Posts Tagged ‘Texas Rangers’

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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Choo_Cincy

Late December is usually a slow period in the MLB winter, and this year mostly has been no exception. Bullpens have been filled out, lineups made complete and the table has been set for the grand finale that is the January that sets the stage for the spring behind it. The major exception this December has been the wait for the top remaining hitter to declare, as well as the foreign property that is Masahiro Tanaka to have his future decided….which ultimately leads to determining the future of more than half of the MLB clubs remaining dollars.

While Tanaka’s availability is finally eminent, there is one team that will likely not be in that pursuit – the Texas Rangers. But only because they made the major move that they have been needing to make to bring it all back together for over a year now. Ironically enough, via the addition of an intriguing player that does just a bit of everything well…

Here’s more on that move, as well as the remaining recent moves from the free agent pool….

3. Shin-Soo Choo-Outfielder-31 Years Old-2013 Team: Cincinnati Reds

Signed: Texas Rangers—7 years, $130 million

The Rangers and Choo went back and forth for over a month on him landing there, which especially took off after Jacoby Ellsbury filled a similar vacancy in New York. Yet, it came to be clear that Arlington is where Choo wanted to land the most, and it looks to be a mutually beneficial marriage looking ahead.

The Rangers lineup rebuild will benefit from the versatile Choo, who’s balanced offering of talents (a 162-game average spread of .289/.389/.465, along with 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 37 doubles for his career) makes him equally useful batting anywhere  between 1-3. Andrus can stay at leadoff or drop to the 2 spot, or Choo can return to the third hole, allowing Prince Fielder to stay at cleanup and have Adrian Beltre hit fifth, which is best for him. Overall, the Rangers final signing made every part of the team better, which is a rarity, but is why it was worth $130 million.

29. Joaquin Benoit-Relief Pitcher-36 Years Old-2013 Team: Detroit Tigers

Signed: San Diego Padres—2 years, $15.5 million

Bullpen depth has long been the strength of the Padres, but after dealing setup man Luke Gregorson that strength took a hit and necessitated adding Benoit. He spent the last few years as a varied arm in the backend of the Detroit pen, and over the past four years, he’s averaged better than nine strikeouts per nine innings.

42. Chris Perez-Relief Pitcher-28 Years Old-2013 Team: Cleveland Indians

Signed: Los Angeles Dodgers—1 year, $2.3 million

Perez’s career took a spin last year due to the marijuana case that befell him, and the side effects carried over to the field. On the heels of that season that saw him lose his closer role and post career highs (or lows), he’ll head to LA as a part of their ensemble of hard throwing closer-types in a demo season for another run at landing a closer job next winter.

43. Raul Ibanez-Designated Hitter-42 Years Old-2013 Team: Seattle Mariners

Signed: Los Angeles Angels—1 year, $2.75 million

After moving out Mark Trumbo, the Angels needed to replace his power potential in the lineup and Ibanez fits the bill. A quick rental bat that has continued to show he’s got some powder left in his cannon: he tied Ted Williams for the most home runs in a season, post-40th birthday.

51. Scott Downs-Relief Pitcher-38 Years Old-2013 Teams: Los Angeles Angels/Atlanta Braves

Signed: Chicago White Sox—1 year, $4 million

The Sox added a much needed left-handed presence to their bullpen mix, and caught a decent break with Downs. He struggled some once switching the National League, but overall finished with his fourth career season with an ERA under 2.00 during his American League run in Anaheim.

63. Jose Veras-Relief Pitcher-33 Years Old-2013 Teams: Houston Astros/Detroit Tigers

Signed: Chicago Cubs—1 year, $4 million

The Cubs picked up the former Astros closer-by-default to take the first swing at the role for them to start the year off. Pedro Strop will be in the mix as well, but Veras (21 of 25 saves converted, .199 averaged against) has the edge coming in.

For more on the winter’s work to prep the MLB summer, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

fielder_prince6401

In a very sudden fashion, the first blockbuster move of the MLB offseason made its presence felt, when the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers agreed on a swap of Prince Fielder (and $30 million) for Ian Kinsler. According to Rangers GM Jon Daniels, it was a conversation that started on Tuesday afternoon, and took less than a day to agree on the parameters. What comes of it is a trade that is both a textbook marquee move, as well as a direction changer for both teams involved.

On the Rangers End: It solves one of their immediate problems that was of the utmost importance to fill: finding a middle of the order bat. Since Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli left Arlington last winter, they had an order low on power and big on gaps to fill. Add in the potential loss of Nelson Cruz, who has topped 20 home runs each of the past five seasons, a possibility as well, the Rangers power down was hitting dangerous levels.

Picking up Fielder fixes that immediately. Despite a down year in 2013, until proven otherwise, it was simply just a down year, because his track record mandates this respect. He topped 30 home runs every year from 2007-2012 and does not turn 30 until next May. He instantly becomes the cleanup hitter to support Adrian Beltre, and is a reliable as they come (playing in every game since 2011). Also, the Rangers are receiving $30 million from the Tigers to offset the difference between Fielder and Kinsler’s contracts, which will be able to be actively applied towards keeping them in the free agent batter market.

On the Tigers’ End: For Detroit, the deal is not as much of a complete approach change as it is a chance to shift its focus. They were on the hook for another $168 million with Fielder over the next seven years, and had a definite need to cut tow on some financial luggage. Many of the Max Scherzer trade rumors came from the fact they did not believe they would be able to afford to resign the now Cy Young winner after next season, but now that will not be a problem.

Also, with Omar Infante testing the free agent waters, they had a clear need at second base, and acquiring Kinsler represents an upgrade at the position, as well as a chance to move Austin Jackson out of the leadoff spot and down the lineup where he would be a better fit.

Most importantly, the Tigers have an instant replacement for Fielder of the highest order, by moving Miguel Cabrera back to where he should be at first.

Kinsler_Andrus

Kinsler’s departure virtually insures Andrus stays in Texas for the long-term, and makes a clear path for Profar to fit in as well.

The Dominos: The aftermath of the deal finds the Rangers as grabbing a premier bat, as well as getting a few extra bucks to play the market with. Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran or Cruz all remain in play. Incumbent first baseman Mitch Moreland is coming off a good year, and with David Murphy off to Cleveland, could be in line for a move out to leftfield to replace him. But the most obvious benefit for the Rangers is the loosening of the tie around their collective infield neck, one that was on the verge of becoming a noose. Kinsler coming out of the mix allows for Jurickson Profar to take over at second, and ends any potential trade rumors of either him or Elvis Andrus.

In Detroit, the most obvious bonus is the freeing up of cash to give to Scherzer, potentially by Spring Training. There is also the freedom to more freely spend in the closer market among the solid class of Joe Nathan, Brian Wilson, Grant Balfour and Chris Perez, among others. They do have a void at third base now, but top prospect Nick Castellanos (.276, 18 HR, 76 RBI at Triple-A) is an immediate plug and play, as he is now unblocked at his natural position. Maybe the only worry point is that it does change the way that pitchers can approach Cabrera now, with the lessened protection behind him, but that with Cabrera there’s no such thing as an easy fix, so that’s not much to raise a flag against.

The Winner: Both teams come away with needs and concerns met, in a surprisingly even deal of All-Star talents. The Tigers make needed reshapes to their lineup, and get away from a burden-bearing contract early in the life of it and pre (serious) decline. The Rangers meanwhile inject a needed power source and big splash deal, on the heels of missing the postseason for the first time in three years.

There are no losers here, but the edge goes to the TIGERS, due to immediate gain of Kinsler, the lineup shakeup and both the long and short term financial flexibility.

For more in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For the rest of the works, head over to i70Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal.

Adrian+Beltre+Texas+Rangers+v+New+York+Yankees+-zbEh2XEhAql

In the first of this summer’s project series for me here at CSP on what active ballplayers could be due for a call to Cooperstown, I’ll be taking a look at the credentials of Adrian Beltre. In a certain way, Beltre has flown under the radar, from a production perspective. He is veteran of (…) years, spent initially with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and then moving along to the Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox and now Texas Rangers. In a time where third base depth is at arguably the highest group caliber it has ever been, Beltre has stayed consistent as any throughout the years, and now with Chipper Jones retired, he is the longest tenured everyday third baseman in the game. He has quietly offered up a very good career, and is entering into his crucial years for potential immortality. Here’s what he has both in his favor, against it and potentially where it all lands.

The numbers (pre 2013):

– 15 seasons (age 34) .279 average, 351 home runs, 1215 RBI, 2227 hits, 463 doubles, 30 triples, 115 stolen bases, .331 on-base %, .476 slugging percentage

1. The Case For: In making a point for Beltre, looking at the complete body of work is important. He’s already reached 350 career home runs, and has nine seasons of at least 20. His single-season high is 48 with the Dodgers in 2004. What’s more is that he’s shown great ability to be a consistent overall run producer as well; he has topped 80 RBI in nine separate seasons, and his in-prime years have seen him best 100 in three consecutive seasons since 2010. Beltre is one of the rare players that broke in as a teenager and stuck; he is entering his 16th season and is only 34 years old. Across that time he has played in an average of 141 games per season, and topped 150 in seven seasons.

Yet the greatest asset of his game perhaps is his defensive acumen. He has become the best defensive third baseman in the game currently, and has won the previous two American League Gold Gloves, bringing his career total to four. The Fielding Bible, which measures a variety of defensive metrics, as named him the best at the position in six separate seasons.

2. The Case Against: In the midst of his career, he slipped dangerously close to the “wasted” potential category of players…in a perspective way. The huge spike of home runs that he hit in 2004 followed a stretch he averaged 21 home runs a year for the next four years, in addition to not getting his average above .276 in any season, and has low as .255. Basically, he went through a very mortal stretch. In that time, a brand new stretch of third basemen came along in David Wright, Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman that took the spotlight at the position. Basically, he spent a good portion of his career being average, but the high seasons have added up and made some growing impressive totals here at the back end of his prime.

Beltre's acumen in the field is truly an asset, as he is among the premier best corner infielders of his time.

Beltre’s acumen in the field is truly an asset, as he is among the premier best corner infielders of his time, with both range (.958 fielding %) and arm.

3. Similar Players (through age 33)

Ron Santo (.279 avg, 337 home runs, 1290 RBI, 2,171 hits, 353 doubles)

Cal Ripken, Jr (.280 avg, 310 home runs, 1179 RBI, 2227 hits, 414 doubles)

Orlando Cepeda (.298 avg, 354 home runs, 1252 RBI, 2144 hits, 384 doubles)

4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what’s it going to take): Third base is a developing position in regards to Hall of Fame caliber players. There are 13 HOFers currently considered to be primary third basemen throughout their careers. Of them, the “magic number” rule (500 HRS, 3000 hits, etc) isn’t in play for that many at the position. Only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews have passed 500 homers, while George Brett and Wade Boggs are the only members of the 3,000 hit club. Beltre’s projection over the course of the remainder of his career put him short of both of those numbers, so the complete body of work is what he’ll have to lean on.

He’ll likely pass 400 home runs, which would put him in the top 5 all-time at third. It would be helpful to surpass Darrell Evan’s mark of 414 to pull him closer to his contemporary, Chipper Jones, who’s 468 have him third all-time currently at the position. If he averages 150 hits a year over the next four seasons, he’ll top 2,800 hits, which would a very strong case of placing him among the elite of bats to play the position. It would move him into range with a player that he has some in common with, due to his defensive acumen: Brooks Robinson.

Robinson, a 16-time Gold Glove winner, is the absolute standard defensively at the hot corner. Beltre, the standard bearer of his era, could present an intriguing case on his behalf by approaching (or surpassing) Hoover’s 2,848 hits, which currently stands as the fourth best total of all-time for the 3B. It also would pull Beltre past Chipper Jones, the preeminent offensive third baseman of his time.

Overall, there’s more work to do, but Beltre is currently in good range. For intangibles, not winning a major award in his career isn’t helpful, nor is not having a championship on his resume. But luckily he plays a position where there’s a lot of growth during his time, and he’s had multiple seasons of finishing in the top 5 in AL MVP race (2004, 2012). Advanced metrics show him already on the verge of being a candidate: Baseball-Reference’s JAWS meter places him as the 13th most productive 3B all-time, and there are only three players (Craig Nettles, Edgar Martinez and Scott Rolen) in between him and breaking into the elite area of the position manned currently by Paul Molitor and Brooks Robinson. Adding in his defense and continued offensive production at an average rate into his decline seasons, and Beltre has a much better than expected case for being a member of Cooperstown eventually.

So when it’s all said and done, when the question is asked, is Adrian Beltre In, Out or In-Between, as things stand already, in my estimation, he’s really the definition of IN-BETWEEN as it stands right now.

For more on the season as it unfolds (and some of everything else as it unfolds around me), 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

Winter for Michael Bourn has been moving in slow motion, which is the ultimate irony for a man of his particular skill set. The four-time National League leader in stolen bases hasn’t seen his market advance very far at all, and with Spring Training looming in under two weeks, time is of the essence.

Michael Bourn

The reasons for why have been floated around, and have gained stream towards being seen as legitimate, and many have been due to the level of expectation financially and the time commitment for the deal as well. The fact that his primary skill is speed, and he’s already had his 30th birthday has been damaging. When combined with the fact that he has only managed to hit .300 once over the course of a full season, there is legitimate concern that there won’t be existing value once that goes.

These are concerns with some credence, but also the fact remains is that right now, he’s the best defensive center fielder in baseball. On that rationale alone, he makes any team substantially better. He has a plus arm, and the speed is still there right now. While he is cast as a leadoff hitter, he has the ability to fit into multiple positions in the lineup as well.

Many teams that would have been good fits chose cheaper, younger or differently skilled ways to go to solve their centerfield needs. The Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies and even his most recent home, the Atlanta Braves, all entered the winter with a need in the middle, but found other ways of filling the need. This left Bourn looking in more obscure places to find work.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still locations that make a lot of sense for him to end up. At this point, most likely it will be a short term deal, perhaps even just a one or two year pact, which will still easily cover his prime seasons. The real question is who can, and should make the move, to get the most benefit out of one of the most uniquely skilled player s in the game.

 

New York Mets: The Mets have been the hot rumor team recently, and they make a lot of sense really. They have had a definite need in the leadoff spot since the post-Jose Reyes days began and could use the defensive upgrade in a major way. It sounds odd, but they have a legit chance to push into the middle of the pack in the NL East.

The issue is, to sign him they have to part with their first round pick as compensation, which is a major point of contention. Number one, they don’t feel they should the pick should be up for grabs, and they have a legitimate point. In a vague point in the new CBA, top 10 worse records are protected, but if any team’s top pick doesn’t sign from the year previous, they regain a pick a year later. As part of the domino effect, it moves each team that was is behind them back a spot, and potentially out of the Top 10. That’s what’s happening to the Mets, who have the 10th, but now 11th pick in the draft due to the Pirates not signing Mark Appell. And if they lose this pick, it goes to their divisional rivals in Atlanta, something they don’t seem too keen to do.

Arizona Diamondbacks: There’s a gut in the outfield in Arizona currently, even after moving Justin Upton out of town. But Bourn is an intriguing option there. He fits in to the top of the lineup right away, and keeps their defensive prowess up to par, which is needed with Jason Kubel manning left field. Not likely to happen, with rookie Adam Eaton on the verge, but there’s a place for him.

Baltimore Orioles: Another contender that would be boosted by his presence. The O’s are team with everything, except a true threat on the bases. Bourn would be yet another weapon for one of baseball’s most diverse attacks, and they could easily afford him. A hindrance would seem to be the presence of franchise cornerstone Adam Jones in center, but there are options there. If he moved to left, and Bourn was able to be placed between him and Nick Markakis, it would be one of the league’s best outfields immediately, and one that would be nearly impossible to take an extra base on as well.

Texas Rangers: The most obvious choice, but some for some reason, there hasn’t been a lot of traction there. They are taken care of as far as draft compensation goes, because they’ll be receiving extra picks in for Josh Hamilton. They have the opening, with only prospect Leoydis Martin being a viable option, and he could use more time to go.

There would be a change in approach needed however, because Ian Kinsler is better for the leadoff spot, and Elvis Andrus is a prototype #2 hitter. He would move down the order to the ninth spot, but the idea of the three of them hitting back to back, and followed by Adrian Beltre is enthralling. They have the money to take a bit more risk on the downside of the contract as well, so there could be something here. Time will tell, but it better hurry up.

Spring Training is bit under a month away, yet there are still significant deals being inked around Major League Baseball. As I’ve said before here, this is the season where the in-between the lines deals get worked out; ones that can be very significant in the long run. Over the last few weeks, two contenders have gotten aggressive in doing just that, and banking their dollars on a few high risk/high reward elements.

The Washington Nationals have been the movers of the week, bringing back an MVP finalist, moving a big trade chip in Mike Morse as a result. That was expected, but was more of a shock was adding a big money closer to the mix as well, which really changes everything about a team that was already among the four or five best teams in baseball. Also, down in Texas a much heralded native son returns with something to prove….and a contract that demands it.

Here’s the updated MLB signing report, based from the original Top 75 Free Agent list.

LaRoche returned to DC out of necessity in some regards, but he also returns as a bonafide power boost to round out an impressive lineup.

LaRoche returned to DC out of necessity in some regards, but he also returns as a bonafide power boost to round out an impressive lineup.

7. Adam LaRoche—First Base, Resigned w/ Washington Nationals: 2 years/$24 million

This was a stalemate of a deal where the Nationals ultimately won out on both fronts. LaRoche was dead set on a three-year deal all winter, while the Nats put their foot in the ground on two years only. Ultimately, no team countered with a three year guarantee, and the Nats were the only show in town, so LaRoche returned to DC, to reap a generous deal on the heels of his 33 homer, 100 RBI breakout campaign. He landed a mutual option to extend for a third year, so if he keeps playing up to it, he’ll get what he was seeking.

11. Rafael Soriano—Pitcher, Signed w/ Washington Nationals: 2 years/$28 million

The now ex-Yankees closer took the risk of the offseason, walking away from a guaranteed $14 million per year in NY to test an uncertain free agent market. After a long while waiting on a calm pond of a market, he got the deal and the gig he was looking for. He becomes a bonus piece in the Nats pen that knocks everyone else down a slot in the pen, but very well could have been the final touch in making DC baseball’s most well-rounded club.

42. Lance Berkman—First Base, Signed w/ Texas Rangers: 1 year/$10 million

An interesting deal for the Rangers, who absolutely had to replace offense in their lineup after not resigning Josh Hamilton or Mike Napoli, and trading off Michael Young,  in landing Berkman. After making only 97 plate appearances for the Cardinals in 2012 due to mixture of elbow and knee injuries, the Rangers made a very generous investment in one on the only power options left on the market, but are rolling the dice at investment they made at best he can recapture his 2011 form.

There are still deals to be inked and players to match with clubs. Follow me on Twitter in the meantime to get up to the moment word at @CheapSeatFan.