The American League West in 2013


California Angels

My prediction: 94-68

2012 finish: 89-73

Worthy of note: Has everyone forgotten Albert Pujols? Sure as heck seems like it.

2013 changes: Zack Greinke and Dan Haren are gone, along with Torii Hunter. Added Josh Hamilton.

Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson. Jason Vargas could be a nice addition… and with the log-jam that seemed to be developing of first base – corner outfield – designated hitter types, the loss of Kendrys Morales isn’t likely to hurt as much as the trade could help.

(Mind you… I am not saying Pujols, Hamilton and so on are corner outfield, DH and 1B types because I don’t like this lineup. I do like it. I like the batting order… like the outfield… just keep them healthy and on the field. What I am saying is that the Angels didn’t figure to be all set or deep in pitching as the offseason began. So they went out and nabbed Josh Hamilton. And once they signed Hamilton, Morales didn’t have a full-time, long-term role on this club because… you see it now… 1B/DH. Could they have gotten more for him? Maybe… especially if they could have waited into March to make the deal. But it wasn’t a bad trade… and if it wasn’t made, someone was on the bench.)

If injuries stay away from the pitching arms… specifically Hanson, Ryan Madson… what they have added (including Sean Burnett) seems very interesting and likely are quality moves. (And yes… Madson is on the DL to kick off the regular season.)

With the sun shining and calm seas: Has the potential to be the best team in the American League. Good pitching… outstanding offense… and I think they should have a fantastic defense (especially the outfield… which will be one of the top two or three in all of baseball).

They need some work in the bullpen… but heck, so does Detroit.

Could use an ace to match blanks in pressure games with Tampa or Detroit. (And might have it in Weaver. But remember… we’re talking Verlander and Price.)

Trouble in paradise: This is where Kyle Loshe would have made a lot of sense. The Angels already spend money, so $30-$35 million wouldn’t have been a bad 3-year risk for them. And with Hamilton already signed, even with compensation attached the draft pick sacrifice wouldn’t have been hideous.

And I mention that because of what I mentioned before. Hanson has had some recent arm troubles, and Madson is still recovering from surgery. In other words… the questions about pitching depth for the rotation and the bullpen remain.

2013 expectations: I really do try to stay away from discussing injuries when I can. And honestly, with Jerod Weaver in place and Mike Trout ahead of Hamilton and Pujols in the batting order, this team is about as good as any in the American League. But they can’t have Weaver start 120-plus games, and the guys they have lined up do come with history or concerns.

I see them leaning heavily to the offensive output and defensive play (solid lineup that will score plenty, and a loaded outfield that should be beyond brilliant). Unfortunately, the playoffs come down to pitching. Weaver… C.J. Wilson… Jason Vargas… Hanson… we shall see.

Texas Rangers

My prediction: 89-73

2012 finish: 93-69, playoff wild card

Worthy of note: Really stayed in place as both Oakland and California added. Can’t help but think they’re a weaker team without Hamilton and no major additions, which leads to…

2013 changes: Want to see a club that thinks it’s staring at a window of opportunity? (And a closing window at that.) Ok…

They brought in Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski, and took a risk (though all relievers were risks of some fashion this winter, given history, price, and other factors) on Joakim Soria. No contracts for free agents were for any real length of time… this year or two years.

Traded away Michael Young.

Also lost Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster.

That said… I’ll give them credit, because they also never added any long-term, potentially strangling contracts. And they do have some young pieces. (Elvis Andrus is 24… and they already have a young shortstop on the verge of joining the team in Jurickson Profar. I doubt they get rid of either… instead moving one to second and Ian Kinsler to first. But still… point is… next good Rangers team is already being assembled as this one begins its descent.)

Anyway… point is… I wonder if they think they have a lot of time to win with the roster designed like this. And the short-term acquisitions seems to show they are trying to take a chance now while they have an opportunity while also not giving away tomorrow’s quality. That is a tough balancing act.

With the sun shining and calm seas: The window isn’t closing completely.
Adrian Beltre has been performing at a high level, and he solidifies an offense that will be called upon possibly more than at any point over the past three seasons.

So I like the way the organization is moving and positioned in general. There are good things here. And while California may have overpaid to take away Hamilton… while Los Angeles may have overpaid to land Greinke… while Atlanta may have overpaid to trade for Upton… Texas might just find that often the best moves are the ones you don’t make.

This is still a very talented club with the playoffs directly in their sights.

Trouble in paradise: Pitching. It’s a patchwork of pitching. Injuries have smashed apart the rotation and drained the bullpen.

And you can tell me whatever you want… when Hamilton is in the MVP conversation every year, you don’t watch him go to a division rival and replace him smoothly in your lineup.

2013 expectations: The wild card in Texas is Yu Darvish. If… and for me, I think this might be a big “if”… he becomes a pitcher that opponents fear (yup… on a level of Verlander), then the Rangers could be one of the top two clubs in the AL when the season is winding down and the postseason is taking shape. My guess is he’s good. But a step below Weaver good. Not dominant and carry the team great.

Right now the Rangers don’t have Verlander or Price… they don’t have Martinez-Fielder-Cabrera or Trout-Hamilton-Pujols… and I think they are very, very good, but outside that category of exceptional in the American League as the year begins.

I think the A’s played over their heads last year. Because of that, I believe the Rangers will have enough to stay in the playoff hunt and earn a wild card slot.

But the reality is, they could be fighting for a .500 record. They are not as deep as other clubs… and they lack the dominant two or three superstars that teams like California, Detroit and Tampa have.

Oakland A’s

My prediction: 86-76

2012 finish: 94-68, division winner

Worthy of note: Easy to underestimate this group. For instance… their starting rotation on Opening Day is likely to have five guys that are 25 or younger. (And if not… then the oldest will likely be 26 or 27.) And just about all of them could be a top flight pitcher.

And everyone should be able to appreciate Yoenis Cespedes.

2013 changes: Added Jed Lowrie by trade… and used the trade option to also bring in John Jaso and Chris Young.

For me, the biggest piece may be adding Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. Lowrie is nice… but never has panned out in my eyes as an everyday shortstop. (Heck… he hasn’t panned out simply to be reliable as everyday.) So if Nakajima makes the club as the shortstop, Lowrie can be positioned in a place where the physical demand may be less. Perhaps reducing the stress on an injury-filled career to date gets Lowrie into the lineup 130-145 times. Plus Nakajima joins as a potential solid to very good player at low annual dollars.

With the sun shining and calm seas: The beauty in Oakland is found in three words… balance… depth… consistency.

They are better than average in almost all areas. There is very little drop off between their starters and their bench. And they show up to play every day of the season.

Check out the Yankees right now… entering the season without Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson and Rodriguez… and you suddenly realize how important it is to be young with plenty of depth on your roster.

Trouble in paradise: Jed Lowrie has never played 100 games in a season. I would not be surprised in the least to see him finally cross the mark in an Oakland uniform. Until he does though… in the past both Boston and Houston have also written glowing things during the preseason about their expectations of him. He’s never fulfilled on the promise.

I like the A’s. I do. I just don’t think they’re one of the two best teams in their division.

2013 expectations: I could very easily see the A’s bringing both wild cards to the AL West. Wouldn’t stun me to see them outplay Chicago and Toronto for that fifth playoff spot.

The trouble is… there is a clear line between their best and the best of other clubs. 94 wins in 2012 has to be remembered and respected… I just think it was a bit above where they actually are, especially heading into a new season.

Seattle Mariners

My prediction: 74-88

2012 finish: 75-87

Worthy of note: Not much. The best details for Seattle are the ones you’ll hear about tomorrow… not today.

2013 changes: Ok… sure… the names are interesting or at least sound familiar… Joe Saunders, Kelly Shoppach, Oliver Perez and Jason Bay. But let’s face it, all of them are in Seattle because there were few (if any) alternatives for their services.

Mentioned the Morales trade earlier in this column. That was a good pickup. And so was the trade that brought in Mike Morse. But things in Seattle are not what they are in California, Texas and Oakland. They are an ok club, that won’t chase a winning record, and are out of the basement only because of the addition to the division this year.

With the sun shining and calm seas: Felix Hernandez. A move to more youth. A plan to not rush things.

It’s nice in Seattle, and even looks promising.

Trouble in paradise: Still having troubles scoring runs. Morales and Morse will help change that dynamic, but I’m not certain they will score enough to win the majority of games when Felix Hernandez isn’t pitching.

And… note of interest… the majors are still waiting on the potential of Jesus Montero. (Which is kind of funny. Because remember my joke back when discussing the Angels… I was talking about 1B/DH types? Yeah… apparently Seattle has decided that the way to score runs is by bringing in players that can only play first. And now they have Jason Bay, who may not be the best of options in the outfield.)

2013 expectations: Here’s the funny thing… if you were in a division with Texas, Oakland and California right now, spending big money for the next two seasons would be beyond foolish. You need to gear up for the next three to five seasons… to be really good when that cycle breaks.

I like what Seattle is beginning to assemble. They could even do in 2014 what Baltimore did in 2012… use a few breaks and solid play to shock the division and maybe enter the playoff hunt.

But it’s way too early to expect that in 2013.

Houston Astros

My prediction: 54-108

2012 finish: 55-107, played in National League Central

Worthy of note: 54 wins? These guys might not crack 50. In this division… especially if Seattle plays well and Oakland is threatening 90-wins… the Houston Astros could set a record for worst season ever.

2013 changes: I don’t know… are we still at a point where a Carlos Pena sighting is exciting and news-worthy? Heck… I like the guy. But I think we can move on.

And yet… that’s the 2013 Houston Astros. Don’t know… and a bunch of people that had been names. 107 losses in 2012… Erik Bedard and Rick Ankiel and Carlos Pena as the interesting signings… and suddenly tossed from the overloaded six-team NL Central into the heat of the California-Texas-Oakland AL West.

One thing of note… they traded Lowrie for Chris Carter and two other prospects. So things aren’t all bad.

Granted… it’s not a club built at the major league level for long-term roster stability.

With the sun shining and calm seas: Iron Man 3 comes out this summer. May actually. And Star Trek Into Darkness will also be out in May.

Man of Steel is getting good buzz, and that comes out in June. Anyone want to see World War Z? June for that one too.

Let’s see… July… you’ve got Despicable Me 2, The Lone Ranger, The Wolverine, and Smurfs 2.

Hey Houston… cheer up… should still be a good summer for adults and kids. (And with Thor and Smaug and other fun characters in the cards for November and December, you won’t even need to worry about the hot stove offseason either. You’re entertainment dollar has a workable alternative to baseball for the rest of the year.)

Trouble in paradise: The Astros are so bad there is no trouble. Why? Because there isn’t room for anything bad to happen. You know… except that worst record ever idea.

Check out Carlos Pena. He hasn’t hit above .227 since his .247 of 2008. He hit 39 home runs in 2009… then 28, 28 and 19 since. (And in 2009 he had the fewest plate appearances of any of those four years.) His career-high in strikeouts came last year.

So if Carlos can give you .225 and 25 home runs or more, he’ll have done quite well. And if he doesn’t, few will notice (and those that do will shrug their shoulders).

2013 expectations: None. There are no expectations to have. If you go to a game… enjoy the experience. But there is nothing to look forward to here.

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