Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Angels’

Trout_Pujols

The Oakland A’s have made a good life for themselves living in the shadows. For the second consecutive year, they were beat in the highlights all winter by their division mates, and for the second straight summer, they answered back by winning the AL West. The consummate team effort was once again put on by Bob Melvin’s club, who got an out of the blue MVP-calibur performance from Josh Donaldson, coupled by a few career peaks and a consistent effort from its pitching to pull away from its big dollar division rivals.

2013 Finish

1. Oakland Athletics (96-66)

2. Texas Rangers (91-72)

3. Los Angeles Angels (78-84)

4. Seattle Mariners (71-91)

5. Houston Astros (51-111)

But for how long can that stand? The Rangers were once again relentless in the acquisition game, spinning the biggest trade of the offseason by swapping Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, then handing a top shelf deal to Shin-Soo Choo to attempt to fix an offense that ran flat a year ago. For a change, the Angels didn’t issue a huge contract out, but the Mariners took their place, overhauling their everyday lineup around the shocking headline deal of the winter with Robinson Cano heading to the Pacific northwest. Even the Astros put the brakes to their two-year bottom out effort some, making a few moves to fill in a few of their many holes in a permanent manner.

But in Oakland, Billy Beane was far from stagnant, and produced the most progressive Oakland winter in some time, overhauling his bullpen to add yet another conglomerate weapon to his all-in club. In the end, what does it all mean? Will Oakland continue to be underrated, despite being the one of only two active teams to pull off their division title in consecutive years, or will one of the high rollers finally see some return on what has been some questionable investments thus far?

All-Division Team

1. Shin-Soo Choo—Rangers, Left Field

2. Mike Trout—Angels, Center Field

3. Robinson Cano—Mariners, Second Base

4. Prince Fielder—Rangers, First Base

5. Adrian Beltre—Rangers, Third Base

6. Raul Ibanez—Angels, Designated Hitter

7. Josh Reddick—Athletics, Right Field

8. Jason Castro—Astros, Catcher

9. Elvis Andrus—Rangers, Shortstop

 

Castro came of age in 2013, making his first All-Star appearance and finishing up the year with 18 home runs and a .276 average

Castro came of age in 2013, making his first All-Star appearance and finishing up the year with 18 home runs and a .276 average

Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez—Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish—Rangers

Starting Pitcher: Hisashi Imakuma—Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Jered Weaver—Angels

Right Handed Reliever: Ryan Cook—Athletics

Lefty Handed Reliever: Sean Doolittle—Athletics

Closer: Fernando Rodney—Mariners

 

Lineup

1. Rangers

2. Angels

3. Athletics

4. Mariners

5. Astros

The addition of Fielder gives much needed power to a Texas lineup that was starved of it post-Josh Hamilton last season, while Choo joining Elvis Andrus atop the lineup will put plenty of ducks on the pond for Prince and Adrian Beltre to take advantage of. The Angels potential will always look great, with the names of Albert Pujols and Hamilton in tow, but whether they can approach their former MVP forms continues to be the ultimate question for the Halos. The Mariners mix is obviously much better, but even Robinson Cano himself has said he feels they need to add more to get it over the hump completely.

Fielder brings an elite level run producing presence to Arlington that was badly needed last year (100 RBI in six of the last seven years).

Fielder brings an elite level run producing presence to Arlington that was badly needed last year (100 RBI in six of the last seven years).

Heart of the Lineup

1. Rangers

2. Athletics

3. Mariners

4. Angels

5. Astros

The thing about the A’s middle of the order is that it is coming off a year where Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss all had down years by their standards. If they can find their 2012 levels, along with Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie continuing where they were a year ago, this could be the most frustrating mix in either league for opposing pitchers. Alex Rios stands to hit in one of the most enviable positions in the game—if Fielder and Beltre leave anybody on base for him that is.

Table Setters

1. Rangers

2. Angels

3. Athletics

4. Astros

5. Mariners

The Choo/Andrus duo would have combined for 62 stolen bases and 330 hits a year ago, and such production this year atop the Texas lineup would be huge considering the RBI machines behind them. Anaheim has the game’s best player in Mike Trout doing everything imaginable under the baseball sun out of either the leadoff or second spot in their lineup, and he instantly makes the Angels a threat at every game’s outset. The Astros combo of Dexter Fowler and Jose Altuve is a very interesting duo as well, capable of injecting some life early on for their starved attack as well.

Depth

1. Athletics

2. Angels

3. Mariners

4. Rangers

5. Astros

Everybody on the A’s plays a part in their success, with their bench being critical to the outcome with regularity. Derek Norris, Alberto Callapso and Michael Taylor will all get their share of starting opportunities, while the addition of Nick Punto makes them even more dangerous defensively late in games. Seattle has an exciting young player in Abraham Almonte on their bench, and while he will start in leftfield, the versatile Dustin Ackley is a one-man depth chart, able to contribute in center field, second and first base if needed.

Rotation

1. Athletics

2. Mariners

3. Angels

4. Rangers

5. Astros

There are a lot, and I mean a ton, of “ifs” for each rotation in this division. The A’s lost their top arm in Jarrod Parker for the year to Tommy John surgery, and A.J. Griffin is ailing entering the year as well. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir will have to stay healthy for Oakland to keep its edge as a starting unit. Injuries to Hisashi Imakuma, Derek Holland and Matt Holland have shifted the potential of Seattle and Texas respectively as well, and how well Jered Weaver holds together is vital to the Angels’ success as well.

 

Hernandez is the top half of one of the AL's most successful due from a year ago, finishing in the top 10 in strikeouts (216) and ERA (3.06).

Hernandez is the top half of one of the AL’s most successful due from a year ago, finishing in the top 10 in strikeouts (216) and ERA (3.06).

1-2 Punch

1. Mariners

2. Angels

3. Rangers

4. Athletics

5. Astros

Regardless of what happens, the Mariners have Felix Hernandez, so they have an edge. Felix and Iwakuma were the only set of teammates to finish in the top 10 of the AL Cy Young last year. Yu Darvish affirmed the fact that he is one of the dominant arms in the game a year ago, running up the biggest strikeout season in a decade. He will be tasked with a major responsibility in keeping the Rangers afloat, amid the injuries that have ravaged their staff already. In LA, if both Weaver and C.J. Wilson are both healthy, they give the Angels a pair of potential 17-20 game winners as well.

Bullpen

1. Athletics

2. Mariners

3. Angels

4. Rangers

5. Astros

It may be okay that the Oakland starting staff is dinged up, because they have a SWAT team worth of support in their pen. The additions of two-time AL save champ Jim Johnson (101 saves from since 2012), Luke Gregorson and Eric O’Flathery to a group with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook means that by mid-summer Oakland could be slamming doors by the 6th-7th inning. The addition of Fernando Rodney gives the Mariners a viable closer and absolute for the first time in two years, which is something that the Rangers are hoping Joakim Soria can become once again as well. If no, Alexi Ugando and Neftali Feliz offer solid fallback options.

Defense

1. Athletics

2. Rangers

3. Astros

4. Angels

5. Mariners

The A’s make a habit of doing the small things well, and defense is chief among those. Reddick is on the short list for best defensive outfielder in the game, and Cespedes and Coco Crisp join him in an outfield with miles worth of range. Donaldson, Moss and John Jaso join as plus defenders also. The Astros can man the field well, especially Matt Dominguez, who should enter the Gold Glove picture this year at third base.

Melvin has won 190 games and has received an AL Manager of the Year nod over the past two years, leading Oakland to two division titles in the process.

Melvin has won 190 games and has received an AL Manager of the Year nod over the past two years, leading Oakland to two division titles in the process.

Manager

1. Athletics

2. Angels

3. Rangers

4. Mariners

5. Astros

Bob Melvin deserves a ton of the due for pulling together a group that simply plays better together than any other team in the American League. He empowers his young guys to play on the same level as the veterans that he makes play beyond their full potential (i.e. Jed Lowrie and Donaldson). In Anaheim, Mike Scioscia is the longest tenured manager in the game, and for good reason. Like Ron Washington in Texas, he will deservingly get a chance to pull his club back into the race they are expected to be in.

Finances

1. Angels

2. Rangers

3. Mariners

4. Astros

5. Athletics

The Angels and Rangers have proven they will spend to get the job done, although the results have not returned with the same impact as the names that have signed the deals with them. The Mariners are hoping to not go down the same path with their spending spree that netted Cano, Rodney and Corey Hart. The Astros have funds to spend, but are being cautious in how they go about doing so in their current rebuild process.

Impact Additions

1. Robinson Cano (Mariners via free agency)

2. Prince Fielder (Rangers via trade)

3. Shin Soo-Choo (Rangers via free agency)

4. Jim Johnson (Athletics via trade)

5. David Freese (Angels via trade)

The West was the home of the most aggressive roster overhauls of the year. The Mariners added a new franchise cornerstone in the five-time All-Star Cano, and brought in Hart and Logan Morrison to add some protection as well. The A’s made pitching their priority, while the Rangers went the other route, adding offensive punch. The Angels made perhaps the most intriguing moves, adding high potential young arms in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, as well as picking up a cast-off David Freese to add depth to their top heavy offense.

Leap Forward

1. Sonny Gray—Athletics

2. Jarred Cosart—Astros

3. Tyler Skaggs—Angels

4. Robby Grossman—Astros

5. Mike Zunino—Mariners

Gray did not make his first start until August, but was impressive enough to get the nod for two matchups against Justin Verlander in the ALDS games where he surrendered only three runs in two starts. He’ll be asked to once again carry a heavy load for the suddenly uncertain Oakland rotation. Jarred Cosart was one of the best pitchers in baseball for Houston once he was promoted late last year, with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts, and stands to continue to affirm his spot atop their rotation.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Taijuan Walker—Mariners

2. George Springer—Astros

3. Johnathan Singleton—Astros

4. James Paxton—Mariners

5. Addison Russell—Athletics

The Astros have a bundle of ready to peak talent in their system, and more to come behind this first wave. Springer and Singleton should both be not just everyday contributors, but have established their foothold as the cornerstones of the future of the Houston franchise (until Carlos Correa shows up). Walker has the best arm of any rookie in the AL, and stands to be a major part of the immediate Seattle push for relevancy this year.

PREDICTIONS

1. Oakland Athletics

2. Los Angeles Angels

3. Texas Rangers

4. Seattle Mariners

5. Houston Astros

The underdogs have been over for so long, it is hard to believe they could still be seen as anything less than one of baseball’s best, yet somehow they still are. But let’s straighten this all out: the A’s have the experience, chemistry and are in an understated win now mode as well. With Johnson, Gregerson and Lowrie all pending free agency and a host of other A’s on the verge of arbitration raises, regardless of if this year ends either short of the postseason or with a World Series victory, this is the only year for this assortment of A’s. They will continue to be a young and mostly low cost/high reward group past this year, but this is their best chance to seal the deal. And all things considered, they should be in the mix. They have a very deep pitching staff and a similar lineup, full of two-way players that are fueled on proving their worth amid the game’s most hostile home environment.

But the rest of the division should have something to say as well, but the issue is can they overcome their own fairly pronounced shortcomings to do so. The Rangers have seen the potency of their pitching staff drop off regularly each year, and it may finally be too much to overcome this year. The Angels are the paper champs of baseball annually around this time of year, but have regularly yielded too little in both the health and raw, non-Trout related results category. Injuries are a major factor for both, although Texas enters the year especially crippled in regards to its supporting cast.

The Mariners made a lot of noise, but still are a few pieces short. With a well-stocked system with plenty of ready to contribute players, they are the team most likely to continue to find ways to add to their mix throughout the year—if they can stay competitive long enough. The Astros are burgeoning with some actual tangible potential finally, but they are still a clear cut below the rest of the West still.

With all things considered, the only thing that likely sidetracks the A’s is if they cannot either stay healthy long enough together or their depleted rotation cannot step up and fill the losses they have already sustained. They are the most complete team in the division, and a third championship should be theirs for the taking.

 

For more in real-time on the soon to arrive MLB season, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.

 

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Matt_Garza

The outside looking in can seem the furthest away the closer you are. And while it is impossible to build a team around just one addition, acquiring the right finishing touch can make all of the difference in the world from one year to the next. For the teams that finished either within firing range of a division title (or should have), the Winter Meetings provide a chance to go the extra mile towards winning the race.

But what’s left to do that with? Free agents have been flying off the shelf quicker than at any point in recent history. And while Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Joe Nathan are all gone does not mean that the opportunity to make an instant upgrade to what’s returning is. The slight move can be the right move, and here are a few options that a few competitors that finished on the brink of a title could make to close the ranks that eluded them last summer…

Washington Nationals—Omar Infante: For the Nats, it is about adding both depth and rounding out their lineup to secure it is in place for an immediate run. As they showed, in the last month of the season, they are capable of turning it on and playing as well as any team in the NL, but were caught too thin and injured to do so far too often. Infante represents an upgrade at one of their few questionable positions, and also provides depth all throughout the infield and in the outfield if needed.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Kendrys Morales: The general feel is that Morales will need to have the DH spot open to play from, but for the Pirates who have lost Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and Garrett Jones, adding the type of power bat that he represents in-between Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez upgrades them put them on par with the Cardinal club they are chasing. The price may be high, but the value would be worth it, and with Morales likely to last a while due to the draft pick compensation tied to him, they likely could get him at much more friendly rate within a month or so.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Jesse Crain/J.P. Howell: Shin-Soo Choo is the best fit for the club, but a bidding war with the Rangers could be looming for his services, which Arizona would surely loose. Instead, reallocating those resources towards two premier bullpen arms would both save money and support their emerging staff. The duo of Crain and Howell would give the Diamondbacks a very formidable late inning group to match the late-game units in LA and San Francisco.

Tampa Bay Rays—Corey Hart: They’ve said that they do not have interest in the rehabbing former Brewer, but revisiting him would be a smart move. He provides a power option to support Evan Longoria and Wil Myers in the heart of the order and can play both first base and right field, which gives Joe Maddon the type of lineup flexibility he loves to deploy. What’s more, he won’t be overly expensive due to injury concerns, so he fits right into the pocket where the Rays like to stay—the shallow part.

Cleveland Indians—Grant Balfour: The secret strength of the Indians last year was a deep bullpen, but with Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Matt Albers all departed, that stash is depleted. Balfour has been through the trials of the postseason the previous two seasons, and would provide a much needed (yet very ironic) calming presence to the Indians as they look to get over the hump and keep up with the Tigers.

Los Angeles Angels—Matt Garza: While the A’s and Rangers have been busy, the Angels have been waiting to find the right way to make an impact add to their starting pitching. Yesterday’s trade brought some young talent to the mix, but this is a team in need of a stragetic impact add. During the past two winters, they have only achieved half of that equation,  but bringing Garza aboard would give them one of the best #3 pitchers in baseball (finally back in the role that he made his name in with the Rays behind James Shields and David Price) and would give them a much needed boost in the match up department from the mound behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. He won’t make an 18-game difference by himself, but at this point, the Angels have to either keep adding or blow it up…and option B isn’t in play.

For more on the free agent market (and where these guys likely do end up), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

David_Freese

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Angels pulled off one of the more intriguing deals of the offseason on Friday afternoon, with the Cardinals sending third baseman David Freese and pitchers Fernando Salas to LA in return for outfielders Peter Bourjos and minor league outfielder Randal Grichuk. For both teams, the deal represented a pursuit to fill in positions in need of upgrade, yet both solutions come at the hope of an upside swing of two different varieties.

On the Angels End: Anaheim has long been in need of a steady answer at third base, as they have been chasing a solution at the position since Chone Figgins departed a few years back. Alberto Callaspo had manned the role over the past few seasons, but he was more of an over-extended utility man than anything else. In Freese, they make a move for a player who carries a career .286 average and never has a season with an on-base percentage south of .340, and is just a year removed from a .293/.372/.467 2012 split, all numbers that surpassed Callaspo’s best campaign substantially.

However, Freese comes with some risk, as he’s never completed a season without at least one disabled list stint. Also, he showed major regression in 2013, as he steadily struggled with the strike zone, in addition to limited range in the field. He is an absolute upgrade from a situation that was looking to be filled by Andrew Romine or Chris Nelson as of yesterday, and saw little to no full-time solutions on the free agent market. Freese is an immediate plug and play upgrade, whom can take some time at designated hitter.

Salas has a diverse history in the bullpen, manning nearly every role in the Cardinal bullpen over the past four years, but is likely to have to compete for a role in the LA pen in the spring.

On the Cardinals End: It is a deal that represented an opportunity to get a piece that was not an absolute necessity, but too good to pass on in Bourjos. A 27-year-old, low cost outfielder that covers as much ground as any player in baseball in the outfield, he is an absolute upgrade in the Cardinal outfield that has suffered from limited range for the majority of the past two years. Bourjos also presents a speed element that has been non-existent in the station-to-station Cardinal lineup for some time as well.

As well, the team the team acquired one of the Angels’ top prospects (in an organization devoid of much talent beneath the Majors) in Grichuk. He is projected to be a strong candidate for development and should remain in the Top 10 prospects within the substantially deeper Cardinal system.

The move creates even further financial freedom for the Cardinals, as Freese was due for a raise in the neighborhood of $4.4 million for his second time through arbitration this winter. Salas was a candidate to be non-tendered this offseason by St. Louis, so including him in the deal was likely a throw in. The Cardinals get a crucial extra year of club control in Bourjos, who is not scheduled to hit free agency until after the 2016 season and makes just over $1 million currently.

Bourjos creates a multitude of options in how the Cardinals will handle their 2013 roster.

Bourjos creates a multitude of options in how the Cardinals will handle their 2013 roster, as he has played every outfield position, and enables Jon Jay and Oscar Taveras more flexibility.

The Dominos: The aftermath of the deal is in an instant fill in for the Angels, but also the loss of a player that projected to be their top offseason trade chip in Bourjos. While Freese fills a need, the Angels greatest problem is their lack of starting pitching depth. No player on their team created more interest than the young, cost-controlled Bourjos, and by not getting a starting pitcher in return for him, they likely will be forced to spend (over overspend) even more in the free agent market to remedy this issue.

The theme of the trade continues to revolve around starting pitching for the Cardinals as well, who manage to avoid having to include anyone from their stockpile of quality starting pitching within the deal. That likely would have been a non-starter within the deal, unless shortstop Erick Aybar was included as well, which was discussed but could not be settled upon.

Also of importance for the Cardinals, is the trade cleared up the pending infield time jam between Freese, Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong. Carpenter can now return to third base, while Wong can inherit the second base job freely.

The Winner:  It was a swap of expendable players for both sides, and ones with similarly questionable health histories as well as potential to have much greater seasons than they are coming off. But in the end the Cardinals win out as much for getting the plus tooled Bourjos as the Angels lose in trading him for a return less than he could have netted.

For more on the Cardinals evolving offseason in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more Cardinal coverage, head to I70 Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal for the game, the culture and the events.

Pujols_

Tonight, for the first time (and perhaps the last time for many years), the St. Louis Cardinals will face Albert Pujols. In the year and a half since the best player in at least a generation is St. Louis left for LA Angels, and invoked a large range of emotions in his wake.

In the time since he’s left, there has been a contradiction of sorts in the emotion towards Pujols. On one hand, there’s the feeling that he betrayed the club by leaving; that his decision to leave went against the sentiment and covenant that develops between a franchise cornerstone and the fans of said franchise. On the other hand, there is the fan of the team first, that still roots for the Cardinals above all, and the name on the front of the jersey is all that matters.

In many cases, there has been an odd crossover between the two segments of the fan base when the subject shifts to Pujols. There is the feeling that, regardless of the rationale in maintaining him in St. Louis, or the success since of the team itself, that Pujols should still be vilified in regards to his move. On every level possible, this makes absolutely no sense and has to end, for multiple reasons.

The reality of the situation of keeping Pujols in town show the inherent ridiculousness of why having an issue with his decision is as well. The fact of the matter is that the fan should follow with their heart, but also base reaction on reality. There was no realistic, plausible positive outcome of Albert returning to St. Louis. Yes, there would of course be a place for him to come back, but the cost would have been detrimental to everything that the club is looking to establish. If the contracts of Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Rafeal Furcal have looked like dead weight over the last two years, imagine what seven more years of Pujols’ inflated, yet fair, deal would have seemed like. The organization’s greatest asset has been financial flexibility, that is offset by an ability to build around 1-2 large deals. With the massive price of Pujols sitting as a boulder in the middle of the Cardinals payroll, all of the long-term success of the team would have been put at risk. Need an example? Look at the Minnesota Twins.

When the Twins signed hometown hero/MVP Joe Mauer to his eight-year, $184 million deal in 2010, the Twins had won the AL Central six of the last nine years. For the annually cash strapped Twins to pony up the funds to secure not only their best player, but a community cornerstone such as Mauer to an elite contract in baseball, it was reflected as a big deal in keeping the club’s identity concrete. Fast forward two years later, and the Twins haven’t moved out of the cellar of the division since that deal was signed, and have lost over 95 games two years in a row and are at the bottom of the AL Central again.

This is due to an inability to keep their promising youngsters in tow, and a lack of flexibility to compete in the free agent market financially. Conversely, those are the strengths of the Cardinal approach. Championship caliber rosters require large level of compensation across the board. The Cardinals are the most successful lower-medium market team in baseball because they have been business savy. The decision to not pay ahead for “reputation pay” years of Pujols enabled them to lock up their entire core to contracts that could carry them through the full prime of their careers. In other words, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are here because Albert isn’t. The ability to maintain Allen Craig and Jason Motte was done because Albert did not have to be accounted for. Because of these decisions, the Cardinals were able to be tactical in how to approach filling their needs. Between the signing of Carlos Beltran for $13M per and the expansion of time for Allen Craig, the Cardinals got in return 54 home runs and 189 RBI. Basically, the expected 2-for-1 exchange for Pujols paid off with a similar production level in the lineup, the flexibility to extend Yadi Molina $96 million and to keep free another $118 million, of which $97M was given to Adam Wainwright this spring to keep him in town. Basically, the Cardinals built another five years, at least, of competitive advantage by not keeping Pujols in tow.

And at the end, that’s what matters if you are truly a Cardinals fan: your team being competitive. If Albert had taken less, would there have been a place for him in St. Louis? Absolutely. But is it is fault for cashing in on the reward that was rightfully his for the unworldly start that his career took off with? Absolutely not. There are no bad guys in this equation, and in the end, everybody has truly walked away better for it. This is not a case of the team going from championship level, to in the tank, such as when LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, due to one man’s decision. No, the greater good was served overall here.

So if anything, the next three days in Anaheim present an opportunity finally move on for the portions of the Cardinal fan base that have their feet stuck in the tar of two years ago. It is irrational to celebrate the success following the decision of Pujols and adjustment of the team, but to vilify him for the decision that he made. The time to move on is here; let carpe diem be your friend this week.

Maybe it’s the most ironic Independence Day yet, and if you don’t get the gist of that, give a Twins fan a call and ask them how their two years have been since their “Decision” went the other way.

 

For more on the Cardinals and the return of the King, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics

The American League West was the scene of a hijacking last year. Despite the Los Angeles Angels making the coup of all coups in landing Albert Pujols and the Texas Rangers once again returning as the powerhouse of the division, intact mostly from the year before, it was another Billy Beane crafted Oakland A’s team that prevailed in the end. After an August/September surge that saw them rise constantly through the standings, on the season’s final day the A’s took the division from the Rangers in game number 162. All in all, it was an incredibly balanced division; the last place Mariners would have finished third in American League Central. It was home to one of the greatest debut years in baseball history from Mike Trout, and hosted the top three finishers for Rookie of the Year, as well as a historic start for a particular (now former) Texas Rangers slugger.

2012 Finish

  1. A’s (94-68)
  2. Rangers (93-69)
  3. Angels (89-73)
  4. Mariners (75-87)

Moving forward a year later, and the scene has continued to shift. The Angels made the surprise splash of the offseason again, signing Josh Hamilton away from the aforementioned Rangers and pairing him with Pujols and Trout in a real-life Fantasy League lineup. The Athletics continued to add strartegic pieces to their core, to prove that last season was anything but a fluke. The Mariners were silently aggressive all winter, by adding a couple of much needed sluggers, while making Felix Hernandez the highest paid pitcher in baseball, all in an effort to continue to pull up their bootstraps from the bottom. Also, the Houston Astros swapped over leagues to join the American League, evening out the long four-team division. In the midst of all of this, where does this leave the Rangers? They have stayed steady in the league’s elite despite some critical losses over the last few years, but have they finally lost enough to lose their edge? Time to find out.

All Division Team

Catcher: AJ Pierzynski-Rangers

First Base: Albert Pujols-Angels

Second Base: Ian Kinsler-Rangers

Third Base: Adrian Beltre-Rangers

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus-Rangers

Left Field: Mike Trout-Angels

Center Field: Coco Crisp-A’s

Right Field: Josh Hamilton-Angels

Designated Hitter: Mark Trumbo-Angels

Felix Hernandez

Hernandez finished in the top 5 for the AL Cy Young for the third time in four years in 2012, with 3 years to go until he’s even 30.

Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez-Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Jered Weaver-Angels

Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish-Rangers

Starting Pitcher: Brett Anderson-A’s

Righty Relief: Ryan Cook-A’s

Lefty Relief: Sean Burnett-Angels

Closer: Joe Nathan-Rangers

Top 10

  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Albert Pujols, Angels
  3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  4. Josh Hamilton, Angels
  5. Jered Weaver, Angels
  6. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
  7. Elvis Andrus, Rangers
  8. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
  9. Nelson Cruz, Rangers
  10. Yoenis Cespedes, A’s

Lineup

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners
  5. Astros

The top of the Angels lineup gets the headlines, but a core including Trumbo, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar doesn’t give many breaks either. The strength of the A’s is in numbers: Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Cespedes all topped 20 homers a year ago. The Rangers are hoping Pierzynski can have a similar follow up to his 27-home run breakout effort a year ago with the White Sox.

Adrian-Beltre

Beltre has averaged 34 home runs and 33 doubles a season, with a .310 average against only 68 strikeouts on average as well.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Angels (Pujols/Hamilton/Trumbo)
  2. Rangers (Beltre/Cruz/Berkman)
  3. A’s (Cespedes/Moss/Reddick)
  4. Mariners (Seager/Morse/Morales)
  5. Astros (Pena/Carter/Castro)

Putting Josh Hamilton behind Pujols permanently is terrifying. It puts a total of four MVP seasons, and 73 2012 homers in the middle of the order. Add on Trumbo to the backend, and that power number surges past 100. Beltre has been a juggernaut in his two Texas seasons, smacking 36 homers in route to a top 5 MVP finish a year ago. The Mariners addition of Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales finally puts a pair of formidable bats in their lineup again.

Table Setters

  1. Rangers (Kinsler/Andrus)
  2. Angels (Trout/Aybar)
  3. Astros (Altuve/Wallace)
  4. A’s (Crisp/Lowrie)
  5. Mariners (Ackley/Gutierrez)

Trout is the most versatile offensive player in the game, and his impact out the leadoff spot is just the same as it would be hitting in the middle of the lineup. He hit 27 doubles and 8 triples in addition to leading the AL with 53 steals. Jose Altuve is the lone bright spot in the downtrodden Astros lineup, who topped 160 hits and 30 steals in his second season.

Bench

  1. A’s
  2. Angels
  3. Mariners
  4. Rangers
  5. Astros

Depth is the A’s greatest weapon, and the fact they can rotate in two former All-Stars in Chris Young and Daric Barton is just a small sign of how deep they truly are. Tag in Jemile Weeks, Seth Smith and Derek Norris, and the Oakland roster is one full of starter-caliber players.

J-Parker

Parker was one of three rookie hurlers to post either at least 13 wins or win percentage over .600% in Oakland a year ago.

Rotation

  1. A’s
  2. Rangers
  3. Angels
  4. Mariners
  5. Astros

It was pitching that launched Oakland along its improbable run up the standings last season. Behind group effort of Dan Straily, AJ Griffin, Tom Milone, Jarrod Parker and the return of Brett Anderson, they formed one of the best young rotations in baseball. The Angels added Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton in an attempt to balance out their thin staff from a year ago, and replace Zack Greinke.

1-2 Punch

  1. Angels (Weaver/Wilson)
  2. Rangers (Darvish/Holland)
  3. A’s (Anderson/Parker)
  4. Mariners (Hernandez/Iwakuma)
  5. Astros (Norris/Harrell)

King Felix has been holding up what seems like the Mariners entire universe for years now. He posted his fourth consecutive 200 strikeout year in 2012. Jered Weaver posted his first no-hitter and 20 win season last season, while CJ Wilson struggled down the stretch but still is among the best southpaws in baseball. Darvish came in second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote a year ago, and along with Holland stands to be one the young arms with a chance to make the biggest leap forward this season.

Bullpen

  1. A’s
  2. Angels
  3. Rangers
  4. Mariners
  5. Astros

The backend of the A’s pitching staff is what completes them as the best collection of arms in either league, overall. Both Cook and Grant Balfour took on closing duties last year, and were just as effective in the setup role with Sean Doolittle as well. If Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria return to their previous form for the Angels and Rangers, respectively, it could change the entire direction of both teams’ seasons.

Defense

  1. Mariners
  2. Angels
  3. Rangers
  4. A’s
  5. Astros

Between Brendan Ryan, Franklin Gutierrez and Dustin Ackley, the M’s can go get it in the field. They had the best team fielding percentage in the AL a year ago, and are a huge reason why they have been able to stay somewhat afloat despite having an anemic offense. In Trout and Peter Bourjos, the Angels easily could have two Gold Glove outfielders for a long time. The Andrus/Kinsler middle infield combo in Texas is the best in the AL, and Beltre is the best defensive infielder in baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals v Houston Astros

Altuve is a diverse threat for the Astros, who led the team in nine different categories a year ago in his second season, and also made his All-Star debut.

Speed

  1. A’s
  2. Angels
  3. Mariners
  4. Rangers
  5. Astros

Between Crisp, Cespedes, Weeks and Young, the A’s can kill it around the bases. From both steals to the extra base, they are very capable of getting the extra base that is needed to survive in their spacious home ballpark. Not too far behind are Angels, who could very well see Trout and Aybar alone top 80 steals this season.

Manager

  1. Mike Scioscia, Angels
  2. Bob Melvin, A’s
  3. Ron Washington, Rangers
  4. Eric Wedge, Mariners
  5. Bo Porter, Astros

Bob Melvin did a masterful job of pulling the most out of the talent of his club a year ago. The AL Manager of the Year won the West, and finished a game away from the ALCS. Mike Scioscia is the longest tenured manager in the MLB, and for good reason.

Finances

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. Mariners
  4. Astros
  5. A’s

The Rangers have the money to improve their roster at any time, yet they are strategic about how they do so. Despite missing out on both Greinke and Hamilton this offseason, the money they haven’t spent yet may be their most valuable commodity throughout the season. The Mariners made a big statement ($175M to Felix), while the Astros made a big commitment to starting over (dropping team payroll to under $20 million…$5M less than Felix will pull down himself).

Josh Hamilton

The Angels made waves by handing Hamilton $123 million; both boost their lineup, and sink their long-time in-division rivals hopes some.

Impact Additions

  1. Josh Hamilton (Angels from Rangers)
  2. Ryan Madson (Angels from Phillies)
  3. Kendrys Morales (Mariners from Angels)
  4. Michael Morse (Mariners from Nationals)
  5. Lance Berkman (Rangers from Cardinals)

The Angels struck a devastating blow in snatching Hamilton away from their division rivals in Texas. There may be just as much value in paying him $125 million over the next five years to keep him away from Texas as there is to having him in their lineup. The Rangers are hoping for Berkman to have a similar renaissance this season as he did two years in St. Louis to help replace Hamilton and Michael Young’s departed impact.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Brett Anderson, A’s
  2. Jarrod Parker, A’s
  3. Yoenis Cespedes, A’s
  4. AJ Griffin, A’s
  5. Yu Darvish, Rangers

Notice a trend? The A’s honestly had the season that would be more likely this year, last summer, so what could come this year is truly special. Cespedes’ roof is still far away from him, while Parker and Griffin have the stuff to be top notch pitchers for years to come. Anderson is skilled the level of being an instant Cy Young contender if he can stay on the hill and off the DL.

J-Profar

Profar is the future in Texas, but finding room for the 20 year old now is proving to be a difficult task due to the All-Star presences on board.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Jurickson Profar (Shortstop, Rangers-AAA)
  2. Mike Zunino (Catcher, Mariners-AAA)
  3. Taijuan Walker (Pitcher, Mariners-AA)
  4. Danny Hultzen (Pitcher, Mariners-AAA)
  5. Mike Olt-Rangers (Third Baseman, Rangers-AAA)

Profar is a Jeter-like talent that can impact the game in every way possible. His instincts are off the charts to be any age, but at only 20 years old, it’s a truly remarkable thing to see already. He’s good enough to force a trade of Elvis Andrus to make room for him this season. The group of Mariners prospects is impressive, but they are content with developing their young arms, and only Zunino could have a real impact on 2012’s MLB team.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. ANGELS
  2. A’S
  3. RANGERS
  4. MARINERS
  5. ASTROS

The West went through plenty of stages last season, and this one could prove to be no different. The Oakland A’s got as hot as they had since their hallowed 20-game win streak 10 years ago. But they did it with a solid core, and most importantly, good pitching. The will still be a potent player in the race this year, as will the Rangers. Texas has lost a lot, but keeps as balanced of a team as possible. In the same way that the St. Louis Cardinals stepped up their production after losing their franchise player, Texas has the same potential to do so with their mixture of veteran and maturing prospects. Both teams will be at the very top of the division, with most likely no more than five games separating them from the top by September.

Outside of the three elite teams, Seattle has made improvements to their club, and will be more equipped to support their very solid pitching staff, but does not have quite enough firepower to last out the entire year. However, a strong push through to make some noise is possible. As for the Astros, a third straight year at the top of the Draft in June 2014 is basically assured.

But all business will carry through Anaheim, a team that learned from its past sins. While they made another big splash signing in Hamilton, the attention to detail to the rest of their roster didn’t escape GM Jerry Dipoto this winter. They were among the worst at finishing games via the bullpen last year, and were plagued by a shallow starting staff as well. The additions of Madson, Sean Burnett, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas aren’t headline grabbers, but they are substantial upgrades to the foundation of the club. In the end, that’s the difference that sells it; in the West it’s all about the details. It’s what won it for the A’s last year, and now the Angels have taken that strength and added it to a rarely matched top-talent collection. This is their year.

 

 

For more on the run up to Spring Training and the rest of the upcoming year in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

In the final entry in the CHEAP SEATS best units in baseball series, I’m turning to the biggest highlight of every day of the week; the best everyday lineups in baseball. With the DH in the mix (begrudingly), this would be an area that would most likely cater towards the American League, but there’s a lot of National League squads that have bulked up in the last few years, as well as creatively balanced squads that can win in a variety of ways. But when it comes down to it, it’s about putting up runs, and being able to do so up and down the order to reach this level of the game.

Fielder & Cabrera

Below there are teams that have shown and proved, as well as those that have potential to bust out. However, like all other things, it’s all on potential at this point in the year. And nobody has more of a chance to capitalize on it than these groups. But no more build up, get into it: the best lineups in 2013 baseball, starting with a squad that made the World Series last year….at less than full strength…

  1. Detroit Tigers: Let’s put in context how daunting of a 3-4 punch that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were last year: 74 homers, 247 RBI, 569 hits and a combined .322 average. What’s most frightening Is that 2012 was neither their best effort either, regardless of what honors and accomplishments they hit. Add in Austin Jackson’s leap forward, the addition of Torii Hunter, the underrated effort of Andy Dirks, a likely bounce back effort from Alex Avila and the return of Victor Martinez at DH, and you’ve got the biggest everyday issue for pitchers in business.
  2. Los Angeles Angels: Folks were ready to toss Mike Scicosia’s boys up here last year, but that was a bit premature. And it was also before Mike Trout made a legit claim to best in the world status and Josh Hamilton came over as well. Anytime Albert Pujols is just a piece of the puzzle, things are looking good. But outside of the big names, Howie Kendrick, Mike Trumbo and Erick Aybar are very solid table setters, and this should prove to be an unrelenting lineup.
  3. Washington Nationals: There are no breaks in this lineup, and it should actually improve this year. Adam LaRoche returns to be the power anchor, while Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond are among the most balanced bats in the NL. Adding Denard Span as a long-sought after legit lead off presence helps, but the continued growth of the prodigious Bryce Harper is the most exciting thing about the team, and the reason why it’s as good as the NL will see.
  4. St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals were a ridiculously balanced attack last year, with Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, David Freese and Jon Jay all hitting over .290, and Carlos Beltran adding in 32 homers on top of it all. Overall, five of their nine starters topped 20 homers as well, with rookie Matt Carpenter returning after a .294 average, 22 double rookie campaign as potentially an everyday presence as well.
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers: This is the year where we see if the all of the blockbuster bats can swing together. Having Matt Kemp is a damn good start to any lineup, but the last year as seen Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford be added on make the push. This isn’t a team that’s built play D; it’s about the O. And if health stays on their side, there could be no limits to the numbers it puts up.
  6. Cincinnati Reds: Being way too left-handed has been the knock on them.  Joey Votto may be the best left-handed hitter in the game, and Jay Bruce quietly one of his best power hitters. Adding Shin-Choo Soo makes them better, but doesn’t solve that issue. I mean, Brandon Phillips can’t do it all by himself on the other side of the dish. Good thing is that a full-season of Todd Frazier (19 homers, 67 RBI) and another strong effort from Ryan Ludwick (25 homers, 80 RBI), he won’t have too.
There's a lot more to the Brewers than waiting for Braun to attack; they led the NL in extra base hits last summer.

There’s a lot more to the Brewers than waiting for Braun to attack; they led the NL in extra base hits last summer.

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: Another very complete lineup, that is home to a lot of understated contributors. Norichika Aoki (37 doubles, 30 steals) and Jonathan Lucroy (.320 avg) were quietly very productive. The mid-season move of Corey Hart to first base once again gives the club one of the better offensive infields in the NL, with Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks. And then on top of it all, there’s Ryan Braun, who’s been the most productive player in the NL over the last two years (.326/37 homers/112 RBI/189 hits/32 steals average for 2011-12).
  2. Texas Rangers: True, they lost Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, but there’s strength in numbers, and they have it. Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus are dynamic at the top of the order, while Adrian Beltre has become one of the best bats in the game. If Nelson Cruz and Lance Berkman can stay healthy, there’s a chance that this team doesn’t regress at all.
  3. Colorado Rockies: It’s not shocking that the Rockies were the most productive home offense in the game last year, but what’s real is they could get even better everywhere this year. Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer and Todd Helton are a solid base, while Dexter Fowler (.300 avg), Josh Rutledge (33 extra base hits in 73 games) and Wilin Rosario (28 homers as rookie) rounded out a strong lineup. All of this was done with Troy Tulowikzki only playing 47 games, yet returning at full health finally for ’13.
  4. New York Yankees: A-Rod is out indefinitely, Derek Jeter’s health is in question, and Nick Swisher and Russell Martin were lost to free agency. Despite all of that, the Yankees lineup is still potent. Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeria and Curtis Granderson are power plant in the middle of the lineup, while Ichiro and Brett Gardner could be terror on the base paths in front of them. Add in the potential return of Jeter and a bounce back effort from Kevin Youkilis, and this is still the best offense in the AL East.

Just Missed: Blue Jays, Giants, Red Sox

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Oakland A's

Yesterday, I broke down the Top 10 infields in Major League Baseball headed into 2013. Today, we move back a little further to the outfield, where things are not as set as yesterday’s groups are. With a premier free agent still on the board (Michael Bourn) potentially impacting this group, as well as a few moves that could effect the who is playing where, there could be some ground that gets shook up.

But at any rate, here we go again:

1. Los Angeles Angels (Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, Josh Hamilton): This is nearly unfair on a few levels. Trout and Bourjos cover so much range that it’s much of an exaggeration to think they could play the entire outfield by themselves. Tack on Hamilton, who’s good for a default 30 homers, Vernon Wells on the bench and the scary idea that Trout is still improving, and this is the best of the bunch.

2. Washington Nationals (Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth): Another highly versatile, do everything group. Span is the long sought after speedy, leadoff centerfield they’ve needed for so long. Werth is ridiculously versatile in both the field and in the lineup, and Harper is entering his 20 year old season already as one of the most well-rounded players in the game.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier): This is a group that COULD be the best of them all at the end of the year IF Crawford can make it back to form. Kemp is the perhaps the most dangerous player in the game, and Ethier is steady contributor as well. Defensively, Kemp is probably better suited for a corner now, but he makes up for it by being a 40-40 threat annually.

4. Oakland A’s (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Chris Young): Yeah, four guys have to get listed here, because this is the deepest talent pool across the board after the addition of Young. What’s scarier is that Reddick (32 homers/Gold Glove) and Cespedes (23 homers) are just coming off of their first years as starters.

5. Atlanta Braves (Martin Prado, BJ Upton, Jason Heyward): This group is here for now, due to the fact they have acquired a left fielder to move Prado back to third. But even with just Upton and Heyward, it’s one of the best collections of young talent in the game. Heyward is back on track (60 homers, 23 years old) and Prado has hit over .300 three of his four full seasons.

6. Colorado Rockies (Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer): Quiet consistency. CarGo is a perennial MVP candidate, despite playing on some subpar clubs recently. He hit .300 and topped both 20 homers and stolen bases for the third straight summer. Fowler was rightfully one of the most sought after players of the winter after hitting .300 and topping 10 triples for the fourth straight year.

At the All-Star Break last year, both Holliday & Beltran were viable MVP candidates, and pushed STL to the brink of another World Series.

Holliday & Beltran were MVP candidates in their first year together, and pushed STL to the brink of another World Series.

7. St. Louis Cardinals (Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran): Beltran was a revelation in his first year in St. Louis at the plate, while Jay became one of the better fielders in the league, while hitting .304. Holliday is one of the best hitters in either league, and transitioned well to being the biggest bat in the Cardinal order, hitting over .340 for three consecutive months in 2012.

8. Cincinnati Reds (Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce): Cincy took this group to another level with the addition of Choo, and retaining Ludwick assured balance in their lineup. Bruce is the biggest power threat on the club, as well as perhaps the best fielding right fielder in the game. However, he may have to move to center to accommodate Choo.

9. Baltimore Orioles (Nate McLouth, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis): Jones and Markakis are the mainstays of the organization, with Markakis as the constant of the org and Jones currently the franchise player. AJ10 has improved in each of the last 5 seasons, while Markakis was limited by a broken arm. Along with McLouth’s resurgence, this is a group that could still grow more together a year later.

10 Toronto Blue Jays (Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, Jose Bautista): Biggest boom or bust group of all on this list, but the upside is undeniable. If Cabrera can break even from his pre and post PED form, Rasmus keeps up his mid-summer form (.291/8/25 in June) and most importantly, Joey Bats has his health in order, and gets his average back up (from .306 to .241 in ’12), while keeping his power (14 June homers), this is a very strong group.

Just Missed: Yankees, Diamondbacks, Brewers

 

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