they discuss a long term deal making this year one that will determine the future of Trout

 

Oakland Athletics

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The Oakland Athletics now have a reputation of being one of the smartest teams in the MLB thanks in large part to the beliefs of GM Billy Beane. The legend would grow in 2011 when the movie Moneyball would come out with Brad Pitt starring as Billy Beane. The movie was based on a book that would highlight the way that Beane built a winning team with a team that did not want to spend much money. Beane would change the way that teams looked at players as he would lead the charge in finding bargain players instead of spending money to improve. The idea of Moneyball is finding players that might not do the common things like hit home runs or earn RBIs but that do things that help teams win games. Billy Beane remains the GM of the Oakland Athletics and Moneyball is still the way they operate and it is beginning to gain more legitimacy. The Athletics do not have a huge payroll yet they have become one of the fastest rising teams in the MLB. They are now among the best in the league and continue to fight for the division title year after year. Last year they would win the division after a tight battle with the Texas Rangers. Now the A’s are looking at the same way to build a team and although there will be plenty of new faces the Athletics have remained at the bottom of the payroll list for the MLB. Some of the bigger names that the A’s have brought in are Scott Kazmir, who looks to stay healthy this year, and Josh Lindblom, who will operate out of the bullpen. Although the A’s did not add any big names they have shown time and time again that they can find good players to create a team that can win games. Players like Coco Crsip, Josh Reddick, and Jed Lowrie who have all done well in Oakland along with Cuban superstar Yoenis Cespedes that has been the extra power they need to win those tight games. The A’s are once again playing on a budget in 2014 and yet once again they look like one of the strongest teams in the division. Their batting order does not have a lot of power and yet they can score runs while the pitchers are not all that overpowering yet they can keep the runs down alongside their defence. It is hard to bet against the A’s as they continue to find ways to win games. The A’s are a good team and they will find themselves near the top of the division as another battle for the division crown is in the future for the Athletics.

 

Biggest Loss:
Bartolo Colon, RHP (Free Agency, NYM)
– In one of the more questionable moves in 2013 the A’s went after Colon and got him cheap in what turned out to be a bargain but his great year would translate into a payday that the A’s were not willing to match and so they lost their best pitcher from 2013

Biggest Addition:
Scott Kazmir, RHP (Free Agency, Cle)
– With Colon gone for more money the A’s are hoping to strike gold twice with another reclamation project tin Scott Kazmir who hopes to stay healthy and put together a great year that shows his talent that was shown before his injury issues

Player to Watch:
Yoenis Cespedes, OF
– He is the true superstar on the team and he continues to be the guy that the A’s look to in order to lead their team and as his presence grows his contract continues to come closer to an end with a big payday in the future if he continues to play to this level

 

Seattle Mariners

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The Seattle Mariners have been another team that has sat at the bottom of the division for the last few years. If it wasn’t for the Houston Astros the Mariners would end up at the bottom of the division every year and they have generally done little to change things. Last year they would approach 100 losses but would stay away from that record and much of that was due to a few great players. With Felix Hernandez leading the way the Mariners were able to pull off a number of wins but there was little support behind Hernandez forcing the Mariners to remain a basement dweller. After the 2013 season the Mariners would look to do their best impression of the LA Angels, for better or for worse, and would try to land the biggest free agent in the winter. They would do exactly that when they signed Robinson Cano to a 10-year $240 million contract. Cano had been a star for the Yankees for the last few years and after multiple great performances in the Home Run Derby would become a household name. With his recognition from the all-star festivities and his play on the field Cano would look to land a big payday when his contract ended after 2013. Seattle would land him and would immediately upgrade their team with a good defensive and offensive second basemen. It was out of character for the Mariners who have rarely spent a lot of money on players instead trying to find the bargains and reclamation projects to fill out their roster. Now the Mariners enter a new season with two true superstars and although it might sell tickets initially their season will come down to the support staff for these players. In the pitching rotation the Mariners are without a true second arm as Hernandez is really the only threat. That will put pressure on their bullpen that may be forced into action more often than they want. It is good that the bullpen is likely the best part of their team with pitchers like Fernando Rodney, Danny Farquhar, and Charlie Furbush ready for the late innings but too many innings can ruin a bullpen. Meanwhile the offence will get a big boost from Cano but aside from him there is not a lot of run scoring ability in the lineup. The Mariners may have made a good move to get Cano but without a supporting cast for him and Hernandez the Mariners are still going nowhere. It may be the start to a serious rebuild but it is still at the start and finishing out of the postseason is very likely.

 

Biggest Loss:
Kendrys Morales, 1B (Free Agency)
– It would have been useful for the Mariners to have two big bats in the lineup but Kendrys Morales was getting up in age and the Mariners would let him go as they would lose a big bat that could have formed a good one-two punch with Cano

Biggest Addition:
Robinson Cano, 2B (Free Agency, NYY)
– There is no question that Cano is the biggest addition this year for the Mariners as the all-star second baseman is a god bat and a good defender that will provide another superstar on a roster without a lot of big names

Player to Watch:
Robinson Cano, 2B
– Cano looks to be worth the biggest MLB contract in the history of the league but there are a lot of questions as to whether or not the money will get to him and if his legend was more about playing for the Yankees surrounded by stars than his personal ability

 

Texas Rangers

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The Texas Rangers are another team that has put their name among the biggest spending teams in the MLB. It wasn’t always that way though as the Rangers struggled for years and did not have the money to pay the best players in the game. The Rangers could never afford the best players in the game until they would see a brand new TV deal bring in a lot of money for the team. In 2010 the Rangers would sign a deal with Fox Sports for 10-years and $3 billion that would rank among the biggest deals ever. That deal would change the face of the franchise as the once financially struggling team now had enough money to upgrade their stadium and to sign whoever they wanted. They would begin to compete with the best in the league and would advance to the World Series in 2010 thanks largely to this TV deal they would return to the World Series in 2011. That would seem as the start to a period where Texas was the team to watch every single year but it would not last. They have continued to be a strong team and have broken 90-wins for four straight years. That would not get them into the postseason though as they would end a three-year streak of postseason appearances. The Rangers are still among the best teams in the league but their dominance for two years in the AL has gone away leaving management to try to recapture that edge they had only a few years ago. This year they would look to outside sources, and some inside sources, to immediately upgrade their team and get back to the postseason. They would do this with two massive moves with one that would shock the MLB and free up some space to promote a top prospect. In November the Rangers would pull off a trade with the Detroit Tigers as longtime Ranger Ian Kinsler would be moved for all-star first baseman Prince Fielder. It was a big move that would also allow the Rangers to give one of the top MLB prospects Jurickson Profar a chance to play every day of the season. They would not stop their though as they would also sign a resurgent Shin-Soo Choo to one of the biggest deals of the offseason, 7-years $130 million. The new additions are all good as Fielder is a true power hitter while Choo is a good leadoff batter and Profar could be a consistent all-star. These new additions added to an already solid lineup will provide plenty of power for the Rangers and will keep them in the postseason race as they will fight the A’s for the division throughout the year.

 

Biggest Loss:
Ian Kinsler, 2B (Trade, Det)
– He was a leader on the team and despite his age he was still a valuable member of the team both on the field and in the locker room as his presence will be missed and it will be strange to see that name in a Tigers jersey

Biggest Addition:
Prince Fielder, 1B (Trade, Det)
– Although they lost a fan favorite and a constant Ranger the trade would also bring in one of the best power hitters of this era as Fielder hopes to get back to his 35+ home runs every year with the Rangers this year

Player to Watch:
Jurickson Profar, 2B
– He is ranked among the top prospects in baseball and with Kinsler off to Detroit he will now get the chance as an everyday 2nd baseman that brings some great talent to the basepaths and the defence, but can he handle being an everyday player?

 

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

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