Perhaps your head has stopped spinning from all the moves the A’s made this offseason.
Perhaps it hasn’t.
What’s important to know is that while Oakland was busy overhauling its roster with a flurry of trades, the other four American League West clubs weren’t sitting still either. Some roster makeovers were more drastic than others. But with spring training less than three weeks away, it’s time to take stock of what additions the A’s division competitors made over the winter, and what issues confront them entering camp.
Teams are listed in descending order of their 2014 finish in the standings, with new players’ names in bold:
LOS ANGELES ANGELS:
WHO’S NEW: The Angels parted with 2B Howie Kendrick in order to get LHP Andrew Heaney from the Dodgers. Now considered the Angels’ top prospect, Heaney will compete for a rotation spot along with Nick Tropeano, who was acquired from the Astros for C Hank Conger. Matt Joyce came over from Tampa Bay and should slot in as the regular D.H. Josh Rutledge, who was with Colorado last year, will compete to replace Kendrick at second as will Taylor Featherston, a Rule 5 pick acquired from the Cubs. LHP Cesar Ramos will join the bullpen after coming over from Tampa Bay. If RHP Jeremy McBryde’s name sounds familiar to A’s fans, it’s because he spent last season in Oakland’s Triple-A bullpen.
WHO NEEDS TO EMERGE: He isn’t exactly new to the team, but Josh Hamilton needs to become the dangerous run producer the Angels thought they were getting when they signed him to a five-year $125 million deal two years ago. The outfielder has battled injuries and has hit just .255 while averaging 16 home runs and 62 RBI over his first two seasons in Anaheim. A bounce-back year from him is key to helping make up for Kendrick’s departure.
SPRING STORYLINE: The defending division champs won 98 games last season, so no major changes are needed. But let’s watch how the starting rotation takes shape until talented young right-hander Garrett Richards returns from knee surgery that cut short his 2014 season.
WHO’S NEW: Nelson Cruz was inked to a four-year $58 million deal to be Seattle’s new D.H., and he filled a big need as a right-handed power hitter who can provide lineup protection for Robinson Cano. Former Athletic Seth Smith came over in a trade from San Diego and will form a platoon in right field with Justin Ruggiano, another newcomer from the Cubs. LHP J.A. Happ will join the rotation after coming over from Toronto in a trade for OF Michael Saunders.
WHO NEEDS TO EMERGE: Smith enjoyed a nice season with the Padres last year that helped him earn a two-year $13 million contract extension. It’s no picnic to hit in Petco Park, and it won’t be in Safeco Field either. The Mariners need Smith to provide consistent punch from the left side of the plate.
SPRING STORYLINE: The Mariners, who went 87-75 last season, finished just one game behind the A’s for the second A.L. Wild Card spot. Many believe they’re ready to take that next step in 2015, but it’s imperative they improve an offense that was tied for 11th in runs in ’14 and finished last in team OPS. Seattle boasts perennial Cy Young contender Felix Hernandez atop the rotation and Hisashi Iwakuma is another veteran anchor. Lefty James Paxton should continue to build on the potential he’s shown in the majors, and if 22-year-old Taijuan Walker emerges as another young force, this rotation could be downright scary.
[RELATED: Lowrie signs three-year deal with Astros]
WHO’S NEW: A’s alumni can be found all over Houston’s roster after the Astros acquired four former Athletics this winter. Jed Lowrie signed a three-year contract to play shortstop (his second stint with Houston), and fellow free agents Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek were added to bolster the bullpen. RHP Dan Straily was acquired from the Cubs along with infielder Luis Valbuena for outfielder Dexter Fowler. Houston acquired Evan Gattis via trade from Atlanta and he’ll provide right-handed pop while seeing time at first base, D.H. and perhaps left field. Free agent Colby Rasmus will start somewhere in the outfield and help make up for Fowler’s departure.
WHO NEEDS TO EMERGE: The 28-year-old Rasmus hit just .225 last year, but he’s averaged 21 homers over the past three seasons. Having signed a one-year contract, he’ll be motivated to impress this season and set himself up for a multi-year deal next winter. If he can cut down on his strikeouts, Rasmus can provide an effective left-handed bat that helps balance a lineup stacked with right-handed threats.
SPRING STORYLINE: The Astros improved to a 70-win team last year and avoided last place for the first time since 2010. They’ve boosted their payroll by more than $18 million over 2014 and are determined to be taken seriously as a contender. They continue to boast some of the game’s best young talent, but they’ve supplemented it with a group of solid veterans. But it has to translate to the field. The Astros ranked 14th in the A.L. in runs scored last season and 12th in team ERA.
[RELATED: Rangers acquire Gallardo from Brewers]
WHO’S NEW: Yovani Gallardo arrived in a trade from Milwaukee to help shore up the starting rotation. Ross Detwiler, acquired from Washington during the winter meetings, and Anthony Ranaudo, another newcomer and a former Top-100 prospect, also will battle for starting spots. Texas also traded for catcher Carlos Corporan, and he’s set to platoon with Robinson Chirinos. Reliever Kyuji Fujikawa signed a one-year deal and could serve as a late-inning setup man. The Rangers plucked OF Delino DeShields, Jr., in the Rule 5 draft.
WHO NEEDS TO EMERGE: Given that Texas’ 4.49 team ERA ranked 14th in the league last year, Gallardo becomes an important link for a starting staff that is headed by Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. The Rangers’ rotation should get an eventual boost from a couple players returning from injury – Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. Until then, the starting five that Texas goes with will need to hold down the fort, and Gallardo is a big part of that effort. His strikeout numbers have dipped in recent seasons, but he pitched to a solid 3.51 ERA last season with the Brewers despite an 8-11 record.
SPRING STORYLINE: The Rangers are a tough team to read heading into the season. They went an A.L.-worst 67-95 in 2014, but that’s largely attributed to the avalanche of injuries they suffered. Healthy returns from Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo should do wonders for the offense. But will good health be enough to vault the Rangers back into contention? There’s no doubt new manager Jeff Banister will have plenty of weapons at his disposal if everyone’s at full strength.