The American League West is going to be a fascinating case study in different philosophies of roster building
The Angels, Rangers and Athletics have been constructed so differently, with such different thinking and possibly even different values, that the AmericanLeague West race could be a litmus test, of sorts, on the different philosophies. The Angels may be picked to win, primarily because of having Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton hitting first, third and fourth. But the Angels have significant questions in the rotation and also in the bullpen if Ryan Madson isn’t healthy. Okay, back to those different philosophies.
The Angels have taken a sledgehammer approach to roster building. Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols were picked off the free-agent market with deals totaling $365 million. C.J. Wilson was lured from Texas for $77.5 million. Vernon Wells, who was obtained from the Blue Jays, has $49 million remaining on a contract the Blue Jays gave him worth $126 million. Even the manager, Mike Scioscia, has six years remaining on a 10-year contract.
The Angels were supposed to be looking to hold their payroll to last year’s $155-million total, but then when Hamilton hung around on the free agent market, he signed for $125 million over five years. The Angels have eight players making at least $8 million, so Scioscia will have some big egos to navigate through. What’s really strange is that, having spent all that money, the Angels’ rotation is the third-best in the division. Their bullpen may be the third-best in the division as well, so if pitching decides the division—and it almost always does—Anaheim is beatable.
It’ll be fascinating to see how Hamilton responds to a new role. He’s going to find out that big money brings big expectations, and unlike Rangers fans, who adored the game, he has no equity with Angels fans. When he goes into one of those week-long funks when he seems barely interested in playing, the reception may not be kind.
And teams seem finally to have gotten a good, smart scouting report on him. Here’s a brief summary: Don’t throw him a strike. He goes up there hacking. He hits bad pitches about as well as anyone, but he’s simply not patient enough to take walks. When someone asked Scioscia last week if he’d show Hamilton the book the Angels had on him, Scioscia said, “He already knows what teams are tying to do to him.”
Meanwhile, the A’s are a manager’s dream. GM Billy Beane has again given Bob Melvin options up and down the roster in terms of lineup match-ups and late-inning pitching match-ups. The A’s also have a deep, talented rotation. Unlike the Angels, who are likely to have a set lineup, Melvin will mix and match all over the place.
Even though the A’s will again have one of the five lowest payrolls in baseball, Beane has put together a roster that probably works. Melvin won the AL West last season by plugging guys in and out of the order and putting them in position to succeed. The A’s have a terrific clubhouse environment. It’s drama free, and even without last year’s leaders, Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge, the A’s probably will figure out a way.
And there are the Rangers. At this moment—and this changes every 20 minutes—I’d pick Texas to win the American League West. While the off-season focus has been on losing Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams and Michael Young, the Rangers still have a core of players that knows how to win.
If Lance Berkman has another productive year left in him and if Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish stay healthy, Texas might be an eyelash better than the A’s. This is an interesting year because GM Jon Daniels was very disciplined in his spending, once more establishing himself as one of baseball’s best.
He probably has the money to go dollar-for-dollar with the Angels, and indeed he will have a payroll of close to $120 million, including the $10 million he agreed to pay the Phillies in the Young trade. But he wouldn’t meet Hamilton’s asking price and ended up losing him. He declined to part with the prospects that would have gotten him Justin Upton. He didn’t match the Dodgers spending for Zack Greinke. If the Rangers don’t make the playoffs, he’ll be second-guessed for not going crazy.
But as Opening Day approaches, he has positioned his club nicely. The Rangers still have one of baseball’s best teams at the Major League level, and they also have one of its strongest farm systems. If he needs a player at the trading deadline, he has the prospects to go and get that player.
Pressure could play a role, and the Angels have more of it than the Rangers and A’s combined. The A’s have virtually none. As Beane pointed out, the A’s are coming off a season in which they won the AL West and are again being overlooked by some. He’d probably tell you that’s a good thing.
His credibility with ownership has given him the freedom to do things the way he wants to do them. He’s happy and confident this spring, believing the A’s might just trick ‘em again. Then again, the Rangers might end up doing the same thing.