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TSN.ca: 2014 American League West preview

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TSN.ca Staff
3/27/2014 9:55:19 AM
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Baseball season is just around the corner and TSN.ca has you covered for who's in, who's out and what to expect from all 30 teams. Check in every day this week for two new division previews, finishing up with Scott MacArthur's look at the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. Here's what to expect out of the American League West in 2014.

Houston Astros

GM: Jeff Luhnow

Manager: Bo Porter

2013: 54-111, fifth in AL West. Did not qualify for playoffs.

That was Then: The Astros' American League debut last season wasn't exactly a sterling one.

Coming over from the National League Central to the AL West, the Astros dropped a league-worst 111 games last season, the most by any team in 10 years and a franchise record, and hit the 100-loss mark for the the third-straight season. They closed the year on a 15-game losing streak. Welcome to the American League.

Though the team's season was abysmal, catcher Jason Castro's was not. The third-year catcher set team records for the position in home runs (18), runs (63) and slugging percentage (.485). In recognition of his season, Castro was named the team's lone All-Star.

Jose Altuve continued to emerge as one of the league's finest young middle infielders and the team was able to lock him up to a modest, $12.5 million, four-year extension last summer that included two team options. The 23-year-old Venezuelan led the Majors with 41 hits in September and finished the season with career-highs in hits and RBI.

To be charitable, the Astros' entire pitching staff was battered last season. The team's ace, Bud Norris, and its closer, Jose Veras, were both trade at the trade deadline in July (Norris to the Baltimore Orioles and Veras to the Detroit Tigers) and the rest of the Astros' arms struggled mightily. The Houston staff and bullpen finished with a league-worst 4.79 ERA and gave up 766 earned runs, 33 more than the second-worst Milwaukee Brewers. Third-year starter Jordan Lyles, now with the Colorado Rockies after a December trade, led the rotation with a modest seven victories.

This is Now: It's pretty telling of a team's offseason when the biggest news will likely have little to no impact at all on the club on the field. After bringing aboard Reid Ryan a year ago as team president, the team brought back his father, Hall of Famer Nolan, as a special assistant to owner Jim Crane in February.

Obviously, Astros fans will be thrilled to have the legendary Ryan back in the fold, especially at the expense of their cross-state rival Texas Rangers, but nostalgia will only take you so far and not nearly as far the Astros need it to in 2014.

Despite the acquisitions of veteran help in Dexter Fowler, Chad Qualls and Canadian Jesse Crain and a new staff ace in Scott Feldman (the team's highest-paid player at $10 million), this season has the potential to look a lot like last season. That's not to say that there isn't young talent to be excited about for the Astros in the likes of George Springer, Delino DeShields, Jr. and Mark Appel, all of whom will likely see some Majors experience this year, but their time has not come yet or, at least, it shouldn't be expected to come yet.

While the team has made strides to correct its bullpen woes, outside of Fowler, little has been done to address 2013's .673 OPS (again, a league-worst), another 100-loss season shouldn't come as a surprise.

One early storyline to follow: If the Astros start the season with six-straight losses (they open with a six-game homestand with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels), they will have lost 21-consecutive games that will tie the 1988 Baltimore Orioles' record for the longest streak since the turn of the 20th Century. Fun times.

Who's In?: OF Dexter Fowler (trade with COL), SP Scott Feldman (three-year deal), RP Jesse Crain (one-year deal), RP Chad Qualls (two-year deal + option), RP Matt Albers (one-year deal + option), OF Jesus Guzman (trade with SD) and SP Jerome Williams (one-year contract).

Who's Out?: SP Erik Bedard (signed with TB), OF Brandon Barnes, SP Jordan Lyles (traded to COL) and 1B Brent Wallace (designated for assignment; later signed with BAL).

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

GM: Jerry Dipoto

Manager: Mike Scoscia

2013: 78-84, third in AL West. Did not qualify for playoffs.

That was Then: Halos owner Arte Moreno has never been shy about spending money and made the biggest free agent splash last offseason in scooping up slugger Josh Hamilton from the rival Texas Rangers. But like the Albert Pujols signing the previous winter, Hamilton failed to pay the immediate dividends expected, hitting just .250 with only 21 homers and 79 RBI. Those are fine numbers for an average-to-above average outfielder, but not ones expected from a perennial All-Star and former MVP in the handsomely paid Hamilton.

He wasn't the only disappointment for a team expected to contend for the division title and even more. Injuries forced the Angels to trot out 11 different starting pitchers in 2013 and, while Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson were dependable, the rest of that rotation was not.

On the bright side, Mike Trout, once again, made his case for being the best all-around player on the planet with 27 home runs, 97 RBI, a .326 average and an OPS of .988.

This is Now: The good news? The chances of Pujols and Hamilton bouncing back this year are exponentially greater than the pair having another off-year. Make no mistake, though, both sluggers are aging (34 and 32, respectively) and the team knows that its window with those two is closing.

The team sacrificed some power and speed in the outfield to address concerns in the infield and on the mound.

In dealing Peter Bourjos, arguably the fastest player in the American League, to the St. Louis Cardinals, the team acquired the dependable bat and infield arm of David Freese, who slots into third base. The team also traded Mark Trumbo and his 34 homers and 100 RBI as part of a three-team deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox that netted young arms Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. Skaggs has more upside of the pair, but both pitchers will be looked upon to shore up the back end of the rotation (along with Garrett Richards) that sorely needs the help.

The team will also find out if outfielder Kole Calhoun is ready for prime time. Calhoun, who has looked good in a small sample size, will lead off for the club and is expected to be the everyday right fielder. Whether he's up to the task remains to be seen.

Another thing: The team needs to be much better playing within the division. They were 32-44 against divisional opposition last season, including an abysmal 4-15 against the Rangers.

A year after unquestionable failure, tempered hopes for 2014 belie the fact that much is still expected from this team.

Who's In?: IF David Freese (trade with STL), DH Raul Ibanez (one-year deal), SP Tyler Skaggs (acquired from ARI), SP Hector Santiago (acquired from CWS) and RP Joe Smith (three-year deal)

Who's Out?: OF Mark Trumbo (traded to ARI), OF Peter Bourjos (traded to STL), SP Jason Vargas (signed with KC) and SP Jerome Williams (signed with HOU)

Oakland Athletics

GM: Billy Beane

Manager: Bob Melvin

2013: 96-66, first in AL West. Lost to Detroit in American League Divisional Series.

That was Then: You would think that the Oakland A's would get sick of defying the odds, but no, they went out again last season and won the AL West over the highly favoured Angels and Rangers for a second-straight year.

The offence was led by Josh Donaldson, who finished fourth in AL MVP voting after an outstanding campaign that saw him hit 24 home runs and knock in 97 RBI while hitting .301 with an .883 OPS and an 8.0 WAR. That's not to say that the team relied on Donaldson solely. The team produced the third-most runs in the AL through a balanced attack that featured major contributions from Josh Reddick, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes.

On the mound, ace Jarrod Parker continued to eat innings (12-8, 3.97 ERA and 1.223 WHIP in 197.0 IP), while the seemingly ageless Bartolo Colon won 18 games and was named to the All-Star team eight years after his last appearance. A.J Griffin, Tommy Milone and Dan Straily rounded out what ended up being one of the best young staffs in all of baseball.

A bullpen anchored by closer Grant Balfour was arguably the best in the AL.

This is Now: Injuries have ravaged the rotation and the A's will have to overcome those if they have any designs on a threepeat.

Parker is lost for the season, thanks to a second Tommy John surgery. Griffin has been shut down for most of spring training with elbow discomfort. New signing Scott Kazmir will be ready for Opening Day, but he, too, has been afflicted with triceps issues. With Colon moving on in free agency, the team hopes that Sonny Gray, impressive in his 10 Major League appearances, can slip seamlessly into the rotation and help shoulder the load. Milone and Straily will make up the back-end of the rotation with the likes of Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz able to spot-start if need be.

Even with Balfour gone to the Rays, the bullpen remains a strength and is now anchored by All-Star Jim Johnson, the AL's reigning saves leader over the past two seasons. Luke Gregerson and Fernando Abad, the other new 'pen additions, will also be joined by Eric O'Flaherty in the summer, once his rehab for Tommy John is completed.

If the A's offence, mostly unchanged from last season, plays to what it's capable of and its staff depth can absorb the team's pitching injuries, Oakland will be competing for another division title and another trip to the post-season in 2014.

Who's In?: RP Jim Johnson (trade with BAL), SP Scott Kazmir (two-year deal), OF Craig Gentry (trade with TEX), RP Luke Gregerson (acquired from SD), RP Fernando Abad (acquired from ARI) and Nick Punto (one-year deal with club option).

Who's Out?: SP Bartolo Colon (signed with SF), RP Grant Balfour (signed with TB) and OF Seth Smith.

Seattle Mariners

GM: Jack Zduriencik

Manager: Lloyd McClendon

2013: 71-91, fourth in AL West. Did not qualify for playoffs.

That was Then: The Mariners weren't very good last year, finishing below .500 for the fourth straight-time and missing the playoffs for a 12th-consecutive season.

Much was riding on the youth in Seattle last year and, while their were flashes of greatness, there was nothing consistent enough to make anybody think twice about the Mariners as anything but also-rans. Former first-round pick Justin Smoak again failed to live up to potential with a dreadful year at the plate, hitting .209 in the second-half of the season. Dustin Ackley struggled with consistency, while the less said about Jesus Montero's season, the better.

Still, there were signs of life from youngsters with Kyle Seager, Canadian Michael Saunders and Nick Franklin all showing why the team values the trio so highly.

Veteran acquisitions were a mixed bag. Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales contributed offensively with the seemingly 150-year-old former leading the team with 29 RBI and the latter knocking in 80 runs. On the flip side, Mike Morse disappointed and was jettisoned to the Baltimore Orioles at the deadline and Jason Bay simply had nothing left in the tank.

The team got 200-plus innings from Hishashi Iwakuma and superstar Felix Hernandez, but pitching on the whole, was suspect. The Mariners had the fifth-worst team ERA at 4.25, the fifth-most hits allowed (1467) and the fourth-most earned runs conceded (702).

This is Now: The Mariners spent that Nintendo money in the offseason...a whole lot of it.

The team signed the most coveted player available in Robinson Cano to a massive 10-year, $240 million deal, but that wasn't all. Closer Fernando Rodney was brought in to anchor the bullpen and former All-Star Corey Hart, who missed all of last season, was signed to a one-year deal. He's slotted in to play right field.

The question remains, even with Cano and the other additions, is this Mariners team any better equipped to compete in what should be a good AL West?

New manager Lloyd McClendon has spent the last several seasons as Jim Leyland's right-hand man in Detroit, so there's hope that he's learned some of the codger's tricks after what was a pretty inauspicious managerial bow with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

If the team's youth can step up (including highly rated starter Taijuan Walker, who starts the season on the DL and speedy shortstop Brad Miller) with a previously absent level of consistency, Hart can return to form and the likes of Smoak and newly acquired Logan Morrison tap into their potential, the Mariners will be in the mix, but it will be tough.

Who's In?: 2B Robinson Cano (10-year deal), OF Corey Hart (one-year deal), OF Logan Morrison (trade with MIA), C John Buck (one-year contract) and IF Willie Bloomquist (two-year deal).

Who's Out?: OF Jason Bay (retired), OF Kendrys Morales (unsigned), Raul Ibanez (signed with LAA), RP Carter Capps (traded to MIA), SP Aaron Harang (signed with ATL), RP Oliver Perez (signed with ARI) and SP Joe Saunders (unsigned)

Texas Rangers

GM: Jon Daniels

Manager: Ron Washington

2013: 91-72, second in AL West. Did not qualify for playoffs.

That was Then: After a horrible collapse in 2012, the Rangers found a new way to end the season on a sour note, losing an AL Wild Card tie-breaker (the 163rd game of the season) to the Tampa Bay Rays to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

September was once again cruel to the Rangers, as a 5-15 start to the month effectively ended their pursuit of the Athletics' division lead and condemned them to the tie-breaker.

Why did this happen again? While still respectable and despite the yeoman's effort of Adrian Beltre, the offence suffered with the departures of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli. The team led the league with 808 runs in 2012, but only scored 730 last season. Losing Nelson Cruz to a 50-game PED suspension certainly didn't help those matters any.

On the other side of the ball, Yu Darvish was dominant, recording 278 strikeouts, the most by any pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2012. The bullpen, anchored by the 43 saves of Joe Nathan (now departed), was also solidly reliable, but the midseason acquisition of Matt Garza did not work out as planned.

This is Now: If the Rangers had questions about making up for lost run production last season, they think they've answered them by bringing in Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo.

Though Fielder cost the hefty price of 2B Ian Kinsler, the Rangers hope that Fielder can take advantage of the short fence in right field. Choo, the new lead-off man, will be relied upon to help set the plate for the big first baseman and if the two combine the way that they're capable of, the Rangers will have found a lethal combination at the top of the order.

The team isn't sure with what they'll get offensively from the platoon behind the plate. With A.J. Pierzynski in Boston and Geovany Soto out for up to three months with a torn meniscus in his knee, J.P. Arencibia appears to be the man. Arencibia is coming off of one of the statistically worst seasons ever with the Toronto Blue Jays.

With Kinsler gone, stud prospect Jurickson Profar gets an everyday role, but he's going to miss up to three months with a torn muscle in his shoulder.

The Rangers won't start the year on the mound unscathed, either. Derek Holland is out until the summer, recovering from knee surgery. Matt Harrison is also not ready to go with a back injury. The team's impressive pitching depth allows for the likes of Matt Tepesch to step into the rotation, but questions remain.

Despite the loss of Nathan, the Rangers' bullpen remains formidable and, if he can regain his form prior to his injury, Neftali Perez could make for a fine closer.

Who's In?: 1B Prince Fielder (trade with Detroit), OF Shin-Soo Choo (seven-year deal), C J.P. Arencibia (one-year deal), OF Michael Choice (acquired from OAK) and IF Donnie Murphy (acquired from CHC).

Who's Out?: 2B Ian Kinsler (traded to DET), RP Joe Nathan (signed with DET), OF Nelson Cruz (signed with BAL), SP Matt Garza (signed with MIL), DH Lance Berkman (retired), OF Craig Gentry (traded to OAK), C A.J. Pierzynski (signed with BOS) and OF David Murphy (signed with CLE)

Sorry, you'll have to wait. Check back in on Friday for Scott MacArthur's exclusive 2014 Blue Jays preview.




  • [1] Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
  • [2] Mike Trout, CF, L.A. Angels of Anaheim
  • [3] Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh
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