AL West Preview: Will Fielder Be Deciding Factor in Four Team Race?

An article by posted on March 25, 2014

prince-fielder

The AL West in my opinion represents the most wide open division in all of baseball, minus one team. I think everybody may be quick to jump on the Texas bandwagon again, especially after adding Prince Fielder to the mix, but I’m not so sure I’m ready to jump.

In your comments, we’d love to hear your predicted standings, your AL West MVP, AL West Best Pitcher, and AL West Top Sleeper.

5th Place: Houston Astros

I’ve heard people suggest that maybe the Astros could be a young team to watch out for in 2014. I’m sorry Astros fans, but I am not buying it.

There isn’t a lot to be said if you ask me. This is a team that is sticking to a plan to develop as much young talent as they possibly can, and to let the team grow into an eventual contender.

Astros fans may get some enjoyment out of watching players like Jose Altuve at 2B or Dexter Fowler in CF, but they won’t be able to stop this team from losing close to, if not 100 games.

I have a rule, well okay, it’s a new rule. If Scott Feldman is your ace, you’re in last place (that rhymes too!).

4th Place: Seattle Mariners

This is a team that might come off disappointing to some solely because of the Robinson Cano signing, but to me, they will be competitive – but slip in September.

I know the talk all spring was about whether or not the Mariners needed “one” more bat to go with Cano. And while I agree, they need more bats (more than one), I think it is still their pitching that will hold them back in 2014.

Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker are questionable for the start of the 2014 season already, and to me they need to have a healthy 2014 season if the Mariners want to have any chance at competing in this division. So, the fact they are already starting the year with injury issues is a problem for me.

Mets fans who are eager to see Nick Franklin in Citi Field most certainly should keep an eye on Brad Miller. If Miller looks to slip even a little, Franklin isn’t going anywhere.

Mike Zunino is a guy that not many really talk about, but he looks to be a pretty solid hitting catcher, and with Logan Morrison in the mix – it will be interesting to see how the whole Miguel Montero saga unfolds.

3rd Place: Oakland Athletics

Everybody who isn’t an anti-Beane personality probably enjoys watching this team play baseball. They are essentially a National League roster inside an American League division.

My concern here is that I believe three teams in this division got better this winter, and I don’t think Oakland was one of them. Therefore, I see them having a tougher time playing their division rivals and thus landing in third place.

When the A’s lost Bartolo Colon, they replaced him with Scott Kazmir – which is a slight twist of irony if you ask me. But, to Colon’s credit, that is a downgrade. Kazmir is already dealing with tricep problems, and that could be a bigger problem down the stretch.

They also replaced Grant Balfour with Jim Johnson, another downgrade if you ask me.

This is a grind it out type team, and while I don’t dislike their chances, I just cannot predict intangibles by looking at a roster on paper. They just do not stack up to the Angles or Rangers in this division.

2nd place: Texas Rangers

Part of this is an attempt at taking a risk with the first place team.

The Rangers lineup looks stacked in basically every position, except perhaps DH (which is odd when you think about it).

The addition of Prince Fielder gives them a major power threat in the heart of the order, something they will really enjoy when Shin-Soo Choo is getting on base ahead of Fielder. This offense will be relentless, and will be multi-dimensional with Jurickson Profar (assuming he comes back healthy in June) and Leonys Martin making big league names for themselves.

The rotation is lead by one of the best pitchers in the sport, Yu Darvish. Darvish seems to be getting better every year, and should be in the Cy Young conversation this year.

After Darvish however, things look questionable. Derek Holland is just getting ready to throw his first bullpen session of the year, Matt Harrison is dealing with back issues and after those three – you have more questions on performance than health.

Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando should provide solid end of the rotation depth, but the issue is that if Holland (mid-season) and Harrison do not do what Texas needs them to, then Texas is very thin in starting pitching.

I think their offense is good enough to carry them to a playoff berth, but I don’t think it will help them take the division.

1st Place: Los Angeles Angels

I am buying low on the Angels this year. It seems the popular pick by the traditionalist is the Rangers, and of course those with an affinity for advanced metrics will likely go with Oakland, but I really like the Angels this year.

This is a team that came into 2013 with a ton of expectations after the signing of Josh Hamilton, and they fell flat on their face.

I love the addition of David Freese at 3B, and in my view, if Hamilton and Albert Pujols are as healthy as they appear from this spring – then this is a team that will be very tough to out slug.

Pujols seems out to prove his critics wrong, and I’m not going to be the guy to bet against one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying he will succeed for the length of that deal, I am saying he could easily put together one more excellent year.

I previewed and praised their offense without even mentioning Mike Trout. Self high-five.

Their rotation is similar to Texas except I have more faith in the health and bottom of the rotation here than in Texas. Weaver isn’t Darvish, but he’s really good. C.J. Wilson is better than any other pitcher in Texas, and Richards, Skaggs and Blanton or Santiago are to me equals if not better than Texas’ bottom rotation guys.

I really like the bullpen with Kevin Jepsen, Joe Smith and then Ernesto Frieri to slam the door shut.

The Angels have a top 5 manager in the sport, and under achieved last year. I am unwilling to bet on a repeat of that, and I am taking the Angels to take the division in a close race over Texas.

AL West MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles – He will be surrounded by veterans like Freese, Pujols and Hamilton that will compliment him nicely and allow him to really show just how elite he is (as if he hasn’t already).

AL West Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle – I am looking for King Felix to fight with Darvish over the #1 pitcher in the division, but at the end of the day, I think Felix is motivated to take back his crown.

AL West Sleeper: Leonys Martin, Texas – A pretty solid year in 2013, but I am looking for Martin to become one of the most talked about young outfielders in the game after 2014.

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at Texas Rangers

XtreemIcon’s Picks

My only disagreement in the standings comes at the top. Houston, Seattle and Oakland from the ground up looks about right, but Seattle won’t be competitive until September as Jessep suggests. This is the year, in my opinion, Felix Hernandez comes back down to earth. Too many innings and too little offense behind him. He’ll still be effective, but not great. He finished outside the top-ten last season and will continue his slow descent into mediocrity.

I like Texas to finish first because of their huge addition…Shin Soo Choo. Fielder will help and be a threat, but I predict him to underwhelm in Texas. People have him tabbed as a potential 40-home run guy because of the sardine can he’ll be playing in, but I just don’t see him turning the clock back to his Milwaukee days. He’s more likely to just reproduce his 2013 season. He’ll turn 30 this season, and while he’s been remarkably healthy, the other shoe has to drop some time. He’ll be good, but not what the Rangers thought they were getting.

I would recommend manager Ron Washington solve his DH problem by playing Fielder there and preserving him while using current DH and superior defensive first baseman Mtch Moreland in the field. If both guys are going to be in the lineup, why trot out a less-than-optimal defense?

Still, the team is better than Anaheim. I don’t expect Pujols to ever recapture his St. Louis glory, though I do expect a solid bounce back from Josh Hamilton. I just don’t trust the pitching to compete with Cy Young contender Yu Darvish and breakout candidate Martin Perez. Tanner Schneppers is poised to contribute in a big way, as well. The bullpen has experience and depth, with Joakim Soria, Neftali Perez and Alexi Ogando about as solid a 1-2-3 punch as there is.

AL West MVP: Mike Trout. He’s the best player in baseball and the rightful, two-time reigning league MVP.

AL West Cy Young: Yu Darvish. Sorry, Felix. Sell high, Jack Z.

AL West Sleeper: Martin Perez. There’s a lot of good, young talent in the AL West and I’m excited to see what George Springer can do, but Perez looks ready to vault into the stratosphere.

mmo

About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.

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