AL West: A’s Try to Patch Up Pitchers
Each day this week, the VALLEY NEWS will run season previews of every major league team, division by division. Today, we continue with the American League West, with teams listed in order of finish last year:
2013: 96-66, 1st place, lost in division series.
Manager: Bob Melvin (fourth season).
He’s Here: LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Jim Johnson, RHP Luke Gregerson, LHP Eric O’Flaherty, INF Nick Punto, OF Craig Gentry, LHP Drew Pomeranz, OF Sam Fuld.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Grant Balfour, LHP Brett Anderson, LHP Jerry Blevins, OF Chris Young, OF Seth Smith, C Kurt Suzuki, RHP Pat Neshek, OF Michael Choice.
Hot Spots: Starting rotation. What looked to be a strength heading into spring training was dealt serious blows in Arizona. Projected opening day starter Jarrod Parker was lost to a season-ending elbow injury and RH A.J. Griffin will also miss the start of the season with a strained right arm. LH Scott Kazmir has also dealt with a sore left arm, leaving the rotation with many question marks heading into the season. LH Tommy Milone, who looked to be the odd man out at the start of spring, will be back in the rotation and RH Jesse Chavez should come out of the bullpen to fill Griffin’s spot for the first month or so. The A’s will count on RH Sonny Gray to deliver more performances like his dazzling nine-strikeout, no-run performance in Game 2 of the ALDS to make up for the absences.
Outlook: The low-budget A’s can no longer be considered a surprise after beating out their big-spending AL West rivals for the division title the past two seasons. Oakland came into spring training looking like the favorite again in the division but the injuries to the rotation cast a cloud over that. Luckily for the A’s, GM Billy Beane has acquired plenty of depth, especially in the bullpen led by new closer RH Jim Johnson and setup man RH Luke Gregerson. While Oakland lacks a big-name star in the lineup, the A’s still finished fourth in the majors in runs in part because of Melvin’s expert use of the platoon to gain an edge. 3B Josh Donaldson and 1B/DH Brandon Moss thrived last season and the A’s are hoping to get more a consistent performance from LF Yoenis Cespedes and a bounce-back year from RF Josh Reddick after a wrist injury slowed him for much of 2013.
2013: 91-72, second place.
Manager: Ron Washington (eighth season).
He’s Here: 1B Prince Fielder, LF Shin-Soo Choo, C. J.P. Arencibia, OF Michael Choice, INF Josh Wilson, C Chris Snyder.
He’s Outta Here: Closer Joe Nathan, 2B Ian Kinsler, RF Nelson Cruz, C A.J. Pierzynski, RHP Matt Garza, 1B/DH Lance Berkman, CF Craig Gentry, OF David Murphy, INF Jeff Baker.
Hot Spots: Along with getting Fielder from Detroit, the trade of Kinsler cleared the way for highly touted prospect Jurickson Profar to be the everyday second baseman. But Profar is out as long as three months with a muscle tear in his right shoulder. Journeyman Wilson or Adam Rosales could have more than a utility role, or maybe one of the players sent earlier to minor league camp — Brent Lillibridge or Kensuke Tanaka, a four-time All-Star in the Japan League. RH Joakim Soria, a two-time All-Star for Kansas City before ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow in 2012, won the closer role. He replaces Joe Nathan, the 39-year-old All-Star who left in free agency for a multiyear deal with Detroit.
Outlook: After missing the playoffs for the first time in four years, scoring their fewest runs (730) in a full season since 1992 and being shut out 11 times, the Rangers’ two most significant offseason moves were to improve the offense. They sent 2B Ian Kinsler to Detroit for slugger Prince Fielder in a rare trade of All-Star players, then signed free agent Shin-Soo Choo to lead off. Only Mike Trout (564) and two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera (562) reached base more than Choo (556) and Fielder (542) the past two seasons. Fielder, who batted ahead of MVP winners the last three seasons, now hits between Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre. Rangers ace Yu Darvish should especially appreciate the offensive boost. He was the first MLB pitcher since 1989 to suffer four 1-0 losses in the same season, but still won 13 games and finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting. Texas lost two expected starters for up to three months with injuries to Profar and C Geovany Soto (right knee).
Los Angeles Angels
2013: 78-84, third place.
Manager: Mike Scioscia (15th season).
He’s Here: 3B David Freese, LHP Tyler Skaggs, LHP Hector Santiago, DH Raul Ibanez, RHP Joe Smith, INF John McDonald.
He’s Outta Here: OF Peter Bourjos, DH Mark Trumbo, LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Jerome Williams, RHP Tommy Hanson.
Hot Spots: The Angels are relying heavily on their high-priced bats returning to form for their return to the playoffs. 1B Albert Pujols appears healthy and ready to play most games at first base after injuries ended last season in July, while LF Josh Hamilton is hoping to regain his MVP swing by adding muscle after an ugly debut season in Orange County. If Pujols and Hamilton have still got it, the Angels should be in good shape. If they don’t, the Angels’ payroll and lineup will be weighed down for the next several years.
Outlook: After four straight years out of the postseason for the big-budget Angels, 2014 feels like a make-or-break year for manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto. While they wait to see whether owner Arte Moreno’s expensive hitters finally come through, Dipoto filled the club’s glaring holes in the offseason with Freese, Santiago and Skaggs. RH Jered Weaver and LH C.J. Wilson are back to headline a rotation that was the Angels’ true downfall last season. Los Angeles still has arguably the majors’ best player in CF Mike Trout, and the club is talking about a long-term contract extension with the gifted outfielder. But the two-time MVP runner-up needs support from a veteran lineup. Pujols and Hamilton realize they’ve got to get going quickly to give the Angels a chance to get back to October.
Manager: Lloyd McClendon (first season).
2013: 71-91, fourth place.
He’s Here: 2B Robinson Cano, OF Corey Hart, 1B-DH Logan Morrison, C John Buck, INF-OF Willie Bloomquist, RHP Fernando Rodney.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Eric Wedge, OF Raul Ibanez, DH Kendrys Morales, SS Brendan Ryan.
Hot Spots: Injuries have left the rotation as Seattle’s biggest concern heading into the regular season. Neither of the setbacks to RH Taijuan Walker (shoulder) and RH Taijuan Iwakuma (finger) should be long-term issues with the likelihood that both are back within the first month of the season. But the rotation was already unsettled even before the injuries, leaving the likes of Blake Beavan and RH Erasmo Ramirez as needed contributors the first few weeks while Seattle tries to hang on through a brutal first 16 games all against division contenders Texas, Oakland and the Angels.
Outlook: The arrival of Cano gives Seattle an offensive equivalent to what they have in the pitching staff with RH Felix Hernandez: a superstar that’s among the best in baseball. Whether Cano can get Seattle into contention with the top three in the loaded AL West, well, that’s another story. Seattle could use another right-handed bat in its lineup, but will likely go into the season lefty heavy. If Cano is going to have the same impact he did in New York, he needs 3B Kyle Seager and RF Corey Hart to be good enough to provide protection. Hernandez is the only certainty in the rotation as the season begins, with Iwakuma and Walker slowed by injuries. The Mariners are again a team filled with just as many questions as answers and in division stacked with contenders that could mean a 13th straight season without a postseason berth.
2013: 51-111, fifth place.
Manager: Bo Porter (second season).
He’s Here: RH Scott Feldman, CF Dexter Fowler, RH Jesse Crain, RH Jerome Williams, RH Chad Qualls, RH Matt Albers, 1B Jesus Guzman and LH Raul Valdes.
He’s Outta Here: LH Erik Bedard, CF Brandon Barnes, RH Jordan Lyles, RH Philip Humber, OF Trevor Crowe.
Hot Spots: The Astros brought in Guzman for an upgrade at first base, but a big spring by 1B Marc Krauss has made him the front-runner to start the season there. Whoever wins the job out of spring might not have it for long. If top first base prospect Jon Singleton gets off to a good start in Triple-A, he could be elevated to the majors soon. Houston had a league-high 29 blown saves last season, but thinks that offseason upgrades to the bullpen should help turn things around. The group received a blow with news that All-Star reliever RH Jesse Crain will likely start the season on the disabled list after biceps surgery.
Outlook: The Astros fielded a team with an MLB-low payroll less than $30 million last season and finished with a franchise-record 111 losses for their third straight 100-loss season. Now that they’ve restocked their once-barren farm system, they’ve started spending money to add pieces to pair with their up-and-coming players and should be better in 2014. Their most notable offseason addition was Feldman, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract to lead the rotation. They also boosted their dreadful bullpen by signing Crain, along with Qualls and Albers. They upgraded the lineup by trading for center fielder and leadoff hitter Fowler, and this could be the year that intriguing prospect George Springer arrives in Houston. The 24-year-old outfielder had 37 homers, 108 RBIs and 45 stolen bases combined in Double-A and Triple-A last season, but will start the season in Triple-A.