By Zach Odell
As Spring Training opening this week, one the best divisions in baseball gets back to work. The AL West had a pretty good year last year, sending two teams to the playoffs. Now, with baseball beginning to get underway, EP recaps each AL West’s 2014 year and what they can look forward to this year.
This article is the first in a two-part post with the last two teams being posted tomorrow.
OAKLAND ATHLETICSEmbed from Getty Images
2014 Record 88-74 reached playoffs—eliminated in AL Wild Card Game
OUTLOOK: Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane is at it again, when he overhauled a lot of the roster that had gotten them to the consecutive playoff appearances. After trading star OF Yoenis Cespedes for P Jon Lester, they weren’t able to retain Lester. In addition, the A’s lose their best hitter in Josh Donaldson, catcher John Jaso, midseason trade acquisiton Jeff Samardzija, and Brandon Moss,. They added infielders Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, and DH Billy Butler. With all of this roster turnover, I am hesitant to believe they are a true contender, but Billy Beane has done this before successfully and will surely do it again, so only time will tell. Sonny Gray is one of my favorite pitchers and I think he will put together an outstanding season. The A’s have a surplus of talented young arms, but those arms are unproven, and letting Lester and Samardzija walk could hurt them.
BEST ADDITION: 2B Ben Zobrist
There are many viable choices for the best addition as Beane traded players like they were Pokémon cards, but I believe Ben Zobrist is the Pikachu of the group. Zobrist fits the mold of what Beane looks for in players. He gets on base very well, and has a career average of .264(ESPN), as well as contributing on the defense side of the ball. Zobrist seems to be good at everything, but lacks a specialty. However, there is nothing wrong with that and Zobrist should be a huge contributor at the beginning of the lineup.
WORST LOSS: 3B Josh Donaldson
Although the A’s may be fondly reminiscing of one of their mid-season pitching acquisitions during the upcoming season, the absence of Josh Donaldson is going to hurt the most. Donaldson was their leader in virtually all statistical batting categories last season, and third base is one of the weakest positions. Donaldson was a key aspect to their success in the past few seasons, and although Brett Lawrie was brought in, Donaldson will be missed as Lawrie will have troubles filling the void.
PREDICTION: finishes 3rd ; 83-79
SEATTLE MARINERSEmbed from Getty Images
2014 Record 87-75
OUTLOOK: Seattle took a huge stride this past season winning 87 games, which was 16 more wins than the previous years team. The Mariners are trending upward, and they are a potential playoff team. With the addition of slugger Nelson Cruz, and the long term contract signed by Kyle Seager, the middle of the lineup becomes a scary task for opposing pitchers. As for their own pitchers, they have “King Felix” Hernandez, who is consistently one of the best in the game, and Hisashi Iwakuma , James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker both have potential to win 15 games during this upcoming season. Walker’s potential, although largely untapped, is extremely high. The Mariners vastly improved last season, and if they make another step in the right direction, they could be playoff bound.
BEST ADDITION: DH Nelson Cruz
Whether Nelson Cruz bet on himself, or if no teams trusted him to more than a one-year deal, the Mariners end up the winner. Cruz pounded 40 homers and drove in 109 runs for the Orioles last season, and Cruz provides great strength to the lineup. Likely to be inserted behind Cano, batting clean-up will allow Cano to get some better pitches, in theory. He leaves Camden Yards for Safeco Field, which is a very hitter friendly park, but nonetheless, he adds a needed pop to the lineup.
WORST LOSS: OF Micheal Saunders
The loss of pitcher Chris Young is a minor loss, but he is getting older and his stats aren’t worthy of too much fuss. The truth is that the Mariners didn’t lose much production at all, but the worst of it was Micheal Saunders. He hit 8 homers and drove in 34 in 78 games, and had the fourth highest WAR of all its hitters at 1.8 (ESPN). Although, this is a loss, it shouldn’t hurt them too badly.
PREDICTION: Finishes 2nd – reaches playoffs as Wild Card; 85-77
TEXAS RANGERSEmbed from Getty Images
2014 Record 67-95
OUTLOOK: Despite a stellar season from Adrian Beltre, and a strong season from Yu Darvish, the Rangers struggled in 2014. The Rangers continue to struggle pitching. Only two pitchers reached double digits in wins, and of the two Colby Lewis reached 10 wins while suffering through 14 losses (ESPN). Looking forward, the Rangers have some strong hitters, but they have to put it all together. Prince Fielder, Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin, and Shin-Soo Choo all figure to be big contributors in the lineup, but little waves will be made if they don’t update and improve the pitching staff. Someone has to step up to help Darvish. The best bet is Derek Holland who owned a sub-2 earned runned average in his limited action last season (5 gms started). Nonetheless, the Rangers need to realize the best person to complement Darvish won’t be found in the Rangers clubhouse. The pitching staff is holding them back.
BEST ADDITION: P Yovani Gallardo
Although, Gallardo isn’t a savior by any stretch, any help for the rotation is needed help. Gallardo is really not much more than average. Having said that, he has experience and has put together some solid seasons, and he will be a part of the rotation. He is not a great pitcher, but it is a good upgrade considering the position they find themselves in.
WORST LOSS: OF Alex Rios
Rios has always had gap power, and his never been a huge home run threat, but when he is healthy, he is a good hitter, who hits at a good average, and has a respectable blend of power and speed. Even though he is getting older, he will be missed in the lineup.
PREDICTION: finishes last in division; 63-99