The West has all of a sudden become very wild. Texas is still a quality club and made the playoffs in 2012. Oakland came out of nowhere with its young pitching staff, and also made the playoffs. Los Angeles was the pre-season favorite, and a slow start cost them in the end, despite the efforts of budding superstar Mike Trout. Seattle has clearly improved this off-season as well.
The only club that is clearly a poor team heading into the 2013 season is the newly added American League team the Houston Astros. That isn’t unexpected, as newish GM Jeff Lunhow has been gutting the team the past couple of years in an effort to build from within. So far, so good, on that front, but the major league club is going to struggle big time right now. The rest of the division? It stacks up with any in baseball, and is quite possibly the best. How is it going to shake out?
Here is my prediction for the A.L. West.
First Place- Los Angeles Angels
The Angels were fantastic after adding Mike Trout to the lineup last season. The problem was, Oakland and Texas were just a bit more fantastic and the Angels waited too long to bring Trout up apparently. Along with Trout, Mark Trumbo emerged as a significant piece to the offense as well. Gone from last year’s team is Kendry Morales, Torii Hunter, and super utility guy Maicer Izturis. Those aren’t insignificant losses. Hunter provided leadership as well as a strong bat and glove. Morales provided offense, and Izturiz versatility. This off-season the Angels added Josh Hamilton to the already potent offense, giving the Angels a trifecta of Trout, Hamilton and Albert Pujols which is tough to match.
Pitching is a bit more questionable, however, there is some reason for hope on that end as well. Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson are a very strong 1-2 punch and new addition Jason Vargas has been a very solid #3 starter for the past three years. The real wild card is likely to be another trade acquisition in Tommy Hanson. If Hanson can return to form from a couple of years ago, the Angels are going to be in tremendous shape. They round out their rotation with veteran Joe Blanton, and have some depth with Garrett Richards waiting in the wings, as well as Nick Maronde potentially.
Second Place- Seattle Mariners (Wild Card)
This is my surprise pick of the American League. The starting pitching always begins with Felix Hernandez, who is an annual pick to win the A.L. Cy Young award with guys like Justin Verlander, David Price and Jared Weaver. The rest of the rotation isn’t special, but with half of their games in the pitcher friendly Safeco Field, guys like Joe Saunders, Brandon Maurer, and Erasmo Ramirez have solid potential. The bullpen is young, but potentially a shut down type bullpen. Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor have tremendous stuff, as does closer Tom Wilhemsen. Lefties Lucas Luetge and Charlie Furbush not only can go long, but could potentially all but eliminate left handed hitters late in games. It’s a versatile pen.
Offensively, Seattle has certainly been challenged in recent years. However, its not inconceivable that young bats like Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Smoak could see some significant improvements. The real optimism for the offense comes from several pickups Seattle made this off-season. Seattle traded for a couple of bats in Kendry Morales and Michael Morse that should improve the Seattle offense immediately. Seattle also added Raul Ibanez, who knows his way around the Seattle clubhouse and is coming off of a strong 2012.
With significant improvements in the offense, a solid rotation and a potentially dominant bullpen, I am going out on a limb here and calling Seattle this year’s version of the 2012 Baltimore Orioles or Oakland A’s.
Third Place- Texas Rangers
I think Texas is still a quality ball club. In fact, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they won the division. The West could be the closest race in all of baseball. I do however, believe that there are enough question marks on this years version of the Rangers to be concerned. Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish are a solid top of the rotation, and Derek Holland has talent, but hasn’t completely put it together, and I’m beginning to wonder if he will. Alexi Ogando returns to the rotation, so there is a question mark there. The bullpen has veterans Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria, but Soria is coming off of injury as is Neftali Feliz at some point.
The offense is going to have to make up for some losses in Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli. Napoli is replaced by A.J. Pierzynski, while prospect Leonys Martin is likely to get a crack at replacing Hamilton. Veteran Lance Berkman was also added to the mix, but he is coming off injury as well. Prospect Jurickson Profar has received a ton of hype, but veteran Ian Kinsler has expressed reservation about moving, which doesn’t really leave Profar a spot to play with Kinsler and Andrus up the middle.
The loss of Hamilton is huge, and while I think Texas is good right now, and has a real good long term outlook, unless they upgrade the rotation, I don’t see 2013 as being their year.
Fourth Place- Oakland A’s
The A’s had a dream 2012, due in large part to a second half of the season that was just tremendous. The offense was led by Cuban signing Yoennis Cespedes and trade acquisition Josh Reddick. Guys like Seth Smith and Brandon Moss provided timely hits, but the offense is still a clear issue here. The A’s added the enigmatic outfielder Chris Young in the off-season, but he isn’t guaranteed to even start over Coco Crisp. They also recently traded for Jed Lowrie as well, but none of these guys besides Reddick and Cespedes have above average offensive potential.
The rotation is where it’s at for the A’s, but it is young, so there is some question as to whether they can repeat their performance. Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Dan Straily are all second year pitchers. They have a good amount of talent, but with the exception of Parker, they focus more on ability to pitch than get by with stuff. The rotation is anchored by the talented Brett Anderson, but he hasn’t proven he can stay healthy long enough to become the ace the A’s thought he can be.
Fifth Place- Houston Astros
Welcome to the American League West Houston fans, where you really don’t have shot at winning much more than 65 games. As noted in the introduction, the Astros are in the process of a rebuild, and they have sold off almost any veteran piece that had some value on the trade market already. Starting pitcher Bud Norris could very well be next. Help is on the way to the Astros, but more likely in 2015 than now. The starting pitching could have a couple of good arms make an appearance in 2013 in Jared Cosart and Brad Peacock. Ex-first rounder Alex White is going to get a look, while Lucas Harrell and Phillip Humber have a chance to increase their trade value.
The offense is going to bad. I don’t think that is a bold prediction, just reality. Jose Altuve, Brett Wallace, and Justin Maxwell probably have the most potential currently, and some are looking for catcher Jason Castro to break out a bit. Chris Carter, acquired in a deal with Oakland, could provide some pop in the middle of the order. The real intrigue will be later in 2013 when guys like George Springer and Jonathan Singleton could get a look.