Injuries have already impacted several of these clubs right out of the gate. Both the Rangers and Angels were already a bit suspect in this department heading into the season. And now, just a week or so in, both clubs have put their aces on the disabled list. I’m still going to handicap this division the same way I would’ve two weeks ago, but expect both of these clubs to operate with a little less sizzle for the first couple of months.
1st place: Texas Rangers
You could argue that no team had a worse offseason than the Rangers. Spurned by both Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton, the Rangers decided to pass on any other major upgrades via free agency. Instead, they quietly pieced together some intriguing signings. Lance Berkman and Joakim Soria are both coming off substantial injuries, but if healthy, they should provide a boost. A.J. Pierzynski should continue to hit for power in Arlington, even though he’s getting a bit long in the tooth. Kinsler, Andrus, Beltre, Darvish, and Harrison form a nice core and super-prospect Jurickson Profar is waiting in the wings. I expect the Rangers to monitor the trade deadline market for whatever they need to help them make a playoff push. This might be their best shot to win for the next several seasons.
2nd place: Los Angeles Angels
Sure, Josh Hamilton is a nice signing. But if you start to add it up, both Hamilton and Pujols are getting a bit injury-prone. They might combine for 80 HRs and 225 RBI; or they might flip-flop between the DL and DH. In a couple of years, I think Halos ownership might regret both of these deals. But the greatest question mark is the rotation. I don’t see imports Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson, and Joe Blanton as improvements over Greinke, Santana, and Haren. If Ryan Madson ever returns, the ‘pen ought to be solid. And Mike Trout will be great (though I expect regression). But I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that this club wins the division. In fact, I think they’ll be in a dogfight with Oakland for one of the AL Wild Card spots.
3rd place: Oakland A’s
Boy, where did these guys come from last year? I don’t know anybody who predicted these kids to be this good this early. As of this writing, Oakland is the hottest club in the bigs. The young starters look strong: Brett Anderson is ace-material (when healthy); A.J. Griffin, Tommy Millone, and Jarrod Parker look to be the real deal. It’s a sign of this club’s depth that they demoted Dan Straily after his 11-strikeout performance a few days ago. The offense is unspectacular but effective-enough: Yoenis Cespedes is the only guy who really scares you, but they have enough complimentary pieces to get the job done. I really like the OF rotation (Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, Seth Smith, and Chris Young). That depth is already reaping dividends while Reddick has been banged up. If Jed Lowrie gets 500 at bats, look for him to produce in a big way. It seems Billy Beane has replicated the blueprint that’s worked well across the Bay in San Fran: cheap, young starting pitching and a grinding offensive attack. These guys could be here to stay for a while.
4th place: Seattle Mariners
Seattle could be the most improved team in the majors this season…and still finish 4th in this division. Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse give instant credibility to an anemic attack. Jesus Montero might not stick as a big league catcher, but I think he’ll hit in a big way. Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak seem to have plateaued off, but they’re still young enough to improve. The bullpen has a couple of power arms and help is on the way for the rotation, too: soon King Felix could be surrounded by Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker. When that happens, Seattle could legitimately contend. Until then, they’ll at least have fun beating up on the pathetic Astros.
5th place: Houston Astros
I really hated to see Houston move to the AL. I’ve enjoyed watching my Cardinals routinely beat them like a drum for the past several years. This is the kind of club that helps you understand Premier League soccer rules over in Europe: you wish a club this bad could be banished to the minor leagues. I’m rooting for Jeff Luhnow since he’s a former Cardinal exec, but boy does he have his work cut out for him. It’s really not even worth profiling this pathetic team. They’ll lose 115 games easily. They’re that bad.