Prospect Insider: Who’s In, Who’s Out | AL West
It was an extraordinarily busy winter for the five clubs in the American League West. Each organization made significant moves, with all but the Los Angeles Angels spending big dollars to improve their respective rosters. Two of the biggest free agents — Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo — joined the AL West and even the Houston Astros made noise spending some money and acquiring an impact centerfielder.
Let’s take a look at what each club gained and lost over the winter, starting with the defending division champions.
|Oakland Athletics | 2013: 96-66
It was deja vu for the Athletics who were eliminated in the American League Division Series in five games by the Detroit Tigers for the second straight year. The A’s were lead by a deep pitching staff that combined for a 3.56 ERA, seventh best in baseball, and averaged 4.73 runs per game as one of the league’s top offences. Billy Beane has remained one of the smartest GM’s in the game and only time will tell if his latest efforts will pay off in winning a championship.
Jim Johnson, RP — 0.9 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Baltimore Orioles in exchange for 2B Jemile Weeks and a player to be named.
Luke Gregerson, RP — 1.0 fWAR
Eric O’Flaherty, RP — -0.1 fWAR | Signed two-year, $7 million deal
Scott Kazmir, SP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $22 million deal
Craig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Texas Rangers in exchange for OF Michael Choice
Sam Fuld, OF — -0.3 fWAR | Signed minor league contract
Seth Smith, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to San Diego Padres in exchange for RHP Luke Gregerson
Grant Balfour, RP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay Rays
Jerry Blevins, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Washington Nationals in exchanged for OF Billy Burns
Pat Neshek, RP — -0.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with St. Louis Cardinals
Bartolo Colon, SP — 3.9 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York Mets
Brett Anderson, SP/RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies in exchange for LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Chris Jensen and $2 million cash
Chris Young, OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York Mets
Kurt Suzuki, C — 0.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Minnesota Twins
In one of the offseason’s surprise moves, the Athletics acquired a reliever, Johnson, who will be paid $10 million this year; quite uncharacteristic for any small market team. The additions of Gregerson and O’Flaherty, who will return mid-season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, figure to give Oakland one of the best bullpens in the majors with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle still aboard.
The departure of Colon will hurt the rotation, but if Kazmir can build off his comeback year with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, they’ll have effectively replaced Colon with a pitcher still on the right side of 30. Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, and AJ Griffin return to the rotation while youngster Sonny Gray is expected to spend his first full season in the majors as well.
Oakland’s lineup remained intact for the most part over the winter with Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick leading the charge again in 2014. Coco Crisp was re-signed and will also play an important role in the A’s lineup once again. Gentry, who is coming off of two solid seasons with the Rangers, has quickly become one of the better defensive outfielders in the game today and could play an important role this year. After sporting just less than a $62 million dollar payroll in 2013, the Athletics 2014 payroll is expected to land around $76 million or so with Cespedes and Johnson being the only players earning $10 million or more. Oakland projects to be a top team in the American League in 2014 and shouldn’t have a problem finding themselves in either the pennant race or at the very least, the Wild Card race when September roles around.
|Texas Rangers | 2013: 91-72
After consecutive losses in the World Series, the Rangers failed to reach the playoffs this past year for the first time since 2009. Texas featured a top ten offence again in 2013, averaging 4.48 runs per game and hitting 176 home runs, but you could say that once again, they were done in by their pitching last year; even though the Rangers managed the third lowest bullpen ERA in the bigs. They’ll have their work cut out for them if they plan on going the distance in 2014.
Prince Fielder, 1B — 2.2 fWAR
Shin-Soo Choo, OF — 5.2 fWAR | Signed seven-year, $130 million deal
JP Arencibia, C — -0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.8 million deal
Tommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2 million deal
Ian Kinsler, 2B — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Detroit Tigers in exchange for 1B Prince Fielder and $30 million cash
Nelson Cruz, OF — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Baltimore Orioles
AJ Pierzynski, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Boston Red Sox
Matt Garza, SP — 2.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Milwaukee Brewers
Joe Nathan, RP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Detroit Tigers
Lance Berkman, DH — -0.2 fWAR | Retired
Craig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR
It was a busy offseason for the Rangers who shipped their All-Star second baseman to the Detroit Tigers for a much needed power hitting compliment in the lineup aside Adrian Beltre. They also saw 130 million reasons to make Choo their leadoff hitter, another hole that needed filling, for the next several years to come.
The veteran Pierzynski will be replaced at catcher with Arencibia and the returning Geovany Soto, who was re-signed back in November. Perhaps one of the biggest determinants in trading Kinsler was the fact it could open up an everyday spot for Jurickson Profar in the lineup, and he will line up at second base with Elvis Andrus. A dash of good health and consistent production should have the Ranger offence near the top of the league again in 2014.
Nathan’s departure will hurt the bullpen to some extent, but Neftali Felix and Joakim Soria are still around to anchor the relief corps. The Rangers did almost nothing to add to a rotation that is susceptible behind ace Yu Darvish, and took a major hit now that Derek Holland expected to miss significant time with a knee injury.
Both Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando are capable mid-rotation arms, but what can reasonably be expected from their acquisitions of Hanson, who struggled with injuries, and Joe Saunders, who struggled to be not completely awful, in 2013? If the rotation and bullpen are able to hold up and Darvish can put together another Cy Young calibre campaign, the high powered offence could be enough to land the Rangers back into the playoffs this year.
|Los Angeles Angels | 2-13: 78-84
Times have been tough in Disneyland as it’s now been four years without a playoff appearance for the Angels and believe it or not, Mike Trout isn’t quite good enough to single-handedly guide a team to a Wild Card berth. Despite injuries to key parts of their lineup, LA still managed to put up 4.52 runs per game which was good for seventh in all of baseball. It was the pitching staff that did them in however, as they combined for a 4.24 ERA, placing them near the bottom of the league. With the strength of the Athletics and Rangers, the Halos may have a spend another October watching from the sidelines.
David Freese, 3B — 0.3 fWAR
Raul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.75 million deal
Tyler Skaggs, SP — 0.1 fWAR
Hector Santiago, SP — 1.5 fWAR
Joe Smith, RP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed three-year, $15.75 million deal
Fernando Salas, RP — 0.0 fWAR
Jason Vargas, SP — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Kansas City Royals
Peter Bourjos, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to St. Louis Cardinals with OF Randal Grichuk in exchange for 3B David Freese and RHP Fernando Salas
Jerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Houston Astros
Tommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWAR
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Arizona Diamondbacks with player to be named later in three-team trade in exchange for LHP Hector Santiago (White Sox) and LHP Tyler Skaggs (Diamondbacks)
It was a different offseason for the Angels than we’ve seen in recent years: they didn’t commit big dollars to a marquee free agent. Instead, they made a couple of trades that could work out nicely for the club. The signing of Smith will help shore up the bullpen alongside Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen, while Salas figures to contribute to the pen in 2014 as well.
Although health is relatively important to any club with playoff aspirations, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that once again, the Angels’ success this year will depend on whether or not Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton can stay healthy and produce like their former selves. Add Trout to those two, and the Angels have as good a 2-3-4 punch as any team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders.
Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will once again form a very solid but perhaps unspectacular duo at the top of the rotation. Never say never with the Angels, especially since they make an interesting dark horse to win the AL West, but they’re going to have some very stiff competition for a Wild Card spot this year.
|Seattle Mariners | 2013: 71-91
It’s been a long 13 years since Seattle last saw playoff action and they have managed just one season above .500 since 2008. Despite a Cy Young calibre season from Hisashi Iwakuma in 2013, Mariner pitching produced a combined 4.32 ERA, the fifth-highest in all of baseball, and their bullpen ERA of 4.58 was the second worst. Even with one of the top home run totals in the league, the offence floundered for 3.85 runs per game due to a poor .237 team batting average and a lack of on-base production. The M’s spent big on an All-Star this winter, but it looks like they’re still a couple pieces away from seriously returning to contention.
Robinson Cano, 2B — 6.0 fWAR | Signed 10-year, $240 million deal
John Buck, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1 million deal
Willie Bloomquist, IF/OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $5.8 million deal
Fernando Rodney, RP — 1.3 fWAR | Signed two-year, $14 million deal
Scott Baker, SP — 2.8 fWAR (2011) | Signed minor league deal
Logan Morrison, 1B/OF — -0.6 fWAR
Corey Hart, OF/DH — 2.2 fWAR (2012) | Signed one-year, $5 million deal plus up to $8 million in incentive bonuses
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH — 1.2 fWAR | Remains a free agent
Raul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWAR
Henry Blanco, C — -0.5 fWAR | Signed minor league deal with Arizona Diamondbacks
Oliver Perez, RP — 0.8 fWAR | Signed two-year, $4.25 million deal with Arizona Diamondbacks
Carter Capps, RP — -0.3 fWAR | Traded to Miami Marlins in exchange for 1B Logan Morrison
Joe Saunders, SP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year deal with Texas Rangers
The Mariners opened their pocketbooks and landed Cano, the best available free agent, at a cost just shy of a quarter of a billion dollars. It was a peculiar move given the fact Seattle hasn’t been all that good in recent memory, but perhaps the tide could be turning sooner than later.
Felix Hernandez will once again lead a rotation riddled with slightly more uncertainty than expected now that Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker are expected to miss the start of the season with injuries. Baker, who signed an incentive-laden minor league deal this winter, suddenly becomes a very important name in camp with respect to the rotation. The only problem with that is it’s not 2009 anymore when Baker was a 3.9 fWAR pitcher and he’s thrown just 15 major league innings across the past two years. If he’s healthy, and early reports from camp indicate he is, he could end up being a vital part of the pitching staff this year and hopefully can produce like one. It’s also looking like James Paxton has all but locked up a rotation spot as well.
Seattle’s bullpen got a much needed boost with Rodney signed on to be the club’s new closer, likely shifting Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen into set-up or seventh and eighth inning roles. After plenty of trade rumors circulating around the likes of David Price and Matt Kemp this winter, the M’s didn’t make the big splash nearly everyone was anticipating after Cano was signed. It was reported that club had reached the top of their budget, but could make an exception for another player if it was the right situation.
If Hart is able to recover from the two knee surgeries that kept him out for the entire 2012 season he could end up being the much needed right-handed slugger in the lineup behind the All-Star second baseman. There’s also a possibility that Morales could be re-signed as well, but the M’s may prefer to hope he signs before the draft so they can receive a compensatory draft pick, which would then be the pick sacrificed for signing Cano. All in all, Seattle projects to fall short of the playoffs once again, but if a couple of prospects can breakout this year and another piece is added, they just might be in the hunt.
|Houston Astros | 2013: 51-111
When the Astros joined the American League West prior to the 2013 season, Mariners fans began to rejoice since they could nearly rest assured that their team was likely only doomed for second last in the division. Houston hasn’t sniffed playoff baseball since winning the World Series in 2005 and have put together a streak of three straight 100+ loss seasons while they’ve been in a total rebuild. Their pitching staff was the worst in baseball with a 4.79 ERA while their offence managed a meager 3.77 runs per game in 2013. It’ll be another season of development for the Astros in 2014, but the future is starting to get a little brighter for the club.
Scott Feldman, SP — 2.1 fWAR | Signed three-year, $30 million deal
Jerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.1 million deal
Dexter Fowler, OF — 2.2 fWAR
Jesse Crain, RP — 1.9 fWAR | Signed one-year, $3.25 million deal
Chad Qualls, RP — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $6 million deal, plus 2016 option
Matt Albers, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.45 million deal, plus 2015 option
Jesus Guzman, 1B/OF — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.3 million deal
Erik Bedard, SP/RP — 1.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay Rays
Brandon Barnes, OF — 1.0 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies with RHP Jordan Lyles in exchange for CF Dexter Fowler and player to be named later
Jordan Lyles, SP — 0.4 fWAR
Years of futility in any sport will eventually garner a club enough high draft picks that, if developed effectively, can help make the team relevant again. The Astros have developed Jose Altuve and Jason Castro into a pair of solid lineup cornerstones recently, and there’s much more talent yet to come in the pipeline. Acquiring Fowler for a couple of replaceable players was a great move for the Astros, who also opened the bank account to sign Feldman to a three-year deal and provide a little more certainty to their young rotation. Perhaps the most important moves of this past winter were the additions of Crain, Qualls, and Albers to what was the worst bullpen in the league in 2013.
Despite the improvements to the major league roster, Houston still projects as cellar dwellers in the AL West once again. They will have the first overall selection in the upcoming Rule IV Draft in June which should allow them to add another youngster to a top prospect list that includes the likes of Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and George Springer. It’s reasonable to suggest that eventually the Astros will have obtained enough young talent to be competitive at some point in the next several years, but when that happens is anyone’s guess.
The upcoming season is likely another write-off and 2015 only looks a little better at this point. Perhaps 2016? Whatever the case, Houston has plenty of exciting young players that should be reason for at least some optimism in 2014, and certainly the years to follow.
*All player WAR’s shown are via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
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