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Grading Every Deadline Trade

Offseason Moves Reshaping Already Competitive AL West

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Offseason Moves Reshaping Already Competitive AL West
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With all due respect to the other five divisions in Major League Baseball, it would be very hard to argue that the five teams which comprise the American League West have not been among the most active in baseball this offseason.

With the flurry of moves, the power in baseball could be shifting from the AL East out West. 

We already have seen a good amount of this over the past few years in the National League, with the Dodgers becoming the modern-day New York Yankees and acquiring every big name player that becomes available. 

The trade with the Boston Red Sox to send Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford was the first major statement that the power was shifting to the West Coast. Shortly preceding the Boston-LA blockbuster in 2012, the Dodgers also added Hanley Ramirez as they began compiling their all-All-Star roster. 

The past two offseasons we have seen the top two free agents, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, wind up in the American League West rather than heading out East to the Yankees or Red Sox as had become the norm during the early part of the 2000's.

This offseason, the rest of the AL West are doing their best to catch up with the Angels, with the additions of Prince Fielder (Rangers) and Robinson Cano (Mariners), and the wheeling and dealing of Billy Beane as the Athletics look to defend their back-to-back division titles. 

The addition of Fielder to the Rangers is probably not enough in itself to unseat the twice defending Athletics and flip their places in the standings, nor is the addition of free agent catcher J.P. Arencibia, but Texas has also been linked to other big name free agents and trade targets. Landing any one of Nelson Cruz, Shin-Soo Choo, David Price or Bartolo Colon could further solidify their lineup and rotation in their pursuit of another World Series appearance. Texas is not far removed from their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-2011, and has been the biggest obstacle for the A's in both 2012 and 2013. 

One move already made by the Rangers that shouldn't be overlooked is the rare intra-division trade with the A's that sent Craig Gentry to Oakland for rookie outfielder Michael Choice. Choice is a Texas native returning to play for his hometown team and has huge power potential, an aspect that shouldn't be overlooked playing in the favorable hitting conditions of Arlington in the summer. 

Trying to fight their way back into contention, the Los Angeles Angels have added third baseman David Freese via trade from the St. Louis Cardinals and added young pitching depth in a trade that sent Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Perhaps taking a break from their back-to-back offseasons of handing out mind-blowing contracts to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the Angels certainly shouldn't be looked at as a finished product quite yet, and can't be counted out of the remaining free agent pool.

None of Oakland's moves would be considered headline deals, but a look at their depth chart tells the real story. They have filled their roster by adding Scott Kazmir to replace Bartolo Colon, trading for Jim Johnson to replace Grant Balfour, trading for Craig Gentry (and Josh LindBlom) to replace Chris Young and swapping Brett Anderson for Drew Pomeranz. Lastly, they dealt Jerry Blevins to the Nationals for Billy Burns, Washington's 2013 Minor League Player of the Year.

Signing Kazmir was a consolation prize after missing out on their own former ace, Tim Hudson, who decided instead to sign with the cross-Bay rival San Francisco Giants (a national league move, but still another move out West).

Again, none of these are moves that signify the A's are making an all-in push for the division, but they all maintain their recent theme of having flexibility and versatility on their roster, while also being able to restock the farm system a bit.

The clear upgrade that Oakland made was in the deal sending Seth Smith to the Padres in exchange for setup man extraordinaire Luke Gregerson, further solidifying one of the best bullpens in baseball. Take into consideration that they replaced their All-Star closer with a guy that has saved 50+ games in each of the past two seasons in Johnson, and you have a scary good bullpen.

With Beane "making more trades than the Wolf of Wall Street" (hat tip to Marshall Paul of BaySportsNet.com for that reference), you can't count out the possibility that Oakland will swing a deal for a marquee name before the beginning of spring training (keep in mind they surprised everyone with the Yoenis Cespedes signing before the 2012 season). 

The Mariners made the biggest headline-grabbing news of the offseason by giving a 10-year, $240 million contract to Cano, but they also went out and signed Corey Hart to a one-year deal to help add some fire power to their lineup and traded for Logan Morrison from the Florida Marlins. These moves aren't enough to catapult the Mariners to the top of the division, but they are showing the willingness to spend some of their new $2 billion TV contract on top talent, at least in the case of Cano, and could wind up becoming a destination for free agents in the future as well. If nothing else, they are giving themselves a fighting chance if either the A's or Rangers falter.

Despite his unwillingness to sign a contract extension with the Mariners if dealt to Seattle, David Price remains on the Mariners' radar and would be yet another example of top talent heading west rather than remaining in the East. 

Not to be forgotten, the Houston Astros made their biggest splash of the offseason by signing Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million deal and trading for Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies. The Astros also added reliever Chad Qualls. Houston seems destined for another cellar-dwelling season in 2014, but as they continue to add young talent, they too will become a destination for top talent as they begin to contend in the coming years. 

None of this is to say that there isn't still a good amount of top talent on the East Coast, there surely is, but there appears to be a shift in the power balance that began a couple seasons ago and has continued strongly this winter. 

Suddenly the spending is on the opposite coast and the Yankees and Red Sox don't find themselves the destination of choice as often as they were over the past decade.

The American League West is now arguably the toughest division in baseball, and as free agency and trades continue, it only appears things will be getting a bit tougher out West.

One thing's for sure; with both Prince and Cano in the division, things definitely just got tougher for AL West pitchers.

 


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