Oakland needs to make some upgrades to duplicate their 94-68
Editor’s Note: This is the third column in a Baseball News Source division-by-division series that will address what teams might do this off-season. Here is a look at the American League West.
After claiming back to-back American League West titles and American League pennants, the Texas Rangers appeared poised to capture another AL West crown when they owned a five-game lead over the Oakland A’s with nine games remaining. Then the young and hungry A’s, which defied baseball logic by even staying in the race, embarked on a surge that saw them sweep the Rangers in a season-ending series and win the division on the last day of the season.
Though the A’s were one of the most exciting stories in baseball this year, they will seemingly need to make some upgrades to duplicate their 94-68 record and match Texas by winning back-to-back AL West titles. The Rangers, which will likely lose Josh Hamilton to free agency and perhaps even trade deadline acquisition Ryan Dempster, have some key decisions to make, as do the disappointing Los Angeles Angels, a team expected by many baseball pundits to win the AL pennent in 2012.
As for the Seattle Mariners, club officials insist the team will retain uber ace Felix Hernandez and even potentially offer him a contract extension. The Mariners have three of the most highly regarded starting pitching prospects in the majors (Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton) to build around Hernandez, and one could be used as a trade chip to give the lineup a desperately needed boost.
Don’t forget the Houston Astros, which will move from the National League Central to the AL West in 2013. Though they lost 107 games this year, the Astros have a brilliant general manager in Jeff Luhnow who made several trades in his first season to bolster the farm system. This is a team that will be exciting to watch in three years.
Here is a look at what AL West teams might do this off-season:
General manager Billy Beane had his most dramatic year since the “Moneyball” inspired season of 2002. After the A’s fell to the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS, he indicated that he plans to bring back free agents Jonny Gomes (outfielder) and Brandon McCarthy (right-handed starter), pick up closer Grant Balfour‘s team option and make additions.
The A’s have a limited payroll, but they are rich with starting pitching. If McCarthy is retained, the A’s could have a rotation that also features Dallas Braden (who missed the 2012 campaign), Brett Anderson and 2012 rookies A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker. Dan Straily is another talented rotation candidate.
After losing the AL West on the last day of the regular season and then dropping the wild card game to Baltimore, the Rangers could face a season of transition in 2013, especially if the A’s upgrade their lineup and the Angels reach their expectations.
It is doubtful that Texas will give Hamilton the kind of contract he reportedly wants in terms of money and years. Mike Napoli – a power-hitting catcher, first baseman and DH – is another potential free agent who will get extensive interest from other clubs. Dempster will also draw inquiries from teams in need of starting pitching.
The Rangers could move shortstop Elvis Andrus (who is under team control through 2014 at $4.8 million next year and $6.475 million in 2014) to land an impact outfielder (Arizona’s Justin Upton?) and open a spot for young phenom Jurickson Profar.
Scott Feldman’s $9.25 million team option is not likely to be picked up, so the Rangers could look for rotation depth behind Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland, especially if they do not bring back Dempster. Neftali Feliz, who made seven starts but missed most of the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, could fill a spot. The Rangers retained Colby Lewis for another year, which could give them the flexibility to trade a pitcher like Holland for a bat.
When the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson last off-season, many Angels fans and baseball pundits pictured a Disney-style World Series parade in 2012. Then, after the club recovered from an atrocious start and acquired Zack Greinke from Milwaukee before the trade deadline, that talk was resurrected. The Angels did contend for a wild card spot late into the season, but the year ended without a playoff berth.
It appears that manager Mike Scioscia will be retained. The team would reportedly like to bring back Greinke, who can become a free agent. Torii Hunter is another potential free agent, and the Angels must determine whether they will pick up Dan Haren‘s $15.5 million team option or choose the $3.5 million buyout.
Since they appear set on re-signing Greinke to accompany Jered Weaver and Wilson, the Angels will probably let Haren depart. Ervin Santana‘s $13 million option will likely be declined in favor of his $1 million buyout.
Los Angeles has slugger Mark Trumbo and the soon-to-be AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout with Pujols in the lineup, but it could use upgrades at third base and shortstop, and there will be a hole in right field if Hunter is not re-signed.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik is blessed with having team control of the uber ace simply known as King Felix, and the club insists it is not going to trade him and that he wants to remain in Seattle for the long term. Hultzen, Walker and Paxton are three highly regarded starting pitching prospects who could join Hernandez and form an impressive rotation.
The Mariners also have left-hander Jason Vargas, Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma and young right-hander Blake Beaven, so there is enough starting pitching depth for one or two arms to be traded to upgrade the lackluster lineup.
Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero sowed they have productive bats, but the Mariners need improvements at most offensive positions. Like Oakland, pitching is a commodity Seattle has that can yield a bat in return.
Sure, laugh at the 55-107 Astros now. Perhaps you will even have a chuckle at their expense in 2013 when they make their AL West debut. Yet this is a franchise on the rise because of the multitude of moves Luhnow made in 2012.
Recognizing that the farm system needed depth,he traded a slew of veterans to acquire prospects like Matt Dominguez, Rob Rasmussen
In early July, Carlos Lee was sent to Miami for third baseman Matt Dominguez; pitchers Rob Rasmussen, Asher Wojciechowski and Joseph Musgrove; and outfielders Robbie Grossman, Marc Krauss and Bobby Borchering. These promising names join top prospects like outfielder/first baseman Jonathan Singleton, triple-digit stolen base threat Delino DeShields Jr., outfielder George Springer and shortstop Jonathan Villar as future Astros. Second baseman Jose Altuve and corner infielder Brett Wallace are already thriving in Houston. Dominguez also played well when he was called up.
The Astros could lose 100 games in 2013, mostly because of a lack of starting pitching, but they will be a team to closely monitor as the next few years pass.