It appears the American League West might be decided not by which team is the most talented, but the most resilient.
The Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers, considered the division’s top two contenders, already have been hit hard by injuries before Opening Day even arrives.
Last week, the two-time defending champ A’s absorbed the shock of losing two starting pitchers, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, to elbow injuries. They had reason to feel sorry for themselves until they witnessed what their biggest rival is dealing with.
In the past two days, the Rangers have lost starting second baseman Jurickson Profar to a shoulder injury and starting catcher Geovany Soto to a knee injury. Both are expected to miss at least 10 weeks while recovering.
[RELATED: Profar out 10-12 weeks with shoulder tear]
On top of that, Texas already was without two starting pitchers of its own. Derek Holland (knee surgery) is expected to miss the first half of the season, and fellow lefty Matt Harrison will be sidelined much of April as he recovers from a back injury.
What exactly is going in with the A.L. West? Seattle, which made offseason waves by signing superstar second baseman Robinson Cano, has seen its hopes damaged with injuries to starting pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker.
All of these medical hits would seem to nudge the door open for the Los Angeles Angels, but they have their own injury issues in their bullpen.
What does it all mean?
The A’s and Rangers still have to be viewed as the teams to beat. But the one that does the best job plugging holes – either with internal replacements or outside help that is acquired – figures to take command of the division.
The A’s boast some of the major leagues’ best pitching depth, but there’s no denying that their rotation carries some question marks entering the season. Parker will miss all of 2014 while recovering from “Tommy John” elbow surgery that was scheduled for Monday. Griffin will be sidelined most, if not all, of April as he recovers from elbow tendinitis.
Oakland needs Jesse Chavez to prove he can make the transition from reliever to starter. It needs Sonny Gray to emerge as a staff ace in his first full big league season. And it needs left-hander Scott Kazmir to be a consistent front-of-the-rotation presence in his first year in green and gold.
Texas simply needs to steady the ship after their recent double dose of terrible news. After Profar was lost to a torn shoulder muscle Sunday, Soto – their No. 1 catcher – learned Monday that he has a torn meniscus in his right knee that requires surgery.
“You can’t sugarcoat it. It was a tough day from the medical side,” Rangers G.M. Jon Daniels told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
J.P. Arencibia is expected to become the everyday catcher with Robinson Chirinos the backup.
Texas would seem to have an intriguing option for Profar’s fill-in at second base in top prospect Rougned Odor. But Daniels was clear that Odor will begin the season in the minors, as the team is stressing his development as the top priority. From that standpoint, the Rangers are handling Odor similarly to how the A’s are proceeding with shortstop Addison Russell, their own top prospect.
Kensuke Tanaka figures to get the first crack at second base, with former Athletic Adam Rosales one of the fallback options.
They say misery loves company, no?
Right now, the A’s and Rangers both face the challenge of replacing instrumental players while trying to stay atop the A.L. West. The team that develops the most effective “Plan B” figures to have the edge.