AL chase low-budget A’s, Cardinals NL favourites
The big-spending also-rans of recent years in the American League West division once more find themselves chasing those overachieving, low-budget Oakland Athletics.
Yet Bob Melvin’s A’s hardly consider themselves the favorite to win a third straight West crown, not in one of Major League Baseball’s best divisions that appears to have become even better this offseason.
“There are probably teams that probably don’t take them seriously, but we do,” Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “They showed that they can get it done and as of right now, they’re the champions of the West. So we’re chasing them.”
While New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter tries to finish his Hall of Fame career in pinstripes the way he started it, with a World Series title, and the Detroit Tigers aim to unseat the defending champion Boston Red Sox, the West looks to be one of MLB’s top divisions again this year.
“You can make a legitimate case that all five teams are better,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “You’ve got the Yankees and Dodgers and a number of clubs that made a lot of moves out there, Washington and others, but from a division-to-division standpoint, I don’t know that any group was more active than the AL West.”
Robinson Cano is the new star in Seattle — for the next decade, no less. The Texas lineup has been studded with first baseman Prince Fielder, traded from the Tigers, and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, bought for $130 million. Sluggers Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have something to prove for the playoff-starved Los Angeles Angels, who are feeling the pressure after missing the postseason for the past four years.
The A’s made their share of moves this winter, many via trade as general manager Billy Beane often does. But Oakland’s changes are minor compared to the acquisitions of Cano and Fielder.
“We’re still trying to prove people wrong,” Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp said.
The Tigers have reached the AL Championship Series for three straight years, but a World Series title has remained elusive since 1984.
New manager Brad Ausmus takes over a team that even without pitcher Doug Fister, may have the AL’s best rotation, assuming ace Justin Verlander comes back strong from core muscle surgery in January.
Miguel Cabrera hopes to be healthier than last year, when he was hobbled at the end but still won MVP honours for the second straight year.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox will try to capture the magic again, minus many of those bushy beards this time. The pitching staff is full of experienced players such as Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy.
There’s no reason to believe the St. Louis Cardinals, whom Boston beat in six games in the World Series, can’t win the National League Central for a sixth time in 11 years.
Adam Wainwright and postseason darling Michael Wacha are part of the division’s best rotation. The lineup remains stacked even after Carlos Beltran departed in free agency. All-Star slugger Allen Craig missed much of the postseason last year, and the Cardinals still made it to the World Series.
The real intrigue in the division comes after the Cardinals. The Central had both wild cards last season; the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, and the Cincinnati Reds.
The Pirates and Reds each lost a key player in free agency, while the Milwaukee Brewers get Ryan Braun back from his season-ending, 65-game drug suspension. Pitcher A.J. Burnett went from the Pirates to the Phillies, while the Reds lost leadoff hitter Choo to the Rangers.
The loaded Los Angeles Dodgers started the season in Australia beating Arizona and think it’s their time to shine.
Their biggest deal of the offseason was a $215 million, seven-year contract for their own Clayton Kershaw, who won the Cy Young Award for the second time in three seasons. Kershaw, Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig and steady Adrian Gonzalez helped the Dodgers all the way to the NLCS.
The Washington Nationals were among the favorites last year, coming off a breakthrough season. But slugger Bryce Harper was hurt and they underperformed in their final season under manager Davey Johnson, finishing 10 games back of East champion Atlanta.
Enter Matt Williams, who gets his first job as a MLB manager after three seasons as Arizona’s third base coach. The rotation is one of the best in the majors, with Fister coming over from Detroit. Harper is healthy again, and pitcher Stephen Strasburg looks just fine following October elbow surgery.