Every spring, it is always fun to make pointless and meaningless predictions on the outcome of the upcoming baseball season. Regardless of the total lack of importance in the grand scheme of things, it always fun to see how things turned. Bragging is order for those predictions that turn out correct and the mistakes are quickly ignored and forgotten. This is the fifth of a series of six divisional predictions. Click here for a look at the NL East, here for the NL Central, here for the NL West, and here for the AL East. Let’s have some!
Like so many of these divisions, there are a lot pf possibilities. One can see a number of teams finishing in a variety of combinations, at least the top four teams. There is one team that will not finish anywhere but the bottom. What makes this particular division difficult is that Texas and Los Angeles clearly have the most talent rosters but they are not necessarily better than they were a year ago, and Oakland and Seattle are better, at least on paper, than they were in 2012, but still just short of the two big boys on talent. Can Oakland repeat their surprising season from a year ago? We shall see.
5) Houston: This was the easiest prediction of all 30 teams. The newest American League team will be thrust into one of the deepest divisions in baseball and have no chance of competing. The offense has no fearsome components. Jose Altuve is probably the most talented of the bunch and Chris Carter and Carlos Pena could provide some much needed punch to the line up but don’t look for a lot of contact from these two. Looking at the likes of Brett Wallace, Rick Ankiel, Justin Maxwell, Matt Dominguez, and Ronny Cedeno, and Fernando Martinez, one wonders from where the production will come. The pitching is a little better. Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell are legitimate big league pitchers, although they are better suited to the third or fourth slots in the rotation instead of the top. Brad Peacock has some upside, and veteran retreads Eric Bedard and Phillip Humber offer experience and little more. In the pen, Jose Veras has some talent but it is hard to tell how many save opportunities he will have. Welcome to the American League, Houston.
4) Seattle Mariners: It is a little hard to know what Seattle will do in 2013. Their strength has always been their pitching, and it still is, but it will be mitigated a bit with the fences being moved in for the upcoming season. Felix Hernandez probably won’t be affected and, most likely, neither will ground ball machine Hisahsi Iwakuma, but Joe Saunders, Erasmo Ramirez, and Blake Beavan may not fare so well. The Mariners do have a host of young arms developing in the minors, so Seattle may not be far away from having quite the rotation. The pen centers around 2012 surprise Tom Wilhelmsen as closer and a number of no name guys to set him up. These unknowns were effective last season. Can they repeat? On offense, the Mariners are still waiting for former top prospects Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley to reach their potential. Other young players like Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders show flashes and seem close to becoming steady producers. Bringing former Mariner Mike Morse back into the fold and adding Kendrys Morales should certainly boost run production. Veterans Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, and Casper Wells add depth. Seattle will not be the worst team in the division but it is unlikely they can leap over the other teams in the AL West.
3) Oakland A’s: Much like their playoff counterparts in the AL East, the Baltimore Orioles, it is difficult seeing the A’s repeating in 2013. A talented rotation and outfield offer promise but a mish mash of players in the infield lacks the look of stability. Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, and Yoenis Cespedes can spark an offense in various ways but there are too many questions marks with the rest of the line-up. Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima is an unknown commodity. Jed Lowrie has talent but may not have a position (although it looks like he may get the nod at third now). Second base could be manned by Scott Sizemore, or Lowrie, or Jemile Weeks – who knows? Chris Young will serve as DH/4th outfielder and Seth Smith as DH/5th OF. John Jaso and Derek Norris will split the catching duties. The rotation is young and talented. Brett Anderson, if he can ever stay healthy, has ace stuff. Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin may not be far behind in potential. Tom Milone is more of a finesse, control pitcher and offers an excellent change of pace to the rotation. Grant Balfour is coming off knee surgery and trying to claim the closer’s role. If he falls short, or grows too old, too fast, Ryan Cook or Sean Doolittle both were effective in 2012 and one of them could step into the role. Oakland could challenge if their starting pitching continues to produce positive results and move toward reaching their awesome potential.
2) Texas Rangers: Angels or Rangers. Angels or Rangers. That is a tough one. Both teams probably are not quite as good on paper as last season but I think the Rangers have taken more hits. The fact Texas lost Josh Hamilton and he went to the Angels was the deciding factor. The top three starters in the rotation are the same for the Rangers – Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, and Derek Holland are set. Alexi Ogando is going to return to a starting role and the 5th spot is still undetermined. It could be Michael Kirkman, at least until Colby Lewis returns in June. There doesn’t seem to be many quality options here. The bullpen is anchored by the aging, yet still effective, Joe Nathan. He will be set up primarily by Jason Frasor and Robbie Ross. Former Royals closer Joakim Soria should be ready in May, adding depth and talent to the pen. It is on offense where the Rangers were hit hardest this off season. Gone are Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and long time Ranger Michael Young. They will be replaced by Mitch Moreland, David Murphy, Craig Gentry, Leonys Martin, and Lance Berkman. This hodge podge will be hard pressed to match the overall production of the three departed stars but there is talent enough to get close. The Rangers still have Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler, although both are on the downhill side of their careers, and Elvis Andrus, who is still maturing as a hitter. The Rangers are still a very good team but have too many questions at the back end of the rotation and they have to be worried about replacing their former stars adequately. Add in the fact a couple of their remaining stars may be fading, and you have a team in transition. It is tough to win a division when in transition.
1) Los Angeles Angels: In all honesty, there is little difference in the Rangers and the Angels. Los Angeles has as many question marks in their rotation as Texas, may be even more. The biggest difference is that the Angels’ top two starters, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, are probably slightly better than the Ranger’s top two. Tommy Hanson is a very high reward, very high risk option, and in pitching, the risk usually out performs the reward, especially figuring in past health issues. Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton have less upside than Ogando and Kirkman for the Rangers but they are more steady, even, proven performers. The bullpen looks like it might end up being by committee, especially until Ryan Madson is 100%, probably sometime in late April. Ernesto Frieri, Sean Burnett, Scott Downs, and Kevin Jepsen could all sneak some saves in this deep, deep bullpen. On offense, Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols represent an incredible threesome but each comes with a disclaimer. There is little chance Trout can repeat his historically phenomenal 2012, and Josh Hamilton is always a play away from injuring something. Pujols, as great has he has been, is starting show some cracks in his performances. He has suffered from poor starts in each of his last 2 seasons, and his age will start show at some point. The Angels have surrounded these stars with a supporting cast of light hitting but dependable bats. Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo,and Peter Bourjos are decent players but none would scare anyone individually. The big key to tying the offense together is Mark Trumbo. The slugger can provide a serious fourth threat in the order but has struggled mightily this spring in the power department. Trumbo has only produced 3 extra base hits in 64 spring at bats, and none of them were round trippers. He has struck out in 25%of his at bats and only walked thrice. His average is .299 but the lack of power has to be worrisome. Still, the Angels appear to be just slightly better on paper than the Rangers. It would not be surprising to see either of these teams win this division when all is said and done.
Summary: The top three, maybe four teams, of the AL West should compete for post season slots for most of the year. It would not be surprising if at least one of the wild cards doesn’t come from out west. Much like the AL East, the teams who have been the powerhouses seem to be aging or are in transition. The younger teams just haven’t caught up with them yet as far as talent from the top of the rosters to the bottom, although the A’s are closing in. The AL West will be interesting to watch and there should be a lot of very good baseball on the horizon.