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Sizing up the Yankees' American League competition: AL West

The A's have owned the Yankees in recent years and the Rangers have been to the World Series twice since the Yankees last made it. Taking down these teams will not be easy.

Kissing ass probably won't help the Astros move up this year.
Kissing ass probably won't help the Astros move up this year.
Bob Levey

Continuing with yesterday's preview of the American League, it's time to move on from the AL Central to the AL West. All of these teams have serious potential, but call me crazy, the Astros are still probably a few years away. #HotTake.

AL West

Los Angeles Angels

2013 record: 78-84, 3rd place
2014 PECOTA projected record: 88-74, 1st place
Key additions: 3B David Freese, DH Raul Ibanez, RP Joe Smith, SP Hector Santiago, SP Tyler Skaggs
Key departures: SP Jason Vargas, CF Peter Bourjos, 1B Mark Trumbo

It's been a disappointing past few seasons out near Disneyland. Once perennial playoff contenders and constant pain in the Yankees' ass, the Angels haven't made it back to the playoffs since the Yankees took them out in the 2009 ALCS. This slump certainly isn't for lack of trying though. Owner Arte Moreno has made enormous investments in his team, most notably the gargantuan 10-year, $240 million Albert Pujols contract in 2012 and the five-year, $133 million contract given to former division rival Josh Hamilton in 2013. The early results of both these deals have been disasters, and neither slugger is getting any younger. Pujols in particular has dealt with serious knee and foot problems, like the plantar fascia tear that has left him a shadow of the man who used to destroy baseballs in St. Louis. If the Angels want to contend in 2014, they need at least some contribution from these high-value hitters.

On the serious bright side is, of course, Mike Trout, who has been easily the best player in baseball over the past two years thanks to a stunning combination of bat control, superb defense, and excellent baserunning not seen from a from 22-year-old since the days of Mickey Mantle. Trout has hit .324/.416/.560 with 57 homers, 82 steals, a 174 OPS+, and a ridiculous 20.4 fWAR since 2013. By fWAR measures, he has already had a career equal to Ryan Howard. Outside of Trout, the Angels made some moves by ditching the talented-but-flawed Bourjos and Trumbo for the talented-but-flawed Freese, Santiago, and Skaggs (a former farmhand). It's tough to see the Freese trade working out, but Santiago and Skaggs could be nice complements to aces Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson in the rotation. The Angels' pitching staff was one of the league's worst in 2013 and needed upgrades. Perhaps those deals are what help them finally get over the hump and take back the West.

Unless Mike Scioscia has Raul Ibanez play the outfield. In which case, lol.

Texas Rangers

2013 record: 91-72, 2nd place, lost playoff for 2nd Wild Card spot
2014 PECOTA projected record: 85-77, 2nd place
Key additions: OF Shin-Soo Choo, 1B Prince Fielder, SP Tommy Hanson, SP Joe Saunders
Key departures: 2B Ian Kinsler, RP Joe Nathan, SP Matt Garza, OF Nelson Cruz, C A.J. Pierzynski

Texas has quietly slipped the past few seasons while still putting up fine regular season numbers. Since losing the World Series in gut-wrenching fashion to the 2011 Cardinals, they have been eliminated in the Wild Card game by the Orioles, and knocked out in the playoff to get to the Wild Card game by the Rays. Yet Ron Washington's club still remains in contention and could very well return to the top of AL West. GM Jon Daniels didn't make too many moves in the off-season, the moves he did make were huge. They swapped questionable contracts with the Tigers by dealing away longtime second baseman Kinsler for Fielder, and they signed the former Red Choo to a monster seven-year, $130 million deal. The Fielder trade is actually pretty good from Texas's perspective despite his slight decline over the past couple seasons since Detroit assumed $30 million of the $168 million left on his deal, so it's essentially a seven-year, $138 million deal for Fielder, which isn't that bad. The hot Texas air should be great for him, Choo, and the excellent Adrian Beltra to send some dingers flying in 2014. Kinsler's move also allows top prospect Jurickson Profar to have a legitimate starting role at second base, a shot that the kid deserves.

The pitching staff is where it gets a little questionable. Yu Darvish might be the best pitcher in the American League, but the Rangers will miss lefty Derek Holland for roughly half the season due to knee surgery, and Matt Harrison is also set to go on the DL with back stiffness. So behind Darvish in the rotation at the season's beginning will be Alexi Ogando, the recently-extended Martin Perez, Hanson, and Saunders. The Rangers will likely need their offense to do the heavy lifting to keep them afloat while their better starters recover. The bullpen also has a new closer now that Nathan is in Detroit. Old closer Neftali Feliz doesn't appear to be completely recovered from Tommy John surgery, so while he works out the kinks in a setup role, it appears that former Royals closer Joakin Soria will take the leads in the ninth for now. Expect another season of competitive baseball in Texas. The Rangers and their big offense aren't going anywhere.

Oakland Athletics

2013 record: 96-66, 1st place
2014 PECOTA projected record: 84-78, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Scott Kazmir, RP Jim Johnson, RP Luke Gregerson, RP Drew Pomeranz
Key departures: SP Bartolo Colon, RP Grant Balfour, OF Seth Smith, OF Chris Young, SP Brett Anderson

Another year, another off-season of under-the-radar Billy Beane moves, as the two-time defending division champions made moves to shore up their bullpen but mostly kept the rest of their team intact aside from swapping Kazmir for Colon. Early spring training has not been kind to the rotation though, as they have already lost starter Jarrod Parker to Tommy John surgery, A.J. Griffin has elbow tendinitis, Kazmir has had triceps problems, and setup man Ryan Cook has dealt with shoulder inflammation. Nonetheless, Oakland has a deep lineup that scored the third-most runs in the league last year and almost all of those players are back: Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, Jed Lowrie, Derek Norris, and the big breakout star from 2013, third baseman Josh Donaldson. Losing Smith simply meant the A's could shift Moss to DH and bring Daric Barton back into the regular lineup as a first baseman.

The A's seemingly have an endless supply of young, quality starters. Even after losing Parker, they have Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, and rookie sensation Sonny Gray to fill out the rotation. They replaced Balfour in the back of the bullpen at a relatively low cost by trading essentially nothing (Jemile Weeks) to the Orioles for Johnson and assuming his arbitration cost of $10 million. One could argue that perhaps it would have been better to wait the superior Balfour out for the two-year, $12 million contract he signed with the Rays, but hey, Oakland might very well have hit their payroll ceiling. Amazingly, Beane has constructed this team with just $60.4 million, the fourth-lowest payroll in baseball. Expect Oakland to stay in the hunt with Texas and the Angels all year long.

Seattle Mariners

2013 record: 71-91, 4th place
2014 PECOTA projected record: 82-80, 4th place
Key additions: 2B Robinson Cano, RP Fernando Rodney, DH Corey Hart, 1B Logan Morrison, SP Scott Baker
Key departures: DH Raul Ibanez, DH Kendrys Morales, SP Joe Saunders, RP Oliver Perez, OF Franklin Gutierrez

Ugh, do I really have to write about my favorite player of all time leaving the Yankees for one of the least successful teams in baseball history? Fine. The Mariners made arguably the biggest transaction in franchise history by blowing Cano away with a 10-year, $240 million offer, and off Robbie went to land of Starbucks and Microsoft. It was an enormous cost for the Mariners and a deal that will probably not look too pretty just a few years down the road as the 31-year-old Cano ages, but look at the Mariners' past 10 years. As Jeff Sullivan has pointed out, it's not like that was any better. For the early part of the deal anyway, they'll have two big stars playing together in Cano and ace Felix Hernandez, so it at least sends a signal to Mariners that they're trying. After an off-season that included a scandal where former employees like Eric Wedge essentially confirmed on the record that the front office was a bunch of idiots, they might have needed to generate the fan interest.

Cano probably won't be enough to guide the Mariners back to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years though. The Mariners didn't exactly bolster his signing the greatest of complementary players. There are still fine young players in third baseman Kyle Seagers, shortstop Brad Miller, and center fielder Michael Saunders. They seem to want to make this "three first basemen" thing to work in the starting lineup by putting the newly-acquired Hart in right field (good luck with that on his reconstructed knees) with the relatively-revitalized Justin Smoak at first and loudmouth nutcase Morrison at DH, but it would not be shocking at all to see them make a trade to send Smoak away. Same goes for former second basemen Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley, displaced by the Cano signing. The rotation will take a hit without the reliable Hisashi Iwakuma for about a month and a half, and they might have to miss top prospect Taijuan Walker for a little while, too. The bullpen added Rodney and is actually pretty decent with Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Charlie Furbush. The bottom line is still the same though--Robbie likely would have had a better shot at the playoffs in New York. This team will likely be happy just to finish over .500. C'est la vie.

Houston Astros

2013 record: 51-111, 5th place
2014 PECOTA projected record: 66-96, 5th place
Key additions: CF Dexter Fowler, SP Scott Feldman, SP Jerome Williams, RP Chad Qualls, RP Jesse Crain
Key departures: SP Erik Bedard, SP Jordan Lyles, INF Jake Elmore, OF Brandon Barnes, 1B Brett Wallace

The Astros are a delightful experiment in what truly happens when team ownership legitimately decides "Screw it, we're punting the next couple seasons and blowing it all up." Since Jim Crane bought the team from Drayton McLane's flawed ownership group in 2011, the now-AL club has ended up with the top pick in the MLB draft for three straight seasons, and it could very well reach four in 2014. They've used those picks to bring aboard talented amateurs like Mark Appel and Carlos Correa, and they will likely get Carlos Rodon in this year's draft. The youth movement is on the way and they will likely add both outfielder George Springer and first baseman Jonathan Singleton sometime soon to complement a very young lineup that features Jason Castro, Chris Carter, L.J. Hoes, and Jose Altuve.

In perhaps a goodwill move to show their fans that they will try to make improvements to the major league team and avoid a 111-loss catastrophe like last year (which ended with a 15-game losing streak), the Astros brought veterans Fowler, Feldman, and some bullpen arms into the mix. They basically fleeced the Rockies in acquiring Fowler, who is only 27, too. Feldman's no All-Star, but he's a decent pitcher to head this young pitching staff. The Astros almost certainly aren't going to escape the AL cellar this year, but the product on the field should be better than the past few years. Now, to see where this youth movement goes next...