The MLB offseason is winding down, which means it’s time to evaluate which teams made the right moves and which ones got caught sleeping. Although there are still some big names out there that could help some teams whose rosters are lacking, let’s take a look at which AL West teams will improve upon their 2013 final positions. For my AL East projections, click here.
2014 AL West Rankings & Projections
5. Houston Astros
The Astros have been the worst team of this decade. It’s not up for debate, it’s not an opinion… they just have been. They’re coming off of three straight 100-loss seasons, and last year proved that the move to the AL only made things worse. They are very clearly still in rebuilding mode, but they made moves this winter to at least get some pieces to build around. They acquired Dexter Fowler in a trade with the Rockies, and he’ll join Jose Altuve and Jason Castro as the offensive foundation of the future. They also got Jesus Guzman from the Padres as a nice utility man who could certainly step in and start should someone get injured. The starting lineup won’t have anyone older than 28—rebuilding, like I said.
The ‘Stros did land Scott Feldman this winter, who will provide a veteran presence to all of the young arms in the rotation. Again, youth, youth, youth. Feldman will be followed up by Brett Oberholtzer, Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock and either Dallas Keuchel or Lucas Harrell (my money is on Keuchel). All of these pitchers are talented, and a couple of years from now this could be a very capable rotation.
Houston added Chad Qualls, Jesse Crain and Matt Albers to the bullpen, clearly trying to fix one of the more lackluster parts of their squad. The closer role is up in the air, with Josh Fields and Taiwanese import Chia-Jen Lo as the most likely candidates.
The Astros are too young to make any real noise this year, particularly in the ultra-competitive AL West, but I think they’ll break the string of 100-loss seasons. Give it another couple of years, though, and Houston should be more than capable.
Projected Finish: 65-97
4. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have spent a monster amount of money acquiring talent the last couple of years, most notably Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Unfortunately those two haven’t quite been the mashers that they were in 2010. Mike Trout is probably the best five-tool player in the game…remove the 'probably,' actually. The Halos filled in a gaping hole at third base by exchanging the speedy Peter Bourjos for David Freese, which also freed up a starting spot for the capable Kole Calhoun. They signed Raul Ibañez to essentially be the DH, which certainly won’t hurt. If Pujols and/or Hamilton perform anywhere near the level that their obscene contracts indicate, this lineup is looking good.
Speaking of looking good, the Angels pitching staff did the opposite in 2013. Dealing Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade netted them Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, who should act as a very nice 4-5 behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garret Richards. Joe Blanton will be floating around there should one of those five get hurt or if Skaggs proves a bit too unpolished for the majors. While it’s not going to blow anyone away, this could be a very adequate rotation for a playoff run, particularly if Skaggs realizes his potential.
The biggest change in the bullpen was the addition of Joe Smith, who was outstanding for Cleveland last year. He’ll serve as the setup man for Ernesto Frieri, providing an excellent 1-2 punch at the end of the game.
Overall, the Angels improved themselves this winter. I don’t think that they’re a playoff team just yet, but they are certainly moving in the right direction. I’ll put it this way: I wouldn't be surprised if they snagged a wildcard spot, but I’m not betting one red cent on it.
Projected Finish: 78-84
3. Seattle Mariners
Yeah yeah yeah, Cano. We all know what he could bring to a lineup, although as I’ve detailed here, he may not be as offensively outstanding as his contract implies. The M's signed Corey Hart to back him up, most likely as the regular DH. They also traded for Logan Morrison, which brings at least a little more bang to the ballpark. Adding John Buck and Willie Bloomquist to the bench should also work out well. However, Hart hasn’t played since 2012 due to a pair of knee surgeries, and Morrison has been an injury risk for his entire career. I don’t think the Seattle offense is going to be quite as anemic as it was in 2013, but it certainly isn’t going to be in the top 10 either.
*Interesting side note—keep an eye out for Seattle to trade Nick Franklin. They already moved Dustin Ackley to the outfield to make room for Cano, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they dealt Franklin for some young talent.
The Mariners have thus far been content to go into 2014 with the starting pitching they have on the roster, and it could very well work out. After King Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, which is one of the best 1-2 punches in the game, they’ll most likely go with Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker and either James Paxton or Brandon Maurer. These are all very young and unproven arms, but by all accounts there is gobs of talent there. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Mariners go after one more starter before the winter is over though—I could see them taking a shot at Ervin Santana.
The bullpen seems pretty stable, with Danny Farquhar closing things out in the ninth inning. Not one of the best ‘pens in baseball, but certainly not the worst. They should be fine for now.
The M’s will be better than they were last season, but I’m not sure they’ve got the pieces for a playoff run just yet. Perhaps in a couple years when their young pitchers get some MLB experience under their belts.
Projected Finish: 81-81
2. Texas Rangers
The Rangers got busy this offseason. They dealt away fan-favorite and face of the franchise Ian Kinsler in exchange for Prince Fielder, and added one of the best all-around players in the game in Shin-Soo Choo. With Kinsler gone, second base is open for Jurickson Profar, who we will finally get to see for a full season. They brought back Geovany Soto and signed J.P. Arencibia to back him up, which is a nice combo to have behind the plate. A rather under-the-radar addition is Michael Choice, who they acquired in a trade with Oakland. The rookie hit .302 with 89 RBIs in AAA Sacramento in 2013, and should put some pressure on Leonys Martin for a starting spot in the Texas outfield. This lineup is deadly, make no mistake about it.
Starting pitching is a bit more uncertain. Yu Darvish was recently announced as the Opening Day starter, and deservedly so. Unfortunately Derek Holland hurt himself playing with his dog (only Derek Holland, seriously), leaving the Rangers without their number two starter. Holland will be out until midseason, leaving the Rangers with Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison and Nick Tepesch as their 2-5 starters. All four are capable, but none of them have proven themselves to be exceptional. I wouldn’t consider the rotation weak, but it is probably the weakest part of their team.
The bullpen will be anchored by Neftali Feliz, who it seems like the Rangers have given up on as far as starting pitching goes—as they should have. A shutdown closer is a fearsome weapon, and if you’ve got one, don’t mess with it (see: Rivera, Mariano and Kimbrel, Craig). Everyone else is pretty much the same, and will get the job done most days.
The Rangers won 91 games last season and missed out on the playoffs, which seems unusual. I don’t see them missing out again, as this lineup will be able to overcome any pitching struggles the team might have more often than not.
Projected Finish: 93-69
1. Oakland Athletics
The A’s have been pretty busy this offseason considering their limited payroll. The biggest signing was Scott Kazmir, who will be the veteran in a very young yet very talented starting rotation. Who the starting five will actually be is up for debate, but I imagine it will be Jarrod Parker, Scott Kazmir, AJ Griffin, Sonny Gray and Dan Straily, in that order. I wouldn’t consider Griffin, Gray or Straily to be locked in, and Drew Pomeranz and Tommy Milone could certainly provide them with healthy competition throughout the course of the season.
After Grant Balfour departed via free agency, the A’s signed Jim Johnson to replace him as the closer. Johnson had a bit of a rocky season last year, but he should still be a lock for 40+ saves. They also added Luke Gregerson and Fernando Abad in trades with the Padres and Nationals, respectively, which shores up the bullpen even further.
The Athletics were not hurting at any position going into the winter, and hey—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The only two pieces they added were Nick Punto and Craig Gentry (traded from Texas), who will act as the fifth infielder and fourth outfielder, respectively. All the usual suspects will be back, and up to their old tricks I’d assume.
Like I said before, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Athletics are essentially the same team that won the AL West last year, and I don’t see anyone taking the title away from them.
Projected Finish: 97-65
Agree? Disagree? I wanna know. Tweet me @Roto_Dubs or leave a comment here.