Division-by-division: AL West …
Last year’s record: 78-84, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Hector Santiago, SP Tyler Skaggs, RP Joe Smith, 3B David Freese, DH Raul Ibanez, RP Fernando Salas, SP Mark Mulder, 1B Carlos Pena, INF John McDonald, RP Brian Moran
Key subtractions: 1B/OF Mark Trumbo, CF Peter Bourjos, SP Jason Vargas, SP Jerome Williams, SP Tommy Hanson
Biggest strength: Offense, even without Trumbo. The Angels ranked fifth in OPS last year despite getting mediocre-to-bad seasons from Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols. Both should be better this year — Pujols because of health, Hamilton because of mindset — and they still have the game’s best all-around player in Mike Trout. They’ll be fine in this department.
Biggest question: Starting pitching, just like it was around this time last year. The Angels got the cost-controlled pitching they needed by getting Skaggs and Santiago for Trumbo. But they couldn’t resign Jason Vargas and couldn’t bring in Matt Garza, so they’ll be relying on three young guys — Skaggs, Santiago and Garrett Richards — to fortify their rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
Most important player: Skaggs. He’s coming off a rough season in the Majors and in Triple-A, but he’s only 22 years old, still has good stuff and is returning to the organization that originally drafted him.
In 25 words or less: They no longer have the hype of the last two years, but the talent is still there to contend. It’ll come down to starting pitching.
Last year’s record: 51-111, 5th place
Key additions: SP Scott Feldman, CF Dexter Fowler, SP Jerome Williams, RP Chad Qualls, RP Matt Albers, RP Anthony Bass, INF Cesar Izturis, 1B/OF Jesus Guzman, RP Jesse Crain, OF Adron Chambers
Key subtractions: SP Erik Bedard, INF Ryan Jackson, OF Brandon Barnes, SP Jordan Lyles
Biggest strength: The future. The Astros’ farm system was ranked first by ESPN.com’s Keith Law recently. They have four prospects within MLB.com’s Top 25 (Carlos Correa, Jonathan Singleton, George Springer and Mark Appel) and they’ll have the No. 1 overall selection once again this June.
Biggest question: The present. There’s a reason — besides savvy Drafts, prospect-laden trades and a bigger presence in Latin America — that their farm system has become so good: Because their Major League team has been so bad. There’s no sugarcoating it. The Astros have lost at least 100 games three straight years, their big league club is still full of questions, and the division they’re still new to is much better.
Most important player: Springer. The 24-year-old outfielder, ranked 23rd by MLB.com, is expected to make his Major League debut at some point in 2014. And if his numbers at Double-A and Triple-A are any indication, he could make an immediate impact.
In 25 words or less: They’ll be a little better this year, with Fowler, Feldman and Qualls adding necessary veteran presence, and should be much better in a few more.
Last year’s record: 96-66, 1st place (lost to Tigers in ALDS)
Key additions: SP Scott Kazmir, CL Jim Johnson, RP Luke Gregerson, RP Fernando Abad, INF Nick Punto, OF Craig Gentry, SP Drew Pomeranz, SP Phil Humber
Key subtractions: C Kurt Suzuki, OF Chris Young, SP Bartolo Colon, RP Grant Balfour, OF Michael Choice, SP Brett Anderson, RP Pedro Figueroa, 2B Jemile Weeks
Biggest strength: Pitching, as usual. Colon is a big loss — literally and figuratively — but with Johnson and Gregerson, the A’s could have one of the deepest and most dominant bullpens ever. Seriously. And if Sonny Gray is the same guy we saw down the stretch and in the playoffs, the rotation — with Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin and Kazmir also in it — looks outstanding once again.
Biggest question: Second base. Weeks didn’t necessarily pan out, Alberto Callaspo is out of position there, and it looks like it’ll be Punto and Eric Sogard in some sort of platoon.
Most important player: Kazmir. The 30-year-old left-hander parlayed a miraculous comeback season into a two-year, $22 million contract with a team that can’t afford bad contracts. If he’s the guy he was with the Indians last year (4.04 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.2 K/9 in 158 innings) the A’s will be in great shape. If he reverts to the guy who was out of baseball for a year, they could be in trouble.
In 25 words or less: They’ve won back-to-back AL West titles, only to be eliminated by the Tigers in back-to-back first rounds. They seem primed to take the next step.
Last year’s record: 71-91, 4th place
Key additions: 2B Robinson Cano, CL Fernando Rodney, 1B/OF Corey Hart, 1B/OF Logan Morrison, C John Buck, INF/OF Willie Bloomquist, SP Scott Baker, OF Travis Witherspoon
Key subtractions: 1B Kendrys Morales, OF Raul Ibanez, SP Joe Saunders, RP Oliver Perez, RP Carter Capps, OF Carlos Peguero
Biggest strength: Second base. Well, they seem to have that position figured out pretty well. They better, with a $240 million investment for Cano.
Biggest question: Protecting Cano. Right now, they have Hart coming off knee surgery that put him out for all of 2013, which is no sure thing. If you spend that much money on someone like Cano, you ought to make sure someone actually throws him a strike every once in a while. Nelson Cruz could be a big help in the cleanup spot.
Most important player: Taijuan Walker. The Mariners already have a dynamic one-two punch in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. If Walker — 21 and the fourth-ranked prospect in the Majors by MLB.com — steps up, Seattle’s rotation can compete with some of the best teams in the American League.
In 25 words or less: It’s great to see them make a splash, but it’ll take lots more than Cano to take this from a 91-loss team to the playoffs.
Last year’s record: 91-72, 2nd place (lost to Rays in Wild Card tiebreaker)
Key additions: 1B Prince Fielder, LF Shin-Soo Choo, C J.P. Arencibia, OF Michael Choice, 3B/1B Kevin Kouzmanoff, INF/OF Brent Lillibridge, SP Armando Galarraga, RP Jose Contreras, RP Daniel Bard
Key subtractions: C A.J. Pierzynski, DH Lance Berkman, RF Nelson Cruz, OF David Murphy, SP Matt Garza, CL Joe Nathan, 2B Ian Kinsler, OF Craig Gentry
Biggest strength: Offense. With an on-base machine in Choo at the top and Fielder protecting Adrian Beltre in the middle — not to mention giving them that left-handed power bat they lost with Hamilton — the Rangers’ lineup is a guaranteed juggernaut.
Biggest question: Health, particularly of their pitching staff. Opening Day starter Matt Harrison is coming off two back surgeries and an additional procedure to treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his right shoulder. Colby Lewis is coming off hip surgery. Derek Holland won’t be ready until midseason because of knee surgery. And Neftali Feliz is coming off Tommy John surgery.
Most important player: Feliz. The Rangers no longer have a closer now that Joe Nathan is in Detroit, but Feliz was their guy when they went to the World Series in 2010 and ’11. If he can get back to being that, Texas is set for the ninth inning.
In 25 words or less: The Rangers look very good on paper once again, but that’s given the health of Harrison, Lewis, Holland and Feliz. And that’s a big question.
Predicted order of finish …