For years, the AL East has been considered the best division in baseball. After all, the Yankees and Red Sox are perennially quality teams, the Rays have been consistent for several years, and the Orioles and Blue Jays have also made moves to strengthen their position. However, with some free agent moves and young talent, the AL West might soon be considered the toughest division in the game.
Having won the division two years in a row, the A’s still seem to somehow fly under the radar. They have an impressive minor league system which has been generating most of the talent that has led to their success. Also, some impressive trades and a couple of free agent signings have all combined to make the A’s the leader in the West division. The next step for the Athletics is to parlay their regular season success into some postseason hardware.
Many people might point to the Rangers as the best team out west despite having finished runner up to Oakland two years in a row. The Rangers have done their best during this off-season to improve their team and catch the A’s – most notably, they have added Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo to the lineup, although they also suffered the loss of closer Joe Nathan. The rotation is still anchored by ace Yu Darvish, and the Rangers look positioned for another quality season.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
While the shine might have worn off of the free agent acquisitions of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the Angels still have a team with the potential to get back into the playoff conversation. Mike Trout might be the best player in all of baseball, and Jered Weaver is a legitimate ace pitcher when healthy. The Angels might need to find production from a couple more pieces to really contend with the Rangers and A’s, but they should not be overlooked.
The Mariners have made the biggest splash of the off-season, pulling Robinson Cano away from New York with some $240 million. The question for the Mariners is whether or not that is enough to move up the standings and be a legitimate contender in 2014. The M’s already have excellent starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and have been rumored to be the front runners for Masahiro Tanaka. With good performances from some young players like Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Smoak, the Mariners could surprise and be a major player in the 2014 pennant race.
While the other four teams in the division appear to be playing for the present, the Astros seem to be more oriented toward their long-term future. However, that isn’t to say that Houston will remain out of the race for long. With an impressive farm system and very little in the way of long-term payroll commitments, the Astros could be on a faster-track to success than many observers would have guessed.
The Astros might be a year or two away from being a real contender, but a case could be made for any of the other four teams winning the division in 2014. For the runners-up, the wild card seems like a possible landing spot. With some free agent additions and plenty of young talent, the AL West just might be the division that rises above the rest in the coming season.