In a way, the AL West has become the AL East. You have two big-market, rich powerhouses trying to one up each other in the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels (the Red Sox and Yankees of the West). Then you have a small-market overachiever that always manages to stay in the race in the Oakland A's (Tampa Bay Rays). Finally, there are two other clubs in the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros (Orioles & Blue Jays) that really have no chance. Will anything change in 2014?
At least in terms of BetOnline's baseball odds to win the AL pennant at +700, the Angels are the best team in the AL West despite finishing 18 games behind division-winner Oakland a season ago at 78-84. The Albert Pujols contract from two offseasons ago now looks like a decade-long albatross as his numbers continue to drop each season. He was limited to 99 games in 2013 but at least should finally be healthy on Opening Day. That might be a first with L.A. Josh Hamilton struggled in his first season with the Halos but did stay healthy. He's another candidate for a nice bounce-back season. Then you have the incomparable Mike Trout, who by some statistical measures has had the greatest first two big-league seasons ever. The offense should be fine but the rotation still is iffy even with the additions of Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Don't be surprised to see L.A. sign a veteran free agent. L.A. absolutely has to keep ace Jered Weaver healthy.
It still seems hard to believe Oakland has won the West in each of the past two seasons. The A's are a club built for the regular season with several interchangeable, good players. No team likely will platoon more. However, it might not be built for the playoffs as the offense has done nothing the past two ALDS against the Detroit Tigers. The only guy who really scares anyone in the lineup is Yoenis Cespedes, although Josh Donaldson was a breakout star in 2013. Oakland's big offseason addition was signing lefty starter Scott Kazmir to help fill the hole left by Bartolo Colon. Kazmir was solid last season with Cleveland after pitching one big-league game the previous two years. The A's are +900 to win the pennant on baseball odds.
Texas badly missed Hamilton's bat in the lineup last season and was aggressive to upgrade the offense by sending Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder and adding free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. With Kinsler gone, super-prospect Jurickson Profar will now play every day at second base. The rotation is a major question mark behind Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish. The team's projected No. 2 starter, Derek Holland, had a fall involving his dog and now is expected to miss at least half the season. It would be surprising to see Texas not add another starter. It is +800 at sportsbooks to win the pennant.
The Mariners made the biggest free-agent signing of the winter in former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, but he hardly fixes one of the worst offenses in the majors. Neither does adding Corey Hart or Logan Morrison. Cano's stats will likely plummet in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field and with no protection. There is talk Seattle might sign former Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, however. The team also seems likely to add another starter because the rotation falls off a cliff after Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Seattle is +1200 at sportsbooks to win the pennant.
Then there are the Houston Astros. They have been record-setting bad, losing 106, 107 and then 111 games the past three seasons. Not losing another 105 or so would be an upset playing in this division. Houston is loaded in the farm system and apparently will start spending money in a few seasons when the kids are ready. For now, the Astros remain a punching bag. It's also a big benefit to AL West teams in the wild-card chase because they get to beat up on Houston so often. The Astros are +12500 on baseball odds to win the pennant.
MLB Free Picks Projected Finish: Los Angeles, Texas, Oakland, Seattle, Houston.