American League preview: Angels, Jays load up; others not far behind

2013-03-31T00:00:00Z American League preview: Angels, Jays load up; others not far behindThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Josh Hamilton joined forces with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in Los Angeles, primed to pry the American League pennant from Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez in Detroit.

"They always say, 'There's always next year,' and next year is here," Angels ace Jered Weaver said.

Not so fast, big boys.

The Blue Jays want in, too, and they brought a bevy of All-Stars, led by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and shortstop Jose Reyes, north of the border for their shot.

Tampa Bay locked up Evan Longoria for six more years. The White Sox signed young ace Chris Sale for five. The AL West champion Oakland Athletics are hoping Yoenis Cespedes can keep them on top in a loaded division.

Heck, the Rangers lost Hamilton and clubhouse leader Michael Young, and they still think they're armed to be the best in the West with Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison leading a deep rotation.

And never count out the Yankees. They may appear brittle, but Mariano Rivera is back for one last season of sawing off bats and closing out wins.

A look at the AL in predicted order of finish:

West

Texas Rangers

After an embarrassing collapse in the final week of the season and a loss in the wild card game, the Rangers irked some fans. They didn't open their wallet to keep Hamilton or Mike Napoli and traded the team's career hits leader, Young, to the Phillies.

There's no panic in Texas, though, and rightly so. The Rangers' lineup is still formidable, with MVP candidate Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz. The feisty Pierzynski hit a career-high 27 homers for the White Sox last season and could approach that number again in Texas' homey ballpark. And, the club has the top young position player in the minors ready to break into the lineup, infielder Jurickson Profar.

Texas might not be able to match the Angels run for run, but it will outpitch Los Angeles. Harrison and Darvish, with 16 wins as a major-league rookie last year, lead a deep rotation. Joe Nathan returned to form as the closer.

Los Angeles Angels

Fans will be sticking to their seats when the hitters are taking their hacks, but when Weaver's not on the mound, the concession lines could get a little long.

Weaver's an ace, and C.J. Wilson can be a formidable No. 2, although he had an up-and-down first season in California. After that, who knows? The Angels brought in Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson to fill out their rotation. The three went a combined 37-34 last year, and Vargas was the only one to have an ERA under 4.00. The bullpen doesn't offer much more confidence. Ryan Madson was signed away from Cincinnati to be the closer, but he's coming off Tommy John surgery and was recently shut down for a stretch because of elbow tightness.

Oakland Athletics

The A's rode a young pitching staff - five rookies at times after Bartolo Colon was suspended for 50 games for a drug violation - and the surprising performances by players such as Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson to the West title.

Can they repeat the magic that produced a majors-best 14 walkoff wins when Moss likely slugs at a percentage closer to his career average of .442 rather than .596? Cespedes appears ready to be a star, and his production will be key. Jed Lowrie's addition should help perk up the middle infield.

Seattle Mariners

Step 1 in the Mariners' long-term health is taken care of: They locked up 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez with a $175 million, seven-year contract. Now, they need everything else to follow.

Seattle improved one of baseball's worst offenses by bringing in Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez. The Mariners really are hoping Jesus Montero lives up to the potential he showed as a late-season call-up with the Yankees in 2011 - and led them to trade top young pitcher Michael Pineda to New York for the catcher-designated hitter.

The addition of the Astros in the West should help their record some, but Seattle could be in for another dreary summer.

Houston Astros

The inexperienced, overmatched Astros are going to be fodder for the big bats at the top of the division. Still, GM Jeff Luhnow has the team headed in a better direction with an improved farm system that should yield results in a couple of years.

This season, though, Houston could become the first team since the New York Mets from 1962-65 to lose at least 100 games for three straight years.

When new manager Bo Porter makes out his lineup every day, Jose Altuve might be the only name fans recognize. Bud Norris is the highest-paid player on the team at $3 million.

CEntral

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers feel they have some unfinished business to take care of after being so handily swept by the Giants, and the only thing that could keep them from a return trip to the World Series is their bullpen.

Improving a lineup anchored by Triple Crown winner Cabrera and Fielder sounds difficult, but Detroit did it. Martinez is back from the disabled list, and Torii Hunter is here to provide a potent lineup with even more punch.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox made a surprising run under first-year manager Robin Ventura, leading the division into September before fading. They have locked up Sale with a five-year, $32.5 million contract, re-signed a rejuvenated Jake Peavy and brought in Jeff Keppinger to help boost a league-worst .221 average in the No. 2 hole.

It doesn't help that catcher A.J. Pierzynski (27 HRs in 2012) left through free agency. Tyler Flowers will take over behind the plate.

Kansas City Royals

Trading away their top prospect, outfielder Wil Myers, for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis was a big gamble for the Royals to make. Along with Ervin Santana, the three are being counted on to turn around the Royals' biggest problem area: starting pitching.

If Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Jeff Francoeur can rebound at the plate, then the Royals could surprise some people and end a streak of nine straight losing seasons.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians spent money this winter. Will it help? Hard to say.

No matter how many runs Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds produce for new manager Terry Francona, the starting rotation is still a glaring problem.

Minnesota Twins

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau appear to be at full health, but the Twins appear headed for a third straight last-place finish in the Central because their rotation is such a question mark with newcomer Mike Pelfrey coming off Tommy John surgery, Scott Diamond still rehabbing after minor arm surgery and Kevin Correia getting hit hard this spring.

East

Tampa Bay Rays

The spendthrift Rays opened their checkbook to keep Longoria for six more seasons and $100 million. Now, he must stay healthy if light-hitting Tampa Bay is going to make a run in this hefty division.

Longoria missed more than half the season last year because of a partially torn left hamstring and the Rays went 41-44 without him.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays proved this winter how they think the 20th anniversary of Joe Carter's World Series-clinching homer in 1993 should be celebrated - with their first trip back to the playoffs since that dramatic win.

GM Alex Anthopoulos went on a trading spree that would make fantasy owners jealous, unloading spare parts and prospects for Dickey, the NL Cy Young Award winner; Reyes; All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera; and former aces Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

New York Yankees

The aging Yankees will start the season with Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes on the disabled list.

A top pitching staff led by C.C. Sabathia, who's coming back from offseason elbow surgery, and closer Rivera, returning from a torn ACL for one last season, could help this club to its 18th trip to the postseason in 19 years.

Boston Red Sox

The one-year experiment with Bobby Valentine a bust, Boston turned to its former pitching coach John Farrell to guide the club out of last place.

The Red Sox brought in Ryan Dempster. They need Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to return to form, and John Lackey to be effective after missing all last season because of elbow surgery.

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles under vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter made a stunning turnaround last season, going from a team that lost 93 games to winning a wild card spot with a 93-69 record - Baltimore's first winning season in 15 years.

Jim Johnson's 51 saves was a major spark for the Orioles. Can he repeat the performance in his second year as a full-time closer?

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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