The Hot Stove season has cranked into gear early this winter, and the American League West has been the epicenter for some of the heaviest activity.
Take note, A’s fans. As you wait in anticipation for Oakland’s next move, keep an eye on what the other four division teams are doing to improve their rosters.
The Rangers are always capable of a headline-grabbing move (we’ve seen that already), and the Angels desperately want to surround their high-salary superstars with a strong enough supporting cast to be contenders again.
But it’s not just those usual suspects. The Mariners finished 20 games under .500 last season, but they’re set up better than anyone in the division -- financially -- to sign a big-name free agent or two.
The Houston Astros? No reason for false optimism here. But even the Astros are looking to complement their young talent with some veteran newcomers that can help pave the way to respectability.
Here’s a glance at each of the A’s division opponents, showing what they’ve done so far this winter and what’s still on their agenda:
2013 finish: 91-72 (2nd place, lost AL tiebreaker game to Tampa Bay)
What they’ve accomplished: Texas pulled off the biggest offseason move to date, trading second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit for first baseman Prince Fielder. Fielder provides a big bat to install in the No. 3 spot ahead of Adrian Beltre. Is it a big financial risk? You bet. Texas will pay him $138 million over the next seven years, but GM Jon Daniels needed a middle-of-the-order hitter, and he landed a great one. … Left-hander Martin Perez was extended on a four-year, $12.5 million contract. …Catcher Geovany Soto was re-signed on a one-year $3.05 million deal … They also signed starting pitcher Colby Lewis, battling his way back from arm and hip injuries, to a minor league contract.
Their to-do list: It seems weird for a club that was so offensive-minded for years, but the Rangers entered this offseason actually needing impact bats. They finished seventh in the AL in runs last season, which is middle-of-the-pack but disappointing considering their hitter-friendly ballpark. … Texas needs outfield help and is eyeing Carlos Beltran, but the Yankees are going hard after him and the interest is mutual. Should Texas miss out on Beltran, they could jump in on fellow free agent Shin-Soo Choo, but he’s going to be much more costly. Re-signing RF Nelson Cruz, a player the A’s have been linked to, also remains a possibility.
[RELATED: Pros and Cons: Nelson Cruz]
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
2013 finish: 78-84 (3rd place)
What they’ve accomplished: It’s been four straights seasons without a postseason appearance for the Angels, which looks even worse considering the huge contracts they’ve given to Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton over the past two winters. They need starting pitching, but they kickstarted their offseason activity with a trade for a third baseman, acquiring David Freese from St. Louis in a four-player deal that sent center fielder Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals. … They’ve also signed right-handed sidearmer Joe Smith -- one of the top set-up men on the free agent market -- to a three-year $15.75 million deal.
Their to-do list: Despite those additions, the Angels’ offseason will be defined by whether they’re able to add some quality starting pitching to fill out a rotation that includes Jered Weaver, Wilson and Garrett Richards. They’d like those starters to be young and inexpensive, and some wonder if the Angels could have somehow parlayed a trade of Bourjos into a starter rather than Freese. … Though they’re searching for young pitching, they’ve also been linked to veteran free agent starters Bronson Arroyo and Bartolo Colon. The A’s are working to re-sign Colon, so the division battles continue off the field, too. … The Angels are said to be willing to trade first baseman Mark Trumbo, second baseman Howie Kendrick and/or shortstop Erick Aybar in an effort to obtain starting pitching. The Rockies have reportedly talked to Los Angeles about Trumbo, but the Angels’ asking price will be high.
2013 finish: 71-91 (4th place)
What they’ve accomplished: It’s a fresh start in Seattle for a team that hasn’t made a playoff appearance since 2001. Lloyd McClendon was hired as the new manager and he’s bringing in a new coaching staff. Earlier this week it was announced that team president Chuck Armstrong is retiring, so the question is whether new leadership can bring with it better results in the standings.
Their to-do list: There’s a feeling around the game that the Mariners could make a play for any of a number of high-profile free agents. They own their own television network, which provides a huge revenue stream, and they have just one player signed beyond 2014 -- ace Felix Hernandez. The sentiment is that the Mariners can spend, and spend big, if they choose. But it’s one thing to show the willingness to sign big names. It’s another to get those big names to want to wear your uniform. Keep that in mind as you hear the Mariners linked to marquee free agents such as second baseman Robinson Cano and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. To lure any of those players to the Northwest, they’ll need to offer significantly more money than other teams. … The Mariners’ needs are, shall we say, all-encompassing: They would like to sign a starter to bolster a rotation led by Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. They’d also like to sign a closer, and they need some impact hitters after finishing 12th in the A.L. in runs last season. Cruz is among the hitters on their radar.
2013 finish: 51-111 (5th place)
What they’ve accomplished: The Astros have taken care of some minor business, claiming shortstop Ryan Jackson from the Cardinals and lefty reliever Darin Downs from the Tigers this month. Much of the Astros’ success in 2014 will be judged on how much their key young players continue to develop.
Their to-do list: The emphasis may be on the future, but Astros management is making it clear they’re looking to make moves to improve the present club in hopes of avoiding a fourth straight 100-loss season. They engaged former A’s outfielder (and Houston native) Chris Young in talks before Young signed with the Mets. They’ve reportedly talked to the Angels regarding Trumbo. GM Jeff Luhnow told the Houston Chronicle he would like to add a power bat in the outfield, bolster his bullpen depth and perhaps add a veteran starter. His selling point: Players who join the Astros for 2014 have the chance to win starting jobs and be key contributors for a team on the upswing.