As spring training inches closer, the Hot Stove speculation begins to cool a bit.
However, there are still roster moves to be made, so it’s a good time to check in on what the A’s division competitors might be looking to add before camps open.
Here’s a team-by-team look around the American League West …
Texas Rangers: Why start with the Rangers? Because they clearly appear to be the A’s biggest hurdle to a third straight division championship. In the eyes of many, they enter the season as A.L. West favorites. After one of their worst offensive seasons in recent memory, Texas traded for slugging first baseman Prince Fielder and signed on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo as its new leadoff man.
The revamped offense prompted Adrian Beltre to predict that his new teammate, Fielder, will win the A.L. MVP award in 2014. But the Rangers’ starting rotation is a potential concern. Derek Holland is expected to miss half the season with a left knee injury, and fellow lefty Matt Harrison is coming off multiple back surgeries that limited him to two starts in 2013.
It’s no surprise Texas is looking for reinforcements behind ace Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Harrison and Alexi Ogando. The Rangers reportedly aren’t in on such marquee free agent starters as Bronson Arroyo, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. They had interest in Bruce Chen before he re-signed with Kansas City on Thursday, and they’ve also been linked to another lefty, Paul Maholm. A.J. Burnett, who is postponing retirement, would be a good fit, but it seems he prefers the East Coast.
Los Angeles Angels: Another team looking to bolster its starting staff. The Angels missed out on Matt Garza, but The Orange County Register’s Jeff Fletcher listed Arroyo, Chris Capuano, Jason Hammel and Maholm as potential targets for Los Angeles, though Hammel appears headed for the Cubs. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are a great 1-2 combo, but beyond them the main starting options are talented but inexperienced with Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs.
The Angels added third baseman David Freese and designated hitter Raul Ibanez to a lineup that needs a full, healthy season from Albert Pujols and a rebound year from Josh Hamilton. And of course, there’s superstar Mike Trout, who makes everything go.
All of those big names would suggest the Angels should pose a threat in the division, but their chances improve greatly if they add another starting pitcher.
Seattle Mariners: See above.
This team needs to supplement a rotation that is headlined by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Mega-star second baseman Robinson Cano is a terrific foundation to build around, and newcomers Corey Hart and Logan Morrison should also help offensively, but it’s tough to see the Mariners being a factor in 2014 without adding some veteran starting pitching. Scott Baker, signed to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, could be a nice pick-up, but he hasn’t pitched a full season since 2011 due to Tommy John surgery.
Don’t be surprised if the Mariners make a late free agent splash. They’ve been mentioned as a favorite to sign outfielder Nelson Cruz, and they’ve also been linked to closer Fernando Rodney. (For those wondering, there doesn’t seem to be anything brewing between the A’s and Cruz.)
Houston Astros: All the snickering about the Astros might have to stop soon. After consecutive seasons of posting 56, 55 and 51 wins, Houston has compiled an impressive collection of young talent. ESPN ranks the Astros’ farm system as the best in the majors, highlighted by shortstop Carlos Correa, right-hander (and former Stanford star) Mark Appel and outfielder George Springer.
The Astros bolstered the current club this winter by signing free agent starter Scott Feldman to a three-year $30 million deal, and they reportedly went hard after Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, sending Roger Clemens as part of a contingent that met in person with the pitcher in Los Angeles.
They may not make any big splashes between now and spring training, but the Astros already have lots of key players in place. Now it’s a matter of watching them develop.