Thursday, November 8, 2012
Offseason breakdown: AL West
By Jim Caple
Editor's Note: This is part of a three-day series that assesses each of baseball's 30 teams in a division-by-division format. Teams are listed according to the order in which they finished the regular season in their division in 2012.
Wow. What a great season. Oakland was five games under .500 and 13 games out of first place when July began, but came roaring back to win the American League West and take Detroit to Game 5 in the division series.
The Athletics did it thanks to some excellent young pitching and an offense that's power made up for its many strikeouts. With left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, center fielder Coco Crisp, right fielder Josh Reddick and recently acquired Chris Young, Oakland's outfield is good and deep. This is a young team poised to get better with age -- if the Athletics keep them together.
Having traded backup infielderCliff Pennington for outfielder Chris Young after the postseason, the Athletics will need someone at shortstop unless they can re-sign Stephen Drew. They also need to decide whether Jemile Weeks, who had a disappointing 2012, can be their everyday second baseman or whether they need to upgrade.
• SS Stephen Drew
• LHP Dallas Braden
• OF Jonny Gomes
• RHPBrandon McCarthy
• 3B Brandon Inge
Gomes played a major clubhouse role in Oakland's success, but with the addition of Young, there is no room for him in the outfield. It's up in the air whether McCarthy and Drew return, though the pitcher has expressed a desire to stay and the Athletics need a shortstop. With Josh Donaldson at third, Inge likely will go as well.
With so much pitching and outfield depth, Oakland could very well make a deal there, especially if they lose Drew. (Perhaps Toronto's Yunel Escobar?) With their usual limited budget, don't look for them to sign any marquee free agents.
Oakland's AL West title might have been baseball's best story in 2012, but the Athletics still face the familiar challenges. They are still looking for a new stadium in a different location and until they get one, general manager Billy Beane will be under a tight budget that forces him to be creative. The good news is that they have many young quality pitchers -- and therefore inexpensive -- plus a promising offense (though it needs to cut down on the strikeouts).
They also have an excellent coaching staff led by Bob Melvin, who deserves his second manager of the year award. Duplicating the stunning success of 2012 in a tough division will be a challenge but at least the Athletics look like they'll be able to build off last season rather rebuild again.
The 2012 season was a disappointment for the Rangers.
After two consecutive trips to the World Series -- and coming within a strike of winning twice in 2011 -- the Rangers led the division almost wire-to-wire, only to fade in the final month and drop three in a row to Oakland at season's end to lose the division title. They then lost to Baltimore in the wild-card round. Now they face a large number of possible losses to free agency, including Josh Hamilton.
Depending on which players leave via free agency -- and the losses could be substantial -- the Rangers may need to add an outfielder, a catcher, a starting pitcher and some middle relief.
• OF Josh Hamilton
• C Mike Napoli
• RHP Roy Oswalt
• RHP Ryan Dempster
• RHP Koji Uehara
• RHP Mike Adams
• RHP Scott Feldman
• RHP Mark Lowe
• RHP Yoshinori Tateyama
Hamilton was a hero in the first half when he was hitting four homers in a game and leading the league in everything. He had a bad second half and turned off fans and the team alike by missing games with unusual ailments such as blurred vision from "too much caffeine." The Rangers could re-sign him, but not if another team raises his price tag significantly. They also are likely to lose most of their other free agents as well, though they hope to re-sign Napoli and Feldman if the price is right.
With the expected loss of Oswalt and Dempster, the Rangers will need to add an arm to the rotation, and probably will go hard after Zack Greinke. Depending on what happens with Hamilton, they also will need to add some outfield help, perhaps Torii Hunter or B.J. Upton. And if they lose Napoli and don't tender a contract to Geovany Soto, they will need a catcher as well. Perhaps they go could go after A.J. Pierzynski. Relief candidates include Jeremy Affeldt and Ryan Madson.
While the Rangers should still be a strong contender in 2013, they also will be a different looking team. This is considering all of their expected losses, particularly Hamilton. One of the new faces could be second base prospect Jurickson Profar, who homered in his first at-bat at age 19 in a September callup role. They are strong in the infield with Profar, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre.
Moving Alexi Ogando to the rotation helps, but with both Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz out with injuries until midseason, they need help there, as well as in the bullpen with the likely loss of Adams. Moving Kinsler to the outfield would be another option if Profar is ready for the majors. General manager Jon Daniels is one of the game's best so Texas will roll out a solid team in 2013 -- it just will have some different faces.
It was a very disappointing season for the Angels. Or perhaps make that very, very disappointing.
Despite spending lavishly to sign Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the Angels struggled to begin 2012 -- they still had a losing record into late May -- and never quite recovered, finally finishing just out of the wild card. The team still has a number of strengths heading into the 2013 season, but how many depends on who they can re-sign -- and all that money they spent last winter may limit spending this offseason, turning some 2012 strengths (starting pitching) into cause for concern.
After trading Ervin Santana and not picking up the option on Dan Haren, the Angels need to either re-sign free agent Zack Greinke or Haren, or add another starter to the rotation. If they lose Torii Hunter, they also will need another bat.
• OF Torii Hunter
• RHP Zack Greinke
• RHP Dan Haren
• RHP LaTroy Hawkins
• RHP Jason Isringhausen
• INF Maicer Izturis
The Angels probably will lose Haren to free agency and will face a lot of competition for Greinke, as well. There's also a serious risk that they'll lose Hunter, though he would like to come back and the team says it wants him back, but they did not make him a qualifying offer. Hunter will be 38 next July and probably won't repeat his fine 2012 season again but he is an important player in the clubhouse, so if he leaves, he will be seriously missed. Izturis is likely to leave, as well.
They will go hard after Greinke, and if they don't re-sign him, they will need to pick up at least one other starter and possibly two. Joe Saunders is one candidate, as would be Kyle Lohse, Anibal Sanchez or Edwin Jackson. They could also use some help at the back of the bullpen, though closer Rafael Soriano may be too expensive for their tastes. Jeremy Affeldt and Koji Uehara would be other bullpen possibilities.
The Angels were one of the favorites to win the World Series entering last season but even though Pujols and Mark Trumbo hit 30 home runs, rookie sensation Mike Trout had a possible MVP season, Wilson made the All-Star team, Hunter had one of the best seasons of his career and Jered Weaver won 20 games, they still didn't even reach the postseason.
That's the third year in a row they've missed the playoffs and pressure will be on manager Mike Scioscia to get them back there in 2013. With Trout, Pujols and Trumbo (if he hits more like he did in the first half of 2012 than the second half), they have a solid offensive base, especially if they can re-sign Hunter. The rotation will be a concern, however, if they don't re-sign either Greinke or Haren, especially with the way Wilson struggled in the second half and then needed cleanup surgery to remove bone spurs in his left elbow in October. Last winter was about spending and adding to the team. This winter will be about maintaining and replacing -- and therefore probably will be an even more important offseason.
The Mariners are going nowhere in a division that got much better in 2012.
The Mariners disappointed on the field again, finishing in last place for the third year in a row and the seventh time in nine years. With Felix Hernandez leading the rotation, the pitching is solid enough, but despite some slight improvement, the offense continues to struggle. The season ended with more questions about young players such as Dustin Ackley (.622 OPS, 124 strikeouts) and Justin Smoak than there were on Opening Day.
The Mariners are moving in the fences at Safeco Field, but that might mean they lose games 7-4 games instead of 3-1 unless they significantly improve their offense. While they scored more runs in 2012, they still need a home run hitter in the lineup to put some fear into opposing pitchers. Unless 2012 No. 3 overall pick Mike Zunino, a catcher, makes the team, they also might acquire a catcher, since they aren't crazy about John Jaso's defense and Jesus Montero seems more suited for a DH role.
• C Miguel Olivo
• RHP Kevin Millwood
• LHP George Sherrill
The Mariners likely will not re-sign Olivo or Millwood, neither of whom is a significant loss. With promising right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma re-signing for two years, there have also been trade rumors involving lefty Jason Vargas.
After cutting payroll for two years, the Mariners have hinted they will spend a little more this winter. Will the closer fences entice some free agents, such as Nick Swisher or Josh Hamilton (the latter is definitely a long shot)? They also might go after catchers Mike Napoli or A.J. Pierzynski. And while he'll probably wind up being too expensive due to his age, Torii Hunter could add a needed clubhouse presence for a team that has little leadership.
After watching Oakland win the AL West in 2012, fans want to see signs of actual rebuilding in Seattle in general manager Jack Zduriencik's fifth season.
Third baseman Kyle Seager (20 HR, .738 OPS) was one of the few position players that Mariners fans felt better about at the end of the season. While there are some promising pitchers in the minors (Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton), the Mariners have not drafted (and kept) a position player who made a real difference since Alex Rodriguez two decades ago. They need Ackley, Seager, outfielder Michael Saunders and prospects Zunino and shortstop Nick Franklin to change that.
But who will make the key decisions? Absentee owner Hiroshi Yamauchi has never seen the team play in person, even when it opened the 2012 season in Japan, while Howard Lincoln has been a disastrous CEO. Lincoln went out of his way to alienate fans in 2012, first openly opposing a new basketball arena in the neighborhood, then raising ticket prices after another last-place season. Oh, well. With the Astros joining the AL West, maybe the Mariners won't finish last again.
After losing a combined 213 games the past two years and finishing last in the majors in runs in 2012, let's just say the Astros are a long way from their Killer B's days.
They have a new manager (Bo Porter) and Jeff Luhnow has yet to reach his one-year anniversary as general manager. They are also moving from one of the majors' weaker divisions (no more games against the Pirates!) to one of its stronger divisions, as well as into what is also the stronger league. But hey, the Astros have new uniforms!
Where to start? How about DH, which the game's worst offense in 2012 will need to add now that the Astros will play in the American League. They also need a couple of starting pitchers, middle relief, a closer, some outfield depth and a catcher if Chris Snyder signs elsewhere (as expected). Hmmm. Patience is also a necessity.
• C Chris Snyder
The good news is that with few free agents, the Astros probably won't lose many players from their 2012 season. Of course, that could also be viewed as the bad news.
It should be a quiet winter for baseball's Team Woebegone. Signing marquee free agents doesn't make much sense for a rebuilding team and Luhnow has said that he won't trade his prospects. They will focus on adding some pitching and run production. Former Astro Lance Berkman would be an excellent fit to return to his old team now that they need a DH and the fans need another reason to cheer amid the rebuilding. Mike Napoli would be a possible signing if they lose Snyder.
The route back to contention won't be easy or quick but at least that "classic'' movie, "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training,'' provided advice for a young, developing team in Houston: "Let them play!'' The Astros have some solid prospects -- pitcher Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and outfielder George Springer -- but many (such as 2012 No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa) are a ways from the majors. Still, the Astros have budget flexibility for future seasons when (if) the farm system pays off. Playing more games against the Rangers and Angels, and fewer games against the Pirates and Cubs is not going to make the process easier but the Astros are committed to the rebuilding process.