To this point in the MLB offseason, the American League West has been a bad division. Not in the opposite-of-good way, but in the dangerous, don't-mess-with-'em kind of way.
Already, stars like Robinson Cano and Prince Fielder have joined the division, and now, Shin-Soo Choo can be added to the mix. As far as bolstered rosters go, that's a new trio of big-time bats that's tough for any other division to match.
With five teams now in the West instead of four, this just might be one of, if not the most tightly contested division in Major League Baseball next year. All five clubs have improved themselves this offseason—yes, even the Houston Astros.
Which divisions might be able to give the AL West a run for its money? Well, the AL East is always a consideration, and the NL Central—with three playoff teams last year—was all sorts of fun to watch. But the AL Central, NL East and NL West have a ways to go.
In 2014, there just may be a West Coast bias.
By the way, for those who often had their head on pillows by the time the games in the Pacific Standard Time region started, the AL West already was pretty darn potent before Cano, Fielder and Choo joined the party. To wit, three of the top eight teams in runs scored last year came from the division: the Oakland Athletics (fourth), Los Angeles Angels (seventh) and Texas Rangers (eighth). And four clubs—those three plus (gasp) the Seattle Mariners—finished in the top 13 in isolated power, all at .150 or higher, per FanGraphs.
With the impact talent already picked clean from this year's class of free-agent position players, the other divisions will struggle to keep pace with the AL West. To this point, the division has been far and away the most active group in trades and signings.
(You might be thinking the Yankees made a bunch of big splashes, but they're just one team and no other AL East squad has tacked on much.)
Here's a quick rundown of many of the key moves made by the five members of the AL West, in order of the 2013 standings:
The A's made a bunch of smaller trades and signings to shore up the bullpen (closer Jim Johnson, setup man Luke Gregerson), rotation (resurrected lefty Scott Kazmir) and outfield defense (Craig Gentry). For a team that's won this division two straight years, that might be all they need.
While the Mariners made the single biggest transaction of the offseason (Cano), the Rangers made a pair that, together, might result in a bigger impact—trading for the slugging Fielder and agreeing to terms with on-base aficionado Choo, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
Los Angeles Angels
None of their newbies are household names, but each of David Freese, Joe Smith, Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago and Raul Ibanez address weaknesses the Angels have dealt with in recent years, including third base, the bullpen, the rotation and left-handed power.
The 10-year, $240 million commitment to Cano certainly got everyone to notice Seattle, which has been a dormant franchise for the past decade. Inking Corey Hart and dealing for Logan Morrison brought in two more capable, if injury-prone hitters—even if it overloaded the roster with first base/DH types.
Hey, even MLB's worst team got into the act a little bit by signing capable right-hander Scott Feldman and trading for center fielder Dexter Fowler. Those moves aren't in the same class as some of the others in the division, but it's good to see Houston looking to get more competitive after three straight 100-loss campaigns.
What All This Means
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports points out just how entertaining all the action and reaction between this collective of clubs has been:
The arms race in the AL West is just awesome to watch. Oakland loading up for 2014. Texas throwing around huge cash. Seattle and Cano+. Fun.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 21, 2013
As for what the Choo deal means for the Rangers specifically, Richard Justice of MLB.com writes:
The Texas Rangers just won the offseason. In the end, it appears to be about that simple. That is, if winning the offseason is defined as identifying the club that has put itself in best position to win the World Series in 2014.
The Rangers have done that. Other clubs have gotten significantly better as well...Still, no team is better positioned to get to the World Series than the Rangers. If they're not at the top of the American League power rankings after adding two impact hitters—Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo—they're close...With the A's, Angels and Mariners also better, with the Astros on the rise, the AL West could give us a fun ride next summer. The Rangers appear likely to lead the way.
Of course, the offseason is far from over. Heck, winter officially only just started, so there's plenty of time for other teams in other divisions to make other moves.
But for now at least, the American League West looks even bigger, better and badder—in a good way—than it did just last season.
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