The AL West might not be the deepest division in baseball, but the contending teams sure make it one of the most interesting ones.
From the Texas Rangers, who went to back-to-back World Series before a collapse last season; to the Los Angeles Angels, who are feeling a bit envious of their L.A. brethren; to the A’s, the small-market team with a band of characters that shockingly won the division in 2012, this year promises to be chock-full of twists and turns good enough for any supermarket tabloid.
First, there is Josh Hamilton, the slugger who pulled himself out of drug addiction to turn himself into a perennial MVP candidate, albeit with a couple of off-field relapses. He turned his nose up at the Rangers to sign a five-year, $125 million deal with the rival Angels, forming a power trio with Albert Pujols and AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout.
The Angels also added Ryan Madson to the bullpen and Tommy Hanson to the rotation.
Before that, the Rangers traded away Michael Young, the clubhouse leader whose role with the team didn’t match his loyalty. He played anywhere management wanted him to as other talented individuals either rose to prominence or were signed. They also let catcher-designated hitter Mike Napoli go via free agency.
The Rangers weren’t very successful in attracting free agents this offseason, with catcher A.J. Pierzynski the only notable pickup.
The A’s didn’t have the offseason overhaul they did the previous year, when they made three high-profile trades that many thought would land Oakland in the West basement. Instead, thanks to a slew of walkoff wins, the steadiness of young starting pitchers and a top-notch bullpen, they won the final six games of the regular season, including sweeping the final three from the Rangers to win the division on the final day of the season. Trading for outfielder Chris Young and signing shortstop Hiro Nakajima of Japan gave them their biggest offseason pickups.
Speaking of pickups, the Toronto Blue Jays were the Studio 54 of the offseason. The Jays helped in the dismantling of the Miami Marlins by trading for pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, infielder Emilio Bonafacio and catcher John Buck while the Marlins got seven relative no-names. Buck was in another blockbuster, as he was one of four players shipped to the New York Mets for NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and two others.
The Jays also snapped up left fielder Melky Cabrera, whose MVP-caliber 2012 season with the Giants was disrupted by a 50-game suspension for using a ?performance-enhancing drug.
Whether this will be enough to get past the New York Yankees (with or without Alex Rodriguez), the ever-changing Tampa Bay Rays or the surprising Baltimore Orioles is another question.
Detroit still seems like the class of the AL, even without a clear No. 2 ?contender in the Central Division. The Tigers, who lost to the Giants in the World Series, will get back designated hitter Victor Martinez (after a season-ending knee injury) and add outfielder Torii Hunter to a potent lineup featuring Triple Crown winner and AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and slugger Prince Fielder.
Analysis: The Yankees are too brittle and the Jays won’t come together quickly, opening the door for the Rays.
Analysis: The best battle will be for second place, with three teams fighting to finish behind Detroit.
Analysis: The Angels’ lineup will be too potent and will get enough starting pitching to fend off the A’s and Rangers.