In 2012, Major League Baseball, more specifically the American League saw a trend that many fans and “mainstream writers” won’t enjoy or even recognize…the rise of the West.
The AL West had two of the five playoff teams, the second, third (tied), sixth, and ninth best records in the entire league.
Oakland jumped up 20 wins from 2011 to win the division, Texas made the postseason for the third straight year, Los Angeles (the preseason favorite to blow everyone out of the water) did improve by three more wins, and even Seattle won 12 more games than the previous campaign. All-in-all that’s 32 more wins and 1 more playoff contender than 2011 for the AL West. And it could be getting better for them.
A case can always be made for each and every team that they didn’t improve and did improve during the offseason. I’ll mention setbacks real quick, but mainly want to focus on how the AL West will continue to improve.
Start from the bottom…
Houston Astros: The newest addition to the AL West. They come from the NL Central and will soon find out that life was much easier. However if the Astros accept fifth place for the next 3-4 seasons, concentrate on developing talent, and actually stick to that five-year game-plan, then they will beginning to see success.
The average fan (this includes Astro fans) couldn’t name their starting lineup come the latter half of 2012, the most notable loss was that of Brett Myers and multiple games against the Cubs.
The Astros will rely on their youth to learn, develop, and improve their game. With that in mind, one very solid potential addition is OF Rick Ankiel, if he makes the big league roster, he would serve as a necessary leadership voice. The Astros also added LHP Erik Bedard, RHP Philip Humber, RHP Jose Veras, 1B/DH Carlos Pena, and 2012 Rule 5 Draft Pick #1 RHP Josh Fields.
Again don’t look for much from the Astros, but if their youth improves, this team will head in the right direction.
Seattle Mariners: I could rattle off many stats about the West’s heavy hitters in Texas and Anaheim, and after 2012…Oakland. This wouldn’t include Seattle, and therefore you might overlook them…to your own demise.
The Mariners offseason might be remembered by the deal that did NOT happen. A deal that would have sent Arizona OF Justin Upton to Seattle for arguably the Mariners best pitching prospect (I’m more a Danny Hultzen fan, but again…po-TATE-oe…po-TAT-oe).
Seattle has pitching, no doubts there, what they’ve lacked in the past few years is what has kept them from competing with the Rangers and Angels for an entire season…offense. So what did they do this offseason, they added four offensive weapons.
Two free agents: OFs Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay. Ibanez the only Yankee it seemed that could get a hit last October and Bay, a player desperately looking for a comeback. Two trades: 1B/DH Kendrys Morales and 1B/OF Michael Morse. Both players the odd men out when their former teams made offseason moves, could and likely both will prove to be valuable weapons in 2013. On paper, both players give Seattle a significant boost in offense from 2012, and if Smoak and Ackley can rebound from subpar performances…now you are talking about a team who could make noise.
The biggest loss for Seattle was trading away C John Jaso in the three-team deal that netted them Morse. Meaning this loss could prove to be nothing at all if Morse finds a good home in Seattle and Jesus Montero can hold down the catching position.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 2011-12 offseason they spent more than a small fortune on 1B Albert Pujols and LHP C.J. Wilson, then traded away their top prospect (at the time) 2B Jean Segura to Milwaukee for RHP Zack Greinke. And what do they have to show for it…third place.
The Angels, with baseball’s worse farm system, had to do what their owner does best, another cannonball from the high-dive! And they gave brittle, but dominant OF Josh Hamilton $125M for the next five seasons. SPLASH! Trout, Hamilton, Pujols, Trumbo…doesn’t take a genius to see how formidable that will be for opposing pitchers.
The Angels other glaring issue was the bullpen, even more after trading away RHP Jordan Walden…therefore they added free agents LHP Sean Burnett and RHP Ryan Madson (if he is fully recovered, this could be a dynamic back-end to the bullpen).
However for the Angels while bulking up their bullpen and splashing in the power, might have opened themselves up to a new issue…starting pitching. Jered Weaver is a Top 10 pitcher when rolling and the team still has Wilson. However with the departure of Greinke, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana, the Angels brought in RHP Tommy Hanson (trade), RHP Jason Vargas (trade), and RHP Joe Blanton (free agency). Even a die-hard Halos fan can’t make the argument that they improved.
Hopefully for the Angels sake they aren’t trying the route of forgetting pitching and focusing on out-slugging teams…just ask Ranger fans from the early-2000s how that worked out…speaking of…
Texas Rangers: On the field, the Rangers took a step backward in 2012, however after back-to-back World Series appearances, anything short of a World Series title would have been a step backwards.
The Rangers saw the departure of Hamilton (Angels), 3B/1B Michael Young (trade to Phillies), C/1B Mike Napoli (Red Sox), RHP Ryan Dempster (Red Sox), RHP Mike Adams (Phillies), and RHP Koji Uehara (Red Sox). That’s a significant hit to the face of the team the past two seasons, but it is becoming obvious the Rangers are focusing of building with their new core.
I’ve always said that GM Jon Daniels has a two-year & five-year plan always working at the same time. Letting Hamilton go, trading Young, and not resigning both relievers allows Texas to focus on the five-year plan...Youth Infusion. SS/2B Jurickson Profar, 3B Mike Olt, LHP Martin Perez, and CF Leonys “Cohiba” Martin all spent the bulk of 2012 in the minors and all will be called upon to improve significantly in 2013.
As for the “two-year” part of that plan, the Rangers (especially with the loss of Hamilton’s left-handed bat) needed to add some power, left-handed hitting, and a stable catcher. Therefore the team agreed to terms with C A.J. Pierzynski (left-handed hitter) and DH/1B Lance Berkman (switch-hitter). The Rangers love taking chances on cheap relievers that become major bargains (i.e. 2012 RHP Joe Nathan) and this year Texas added RHPs Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor.
For the Rangers to continue moving forward, they will need their younger players to step-up in production, and what better way to do that than mix in some savvy veterans who are simply looking to play on a winning team.
Oakland Athletics: The surprise of 2012! So many wonderful stories about this team that on paper had no chance of winning the West with the teams that the Rangers and Angels were fielding. Yet the A’s never listened and they shocked baseball. Can they do it again? Based on what they have, history says no, but I’d rather bet with this team than against them.
The A’s did have two very significant losses when SS Stephen Drew signed in Boston and RHP Brandon McCarthy signed in Arizona. Oakland didn’t make any significant pitching changes and will continue to move forward with their now sophomore class of young arms, along with a hopeful healthy Brett Anderson.
As for offense, the A’s replaced Drew’s vacancy with the latest Japanese import SS Hiroyuki Nakajima. Obviously I could be wrong, but I’ve seen only two Japanese offensive imports be above-average contributors to teams. Acquiring OF Chris Young from Arizona was a move that makes the A’s outfield a legit threat (with Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick). The final offensive weapon was a catching upgrade from Derek Norris to John Jaso, who the A's got from Seattle.
For the A’s to repeat 2012, they will rely heavily on their dominant pitching staff, and if they continue to shine, the offense looks better and repeating is very possible.
The biggest mistake that baseball has made is ignoring for so long any team out West not named the Dodgers and over the past few years even them. But with the Giants winning two World Series titles in three years and the significant steps forward in the AL West, it’s very likely that more and more title runs will be coming from out West.