Angels, Rangers have major changes as they try to outdo the A’s 

click to enlarge Jose Reyes, left, and R.A. Dickey are part of a roster major upgrade for the Blue Jays. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • Jose Reyes, left, and R.A. Dickey are part of a roster major upgrade for the Blue Jays.

 

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.

sdrumwright@sfexaminer.com

AL predictions

EAST

Analysis: The Yankees are too brittle and the Jays won’t come together quickly, opening the door for the Rays.

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Orioles
  5. Red Sox

CENTRAL

Analysis: The best battle will be for second place, with three teams fighting to finish behind Detroit.

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

WEST

Analysis: The Angels’ lineup will be too potent and will get enough starting pitching to fend off the A’s and Rangers.

  1. Angels
  2. A’s
  3. Rangers
  4. Mariners
  5. Astros

PLAYOFFS

  • Wild card: Yankees def. A’s
  • Division series: Tigers def. Yankees, Rays def. Angels
  • League championship series: Tigers def. Rays
  • World Series: Tigers def. Nationals

AWARD WINNERS

  • MVP: Mike Trout, OF, Angels
  • Cy Young: Justin Verlander, ?Tigers
  • Rookie of the Year: Jurickson Profar, SS, Rangers

Five things to watch:

  1. Could Alex Rodriguez’s career be over? The only player in baseball history to sign two contracts in excess of $200 million is rehabbing after a second hip surgery, expected to keep him out until after the All-Star break at the earliest. However, with his plummeting production and off-field controversies (the Biogenesis connection this time), the Yankees may dramatically cut ties with A-Rod.
  2. The Houston Astros are the second team since the American League joined the National League in 1903 to switch leagues. Following Milwaukee’s jump from the AL to the NL before the 1998 season, the Astros are going from the NL to the AL, giving each league 15 teams and bringing interleague play every day of the season. Oh, and the Astros, joining the powerful AL West, could lose 110 games.
  3. The A’s and Baltimore Orioles were Cinderella teams throughout 2012, shocking teams that, on paper, were much better than they were. The question this year is whether these two teams can repeat the magic, which consisted primarily of winning close games. Both teams are young, but are built on pitching, which could prove last year was not a fluke.
  4. While the Detroit Tigers remain a powerhouse, the AL Central is home to two teams looking to establish themselves as contenders. The Kansas City Royals made a big push to upgrade their rotation by trading for James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana, while the Cleveland Indians hired manager Terry Francona and then made a splash in free agency with first baseman-outfielder Nick Swisher and center fielder Michael Bourn.
  5. The crumbling of the Boston Red Sox in 2012 was shocking. A team that was a perennial powerhouse suddenly had clubhouse issues (Bobby Valentine, the fallout from the 2011 chicken and beer scandal), lacked production and lost 93 games. A purge of the highly paid alleged clubhouse cancers has led to adding gritty veterans, but will that be enough for Dustin Pedroia and Co.?

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Steve Drumwright

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