AL West Preview
OAKLAND ATHLETICS – (Last Year: 74-88) – The A’s off-season mystified a lot of fans, both those in Oakland and elsewhere. Starting pitchers Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez were sent away to Arizona and Washington, respectively, while closer Andrew Bailey, who’s been very effective when he’s managed to stay healthy, was packed off to the Red Sox. The set of young players received in return is too big too enumerate, but the major-league relevant pieces for this season include Josh Reddick, a young Georgian right-fielder with a cannon arm and power potential, Jarrod Parker, a starting pitcher with a blazing fastball, #2 upside, and Tommy John surgery in his past, Brad Peacock, another starting pitcher, though one with perhaps a tad less upside and a less sexy stuff profile, and Tom Milone, a crafty lefty with a bread-denting fastball and a ton on of polish.
Immediately after trading three of his four best healthy pitchers (Brandon McCarthy, last year’s league leader in FIP), Billy Beane embarked on a campaign to make the team respectable in 2012, re-signing Coco Crisp to play center, trading two mediocre pitchers to Colorado for Seth Smith, signing platoon outfielder Jonny Gomes, bringing in Bartolo Colon on a low-dollar one-year deal, and adding Manny Ramirez on a no-risk minor-league contract. In the midst of all this, Beane shocked the world by signing Cuban sensation center-fielder Yoenis Cespedes. This conflicts with the Crisp signing, which many speculated was designed to appease the players’ union and other teams by actually spending money on major-league players, but it looks for all the world like Cespedes fell into Oakland’s lap. They were reportedly the only team willing to give Cespedes a four-year contract with an agreement to let him become a free agent afterward, and with the Rangers and the Angels in the division, Beane probably feels that he has to gamble on a player like Cespedes when the opportunity presents itself if he wants to compete in 2014 and going forward.
That’s a lot of space just devoted to roster moves, but that’s what the A’s are all about. The on-field result is that the offense will probably be better than its reputation this season, assuming manager Bob Melvin can sort out all the moving pieces in the outfield and at first base/DH, while the pitching might just be ok, masked by a good outfield defense and an even better pitcher’s park. Still, the team will almost certainly not be good, as they’ve got a bunch of hitters who should be around the league average and very few who have star upside. They’re certainly not a threat to the Anaheim and Arlington-based squads in the division. Non-A’s fans might want to tune in to find out whether Yoenis Cespedes turns out more like Bo Jackson or Wily Mo Pena, and Jemile Weeks promises to be one of the most dynamic second basemen in the game, but I’d peg them as a 71-91 team when it’s all said and done. ~ Jason Wojciechowski (www.beaneball.org)
SEATTLE MARINERS – (Last Year: 67-95) – With Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson now on the Las Angeles Angels, the American League West appears to be a two horse race. For the Mariners and their fans, that means another season of playing the kids, assessing who might fit in long term, and losing ninety games. The difference between this year and 2011? High upside minor league pitching, a revamped bullpen, and the best hitting prospect the franchise has seen since Alex Rodriguez loom as a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
The big news over the off-season was the acquisition of Jesus Montero, and while there are some who question whether the move made the team better or simply turned over the roster, nobody is denying that Montero is going to rake. Montero joins Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker as top prospects, giving the Mariners one the best collections of high ceiling talent in the game. Beyond those four, questions about Ichiro’s career trajectory, Brandon League’s trade destination, and Justin Smoak’s ability to produce liven the conversation about the big league club.
While the M’s are a longshot to sniff October this season, prospects on the horizon and an intriguing crop of free agents available at year’s end suggest that the team has better days ahead in the near future. The bottom line is that the team’s priority should be developing the talent on hand as well as possible. If guys like Mike Carp and Casper Wells can build upon their successful 2011 campaigns, and if the team can find another diamond in the rough, Seattle could be in line to compete before too long. I predict 76 wins this season. ~ Brendan Gawlowski (www.proballnw.com)
LOS ANGELES ANGELS – (Last Year: 86-76) – The Angels made a pair of key moves this offseason to go from Wild Card contenders to legitimate World Series contenders, signing Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, who just might add enough to push the Angels past Texas in the race for the AL West title.
With the added pop of Pujols in the lineup, as well as the possible return to glory for Kendrys Morales and the addition of CJ Wilson to the already sterling rotation, the Angels should find themselves playing into the middle of October this season.
In 2011 the Angels went 27-30 in the moderate AL West. In 2012, the Angels should be more competitive against Texas, again trounce the Mariners, and crush the Outfielders Athletics. Expect a significant boost in the win total there, as well as against the rest of the league.
On the whole, this is a team with tons of star power and plenty of depth. Anything short of a playoff birth will be a major disappointment, especially with the new playoff format. Come October, I expect the Angels to be 97-65 preparing to use Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and CJ Wilson to make it to the Fall Classic. ~ Hudson Belinsky (www.halosdaily.com)
The Texas Rangers have declined to comment on this silly prediction series. In all seriousness, I just couldn’t find a blogger that covers the team willing to write it and I know nothing of interest about the Rangers other than Josh Hamilton. Essentially my preview would be “blah blah blah Josh Hamilton. Blah Blah Blah, relapse. Blah blah blah, World Series.