AL West Preview: Angels by Default
The AL West looks like the weakest division in baseball. Oakland traded away all their good players, Seattle thought Nelson Cruz was worth giving $57 million to (even in the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field), and the Rangers still have egg on their face after giving Shin Soo-Choo a $130 million deal the previous offseason. Since Houston needs more time to develop, I’m going with Mike Scioscia and the Angels, who still have much of the same nucleus of the team that won 98 games last year.
1. Los Angeles Angels: The Angels didn’t have a splashy offseason—no outlandish free agent contracts were handed out—so maybe they’ve wised up. Fortunately, they have enough talent around the overpaid talent (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and C.J. Wilson) to make this work. Reigning MVP Mike Trout (who they signed to a six-year $144 million extension in the offseason) is still young (23) and in his prime. Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards (assuming he’s healthy), and Wilson (assuming he rebounds from last year’s 13–10 record, 4.51 ERA performance) are the nucleus of a pretty good rotation.
2015 Prediction: 88–74
2. Seattle Mariners: The Mariners, who are already in over their heads with the 10-year deal they gave to Robinson Cano the previous offseason, doubled down by giving 34-year-old DH Nelson Cruz an outlandish four-year $57 million contract to provide Cano and Kyle Seager some lineup protection. In his prime, Cruz would be worth it, but his prime was last year when he was motivated by working on a one-year deal in Baltimore and set career-bests in home runs (40) and RBIs (108). Meanwhile Felix Hernandez is still one of the best on the mound. Any rotation with him is at least formidable.
2015 Prediction: 82–80
3. Texas Rangers: The Rangers could go any number of ways in 2015. If Prince Fielder is healthy and Shin Soo-Choo remembers how to hit again (and steal), they could have something. Last year, the Rangers led the league in days on the disabled list and not coincidentally they went 67–95. By all accounts, Yu Darvish looks great in spring training and he, along with Derek Holland, could form a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Behind them, there are question marks, and I don’t mean the once-promising infield. They traded for Yovani Gallardo as their No. 3 starter, though his strikeout numbers suggest he’s in decline.
2015 Prediction: 72–90
4. Oakland A’s: After trading away Jeff Samardzija, Josh Donaldson, and Brandon Moss, in addition to losing Jon Lester (who they traded Yoenis Cespedes for) to free agency, no one’s high on Oakland—at least not for 2015. Of course, no one’s going to be that low on Oakland either, out of respect for GM Billy Beane. Beane did sign Billy Butler and got Brett Lawrie from the Blue Jays in the Donaldson trade and Ben Zobrist in a five-player trade with Tampa Bay, but it’s going to take some time to get them back to the playoffs.
2015 Prediction: 70–92
5. Houston Astros: Some have picked the Astros to be at least average this season—I don’t see it. Their woeful bullpen looks better on paper with the additions of Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, though it’s tough to build a good bullpen through free agency. Outfielder George Springer has potential, and at age 25 it’s time to produce. Jose Altuve (.341 average in 2014) is one of the best second basemen, but they are going to be heavily dependent on no-name starting pitchers like Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, and Scott Feldman.
2015 Prediction: 68–94