NCB MLB Preview–AL West

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I examined the NL West this morning; now let’s take a look at the Junior Circuit and see what’s in store for their counterparts in the AL in 2013.

Los Angeles Angels

Notable offseason additions:  Josh Hamilton, Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Ryan Madson, Sean Burnett

Notable losses:  Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Torii Hunter, Jordan Walden, Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana  (sorry, thought it was 2008 for a moment), Vernon Wells (sorry, thought it was 2003 for a moment)

Outlook:  Just like last year, the Angels landed the biggest free agent bat on the market, signing Josh Hamilton to a 5 year, $125M contract.  He joins Mike Trout, fresh off the greatest rookie season in baseball history, and Albert Pujols, who you may have heard of, and whose “down year” in his Angels debut 90% of players would kill to have.  Hamilton, Trout, and Pujols in the same lineup is terrifying, and I struggle to think of the last equivalent trio.  The rest of the lineup isn’t too shabby either; Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Chris Iannetta all have solid bats for their positions, and Mark Trumbo showed the ability to be an offensive monster last year, at least in the first half (he has requested we not discuss the second half.)  If the Angels don’t lead all of MLB in runs scored this year, they likely won’t be too far off.

The pitching, however, could be a concern.  Jered Weaver’s K rate has been in freefall for a couple years and he outperformed his peripherals last year, but his extreme flyball tendency matches perfectly with the twin outfield vacuums of Trout and Peter Bourjos, and he has to be considered an ace until he shows otherwise.  CJ Wilson also slipped last year, but should continue to be an above-average starter.  Then there’s the new back end of the rotation.  Hanson is still young enough to turn things around, but he’s done nothing but decline every year since debuting as a phenom, and now he’s added health issues to the mix.  Vargas and Blanton are what they are; decent back-end starters, no more and no less, and I’m in danger of falling asleep if I have to write more than one sentence about them.  There’s little depth behind these guys, also, and their farm system is terrible, so an injury to Weaver or Wilson could send their pitching spiraling.  Still though…Hamilton/Pujols/Trout.  That compensates for a lot, and their offense should be able to carry them through any possible pitching woes to a division championship.

Texas Rangers

Notable offseason additions:  AJ Pierzynski, Lance Berkman.  …Wait, seriously, that’s it?  Weren’t they connected to nearly every single notable free agent this offseason?  How did they whiff that badly?

Notable losses:  Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, the corpse of Michael Young

Outlook:  It has to be considered a very disappointing offseason for the Rangers, but the team was strong enough that they should still be strong contenders.  There is still the makings of a very good offense here.  Hamilton’s gone, but Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and Elvis Andrus are not.  Berkman proved he still has something left in the tank in St. Louis, and DHing should help keep his knees from crumbling into dust.

The rotation has suffered some big blows, with Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz recovering from major surgery and top prospect Martin Perez from a broken arm, but it was deep enough that it still looks very solid, with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando all solid to great.  I will admit I had no idea what a Nick Tepesch was before I started writing this, but even if he’s a disaster he just needs to hold down the 5 spot until Lewis or Perez is ready to return.

The Rangers also have an ace up their sleeve with their stellar farm system.  Impact prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt provide a safety net should their lineup struggle or get hurt, or perhaps more likely, be used as trade bait at the deadline to land a Matt Garza or Josh Willingham or even a blockbuster for Giancarlo Stanton, as long as I’m fantasy GMing.  The Rangers are very well equipped to adapt as the season unfolds.

Oakland Athletics

Notable offseason additions:  Jed Lowrie, Chris Young, John Jaso

Notable losses:  Brandon McCarthy, Jonny Gomes, Chris Carter

Outlook:  The A’s are possibly the most difficult team in all of MLB to project for 2013.  They shattered relatively low expectations last year to win 94 games and the division.  This came largely on the backs of impressive contributions from not 1, not 2, but 5 rookie starters:  Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, AJ Griffin, Travis Blackley, and Dan Straily.  The A’s have proven to be perhaps baseball’s top team at developing starting pitching talent, but it’s still hard to say how much of this success can be repeated.  They’re joined by Brett Anderson, who is another question mark:  he has ace potential, but his arm may have fallen off by the time you read this.

On the offensive side, the A’s lose two players who they coaxed monster half-seasons out of in Gomes and Carter, but in typical Oakland fashion, they added the 3 bats above who are all underrated.  They’re joined by Yoenis Cespedes, who has superstar potential and whose awesome rookie year was understandably overshadowed by Mike Trout’s, and Josh Reddick, one of the biggest surprises in baseball last year.

Look, I really don’t know what to do with these guys.  The A’s are matched only by the Rays in their ability to take a mediocre-looking team on paper and squeeze every last drop of talent out of it.  We should all have learned by now not to doubt Billy Beane and Co., but there are just so many questions here.  Depending on how much Moneyball Magic is with the team this year, they could win 75 games, or they could win 95.  I’m going to split the difference and give them 85; a good team, but not quite a playoff one.

Seattle Mariners

Notable offseason additions:  Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales, Joe Saunders

Notable losses:  Jason Vargas, John Jaso, Kevin Millwood

Outlook:  The Mariners had the worst offense in the AL by far last year, so there’s nowhere to go up.  How far up, though, I’m not so sure.  Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders both took promising steps forward last year, but Seattle has assembled something of an island of misfit toys in hopes of finding other bats.  Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay are fragile and washed up, Justin Smoak has yet to show he’s anything but a massive bust and isn’t going to get many more chances to do so, and even the bigger acquisitions of Morse and Morales come with pretty big question marks of their own.  It’s much too early to write off Dustin Ackley, but he responded to high expectations with a massive step backwards last year.  Ditto Jesus Montero, who also is going to be forced back into everyday catcher due to the logjam at DH, and he cannot play catcher, a fact seemingly known to everyone but the Mariners.  There is potential here for the offense to be merely bad instead of godawful, but Safeco laughs at offensive potential.

Pitching-wise, King Felix still has his crown, and Hisashi Iwakuma was a pleasant surprise last year.  Beyond that, it’s a bunch of mediocre-to-bad names like Joe Saunders and Blake Beavan who will put up mediocre numbers even with Safeco and Seattle’s good defense helping them out.  The M’s have an elite farm system, and Mike Zunino, Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and Danny Hultzen are all possible high-impact players eventually.  For 2013, though, this is still a pretty bad team.  However, they are at least guaranteed not to finish last in the division, thanks to their new neighbors…

Houston Astros

Notable offseason additions:  Erik Bedard, Carlos Pena, Chris Carter, Alex White, Brad Peacock, Philip Humber, Jose Veras

Notable losses:  Jed Lowrie, Wilton Lopez, Carlos Lee

Outlook:  Welcome to the AL, guys.  It’s a little pointless to preview the 2013 Astros, because they aren’t playing for 2013.  They are the worst team in baseball, and everyone knows it, including them.  Former GM Ed Wade had managed to run both the MLB club and the farm system into the ground by 2011, which is almost impressive in its own backwards way.  Enter Jeff Luhnow, the secret weapon of the Cardinals’ front office and one of the primary architects behind their current #1 farm system.  Taking over after the 2011 season, Luhnow has embraced rebuilding with fervor, selling off what little assets remained.  The result, a year later, is the youngest team in baseball, the cheapest team in baseball (yes, cheaper than the Marlins), and a farm system that is already  back in the top 10, with another #1 overall pick coming this draft (and probably the next one as well.)  This is how you rebuild a team, people.  Commit to it.  There’s no difference in October between winning 50 games and winning 80, a lesson some other GMs would benefit from learning.  *cough*Dayton Moore*cough*

Oh right, I suppose I should say at least a little about 2013, though.  Yeah, the Astros are going to suck, and suck hard.  There’s a few bright spots among the suck, though.  Jose Altuve was very impressive for a 22 year old last year, and Chris Carter has had “poor man’s Ryan Howard” written all over him for years; don’t be surprised if he approaches 30 HR.  In the rotation, Brad Peacock and Alex White are both former top prospects whose shine has started to wear off, but still have time to prove themselves.  There’s a good chance that anybody who stands out early for the Astros though will be used as trade bait, as this rebuild is still developing.  This team is a near-lock for a third consecutive 100-loss season.  But look out in 2016.

Predicted Final Standings

Angels 91 71
Rangers (WC) 87 75
Athletics 85 77
Mariners 70 92
Astros 59 103
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