The Angels agreed to terms on an unprecedented one-year, $1 million contract for 2014 with 22-year-old center fielder Mike Trout on Wednesday, setting a good tone for ongoing conversations regarding a long-term contract.
The $1 million compensation is a record for players with more than two years and less than three years of service time. The previous high was $900,000, attained by Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (2007) and then-Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (‘03).
“It’s a landmark,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “It’s fitting. I think Mike’s earned that, and we’re glad to provide that for him. He’s certainly been an extraordinary player, and we have no doubt that he’ll go continue to be that player.”
For zero-to-three service-time players – Trout has exactly 2.07 years of service time – clubs can determine whatever salary they want, as long as it’s at least the 2014 minimum of $500,000. The Angels don’t want the average annual value of a potential Trout extension to count towards their Competitive Balance Tax payroll until 2015, otherwise they would blow past the luxury-tax threshold. So they needed to get Trout compensated for 2014 first.
Agreeing to terms on his present-year salary is essentially a green light to sign for the 22-year-old sensation to sign an extension.
A recent report from Yahoo! Sports said the Angels and Trout’s representatives were working on a six-year, $150 million contract, but that report centered on a deal that would begin to pay Trout in 2014 and nothing is imminent just yet, a source told MLB.com.
Dipoto declined comment, as usual, when asked how close the two sides are to a long-term contract. Asked if the compensation would’ve been the same if the Angels weren’t trying to sign him to a long-term deal, Dipoto said, “Absolutely.”
Last spring, the Angels made headlines by giving Trout only a $20,000 increase from his Rookie of the Year season in 2012, a contract totaling only $510,000. Dipoto said then that the Angels were simply sticking to their system, but Trout’s agent, Craig Landis, responded with an angry statement in which he said the compensation was “not the result of a negotiated compromise” and that it “falls well short of a ‘fair’ contract.”
This time around, Trout’s representative “agreed” on the salary, instead of merely a “renewal,” a good sign that both sides are on the same page.
Asked why they made an exception this year, Dipoto said: “Honestly, because I think we felt like his performance was exceptional. There are players that force you to break a rule, and what Trout just did for two consecutive years forced us to break our own rule. There’s nothing in the game that’s hard-and-fast. We felt like his performance certainly merited treated him differently than the others.”
Trout doesn’t even turn 23 until Aug. 7, and already he’s widely considered the best all-around player in the game. He’s finished second to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera for the American League Most Valuable Player Award each of the last two years and was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year in 2012. Over the last two years, he’s ranked second in the Majors in batting average (.324), second in OPS (.976), 14th in homers (57), second in steals (82) and easily first in Wins Above Replacement, with a cumulative score of 20.4 as calculated by FanGraphs.com.
Next up, the Angels hope to buy out some of Trout’s free-agent years.
Mike Scioscia was among those who met with Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, regarding expanded instant replay on Monday. Asked how the meeting went, the Angels’ manager said: “Obviously informative. There’s a whole list of things that are reviewable and things that aren’t, that can be challenged and not challenged. We’ll just have to get up to speed on that and go from there.”
Boundary calls and home-plate collisions are reviewable, but can’t be challenged; it’ll be up to an umpire’s discretion to determine whether or not to review those plays. The Angels will be using Spring Training to get up to speed internally on how they’ll go about determining which calls to challenge in-season. In addition, Major League Baseball has designated a variety of Spring Training games as “replay games,” where managers will actually be given challenges in order to practice. A dress rehearsal, of sorts.
The Angels have 14 such games. They are …
March 4, vs. Rangers
March 6, vs. Dodgers
March 7, vs. Cubs (SS)
March 8, vs. D-backs
March 9, vs. Reds
March 10, at Indians
March 11, vs. Mariners
March 14, at Padres
March 15, at Rockies
March 19, at White Sox
March 25, at Cubs
March 27, at Dodgers (Freeway Series)
March 28, at Dodgers (Freeway Series)
March 29, vs. Dodgers (Freeway Series)
Here’s a breakdown of expanded replay. And here are some additional notes from camp on Tuesday …
- Jered Weaver is slated to start the Angels’ Cactus League opener against the Cubs on Friday.
- No word yet on who will follow Weaver in the order; Scioscia is waiting to see how the other starters come out of their first “up-down” sessions. “Up-downs” involves starters pitching an inning’s worth of live batting practice, sitting down while someone else does the same, then getting up again and throwing one more, kind of like a simulated game. This is the first time the Angels have done this under Scioscia, and they abandoned live BP entirely last spring. The point is to get them in game mode earlier in spring.
- Scioscia believes the new collision rules, officially approved Monday, are still “a work in progress,” but doesn’t think it’ll change things too much for catchers, adding: “I think the distinction is going to be to make sure you have the ball in your possession. And you have to stay closer to the tag lane because you have to wait for the ball longer.”
It turns out the Angels no longer have to wait until Opening Day for Mike Trout to put pen to paper on a long-term extension.
The Angels don’t want the average annual value of Trout’s potential new extension — still under negotiations — to affect their Collective Balance Tax payroll until the 2015 season, so that they don’t blow past the $189 million luxury-tax threshold in 2014. But the club recently found out, and confirmed through Major League Baseball, that they don’t necessarily have to wait until after Opening Day to have Trout sign (and subsequently announce) a long-term extension in order for that to be the case.
As soon as Trout’s compensation for 2014 is set, his AAV on a long-term deal automatically won’t count until the following season.
The rule changed shortly after Adrian Gonzalez signed a seven-year, $154 million extension with the Red Sox — a deal that was being talked about in December 2010 and wasn’t signed until the following April for CBT purposes — but it’s unclear when it was adopted.
The purpose for the change was to guard against teams going through an entire spring without having the deal get signed because their weary of the CBT, and then having the player be subject to potential injury and the contract getting nixed.
The Angels are currently in the process of agreeing with their zero to three guys (those who are pre-arbitration), and Trout’s could get done soon. After that, he can sign an extension at any point. Neither side would comment on a potential deal on Monday, but nothing is imminent — despite a Sunday report from Yahoo! Sports that the Angels and Trout are working on a six-year, $150 million contract.
Mike Trout spoke to reporters in Arizona for the first time on Wednesday, but before taking questions for 15 minutes, the Angels’ 22-year-old center fielder wanted to say one thing.
I know what you guys are gonna ask. I’m here to get ready for the season. I don’t want to comment on the contract negotiations and stuff. I’m here to just get ready, prepare myself for the upcoming season.
Trout may not talk about it publicly, but his agent and the Angels will surely continue to have dialogue.
The Angels, owner Arte Moreno confirmed, are in “active discussions” with Trout and his agent, Craig Landis, over a long-term deal even though he’s still four years away from free agency. The reason is three-fold: (1) The last thing the Angels want to do is go into a complex, record-breaking, all-over-the-Internet arbitration hearing with Trout next season; (2) signing him to a deal will give the organization some much-needed cost certainty; (3) duh, they’d like to buy out some of his free-agent years before it’s too late.
An important note about a potential Trout extension, which is worth repeating: Even if both sides agree to terms tomorrow, Trout can’t sign the deal (and thus the Angels can’t announce it) until after Opening Day because the organization doesn’t want it to count towards its Collective Balance Tax payroll until 2015, when Vernon Wells and Joe Blanton are off the books and the Angels have more wiggle room.
I explained it in more detail here, but here’s the gist: The CBT payroll, used by Major League Baseball to determine which teams will be taxed for going over the luxury-tax threshold, takes into account the average annual value of contracts, not the yearly breakdown. So, if Trout signs a 10-year, $300 million deal, that would be $30 million counting towards the CBT payroll, even if Trout is only making $15 million in Year 1.
Now, having said all that … I don’t think Trout becomes baseball’s first $300-million player.
That’s the shiny round number everybody keeps been throwing out, but it’d be hard for me to see Trout get that given his service time and his camp’s desire to set him up for two mega contracts.
Let’s say Trout doesn’t sign an extension, so he goes to arbitration and shatters every record based on service time. And let’s say that has him making $15 million as a first-year arbitration-eligible player, $20 million as a second-year arbitration-eligible player and $25 million as a third-year arbitration-eligible player. (That, by the way, is quite generous.) If he gets that, and you factor that into the breakdown of a 10-year, $300 million deal, then in his seven free-agent years, that contract is carrying an AAV north of $34 million.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw just recently set the record for AAV with a seven-year contract that pays him more than $30.7 million annually — but he signed it with one year left before free agency.
The Angels, in my opinion, are still at a point where they can offer less AAV than that and still give Trout’s camp incentive to take it. Why? Because there are no certainties in this game. Trout is the best all-around player in the game, but he’s a whole four years away from free agency. A lot can happen — injuries, under-performance — and it’d be hard to walk away from so much guaranteed money this early. That’s why clubs do this.
The question, of course, is: What’s the price that makes both sides comfortable?
I had this conversation with Jim Bowden while on MLB Network Radio recently. Bowden, whose opinion I respect, said if he’s Trout’s agent, he’s demanding that the Angels pay him more than any other player in baseball if they want to buy out some of his free-agent years. And so I said: What if the Angels offered a long-term contract with, say, an AAV of $22 million (just throwing out a lower number, that may end up being too low)? Would you really turn that down with so much time left before free agency?
“I’d take that risk with that player,” Bowden said.
Fair point. If ever there was a guy to take a risk like that one, it’s probably Trout.
And that’s what makes this all so fascinating.
My guess (and that’s all this is)? I’d say a $35 million AAV for his four free-agent years (Kershaw maxes out at $33 million by 2017). Given that, the (perhaps generous) arbitration projections and the potential desire to make Trout a free agent again at or just before age 30 — seven years, $200 million ($28.6 million AAV) for a Trout extension.
Again, just a guess.
Shortly after the Winter Meetings, the Angels offered Matt Garza a four-year, $52 million contract, but — true to owner Arte Moreno‘s negotiating style — the offer was only good for short amount of time. Early the following week, it was off the table. And about six weeks after that, Garza signed a very similar deal — four years, $50 million — with the Brewers.
Why didn’t he take the original offer?
He was on vacation, and didn’t want to be bothered by contractual negotiations, the 30-year-old right-hander told MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy.
“They offered, but it was more of a weird situation,” Garza said Monday. “I was on vacation with my wife and I didn’t want to be disturbed, and it was like, ‘Here it is, we’ll pull it in a certain amount of hours.’ I didn’t have a chance to respond, so I just said, ‘Whatever. It is what it is.’
“It wasn’t anything big. It was an offer and I said, ‘I’m on vacation. I’m not thinking about baseball, dude. Me and my wife are enjoying ourselves.’”
There were very few pitchers on the open market that the Angels actually went after, but Garza was one of them, because he could legitimately slot in behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, allowing someone like Tyler Skaggs to get some seasoning in the Minor Leagues, and because he wasn’t going to cost them a Draft pick.
Ever after pulling the offer, the Angels kept tabs with Garza throughout the offseason, hoping to get him on a smaller deal that was probably in the three-year, $35- to $40-million range — then pretty much sat out the rest of free agency when he went to Milwaukee.
“When he’s good, he can be a [No. 2 starter],” Moreno said last week, while confirming the $52 million offer. “He can help you. And it would’ve really given us that layer of depth.”
I’m sure Garza is telling the truth about being on vacation when all of this was going down, but sorry — I’m not buying the fact that he couldn’t be bothered with contract negotiations when he was with his wife. All things being equal, I think he would’ve liked to pitch for the Angels. But at that time, he was probably just holding out to see if he can get more money — and I definitely don’t blame him for that.
“I had no worries,” Garza said. “God’s going to make things work out either way. It is what it is. I guess you didn’t want me that bad, I take it. I found a team that wants me and makes me feel at home. I was looking for a great fit, and I believe I found it.”
On the offseason search for pitching …
We didn’t feel like there was a guy out there that we wanted to give up a first-rounder. And the early numbers that they were talking about were big numbers; they just were big numbers. We decided to work on role players and save some bullets.
On being opposed to going over the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million …
It’s not that. The reality is we have an operating budget. And the operating budget is below the threshold. What we try not to do is try to go negative. … Long-term it just doesn’t work to be in the red financially. And so, our operating budget for payroll is below the threshold. … Let’s just say we come out of the box good. It’s a long season. We come out of the box, and we get to the break and there’s somebody available, then what you have to do is try to do the best you can to get somebody in here.
On Matt Garza …
Look, we had a $52 million offer on the table for Garza. And they wouldn’t respond to it. And this was early. … When he’s good, he can be a 2. He can help you. And it would’ve really given us that layer of depth.
On signing Mike Trout to a long-term deal …
The reality is it always gets down to the number. I think he likes it here; we like him here. The reality is we have four more years worth of control. We have another year under the guaranteed under the players’ minimum, and then you have three arbitration years. … We’re communicating. It’s not something that we’re not communicating about. … I can’t say [that it's close]. I just don’t think it’s fair to the process. I would just say we’re communicating.
On negotiations with the City of Anaheim …
The easiest way for me to say it right now is we’re at a stalemate. … I’ve committed to put $150 million worth of capital into the stadium in exchange for an inexpensive lease on the land. Their city manager a few years ago brought that to us. The mayor said that not only do they not have the capital to put into the stadium, they wouldn’t put any money into it. And the city manager, we had worked through a process that said, ‘If you put capital into the stadium, we’ll give you a long-term lease on the land at a dollar a year.’ Somewhere along the line, there has to be a partnership. And what’s happened is everybody thinks I’m going to make this fortune off the land. The first thing I have to do is capitalize the team, and then I have to capitalize the stadium, and then I have to go develop something, and who knows how long that takes before it becomes profitable.”
On the stadium …
People don’t realize it’s 48 years old. They started building that thing 50 years ago. When Disney remodeled, they didn’t do anything to the infrastructure. All the plumbing’s original, all the electrical is original, the concrete is original. You have escalators, elevators. The city and ourselves did a joint engineering project about three years ago to estimate what it was going to cost to keep this stadium serviceable until 2029 was our first extension. Now, we’ve done it. We’ve moved that out. But we’re not there yet.
On the team this year …
I really believe we can compete with this team. There’s some teams – they need everything to click at one time or whatever. Everybody can figure out who they believe is the best and who has the best odds, whatever. We like our team, and we have flexibility to make adjustments if we need to; I’m talking economic adjustments. It’s just a business, and you want to make sure you can compete and take care of your fans. Everybody loves playing the game, watching the game, and at the end of the day, it’s the fans. If the fans still like to come to the park and have fun – it’s a big part of it.
Just to make sure his arm could stand up to the rigors of being a starting pitcher after so much time off, Mark Mulder pushed himself to new limits around mid-January, throwing a couple of 100-plus-pitch simulated games. Then he backed off, tossing 40-pitch bullpen sessions twice a week heading into Spring Training. And last Friday, he says, everything clicked for the first time.
“Now I know I’m ready,” Mulder said Friday morning, prior to the Angels’ first workout. “Absolutely. I’ve never thrown this much coming into a Spring Training, but I also don’t know if I’ve ever been this prepared, either, just because of everything I’ve done.”
Mulder, 36, last pitched in a competitive game on July 9, 2008, with the Cardinals. His last win came June 15, 2006. Shortly after that, his left shoulder – beleaguered by two major surgeries — pretty much gave out, forcing the two-time All-Star into retirement at only 31 years old.
Around October, though, Mulder – a runner-up for the American League Cy Young Award with the A’s in 2001 – found a delivery that worked for him. And ever since then, he’s seen gradual improvement.
“Every week, I can look back and go, ‘It’s better than last week,’” said Mulder, who’s competing with Joe Blanton and Tyler Skaggs for the last spot in the Angels’ rotation.
“I know the way the ball is supposed to come out of my hand, I know what it’s supposed to do. I’m excited to face some hitters and see the way they react to the pitches and some of the swings that they might take. That gives me a better idea of what I’m doing.”
* Angels reliever Sean Burnett is still in the early stages of his throwing program as he works his way back from August surgery in his left forearm. The 31-year-old lefty, limited to 13 appearances in his first season with the Angels in 2013, is only playing light catch at this point, but he hopes to start long-tossing “in the next few weeks” and is still targeting a return by Opening Day.
“That’s my goal,” Burnett said prior to the Angels’ first workout on Friday morning. “It’s been my goal since we started [the rehab process]. As long as I feel healthy and stuff like that, and the ball is coming out and I’m building arm strength, the mound shouldn’t be much of a problem. I’m sure it’ll be an easy transition.”
* Angels reliever Kevin Jepsen is fully recovered after an emergency appendectomy abruptly ended his 2013 season in late August. The 29-year-old right-hander, who finished the year with a 4.50 ERA in 45 appearances, was able to start working out and throwing again in late September, nearly two months earlier than he normally does, and won’t have any restrictions in camp.
“I just got right back into the offseason workouts as soon as I could, and I’ve been going for a while,” said Jepsen, who’s out of options for the first time this year. “I feel good.”
Sixty-seven players will be at Spring Training camp for the Angels this year, and a lot of them will be fighting for the six out of 25 active-roster spots that are open — fifth starter, two bullpen spots and three bench spots.
Here’s a categorical breakdown of how it looks (at least to me) …
1st: Jered Weaver
2nd: C.J. Wilson
3rd: Garrett Richards
4th: Hector Santiago
CL: Ernesto Frieri
SU: Joe Smith
SU: Sean Burnett
MR: Dane De La Rosa
MR: Kevin Jepsen
C: Chris Iannetta/Hank Conger
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Howie Kendrick
3B: David Freese
SS: Erick Aybar
LF: Josh Hamilton
CF: Mike Trout
RF: Kole Calhoun
DH: Raul Ibanez
RH Joe Blanton
LH Wade LeBlanc
LH Mark Mulder
LH Tyler Skaggs
Two bullpen spots
LH Buddy Boshers
RH Ryan Brasier
LH Robert Carson
RH Michael Kohn
RH Brandon Lyon
LH Brian Moran
LH Clay Rapada
RH Cory Rasmus
RH Fernando Salas
RH Josh Wall
INF Tommy Field
INF John McDonald
INF Andrew Romine
Two other bench spots
OF Brennan Boesch
OF Collin Cowgill
INF Grant Green
1B Carlos Pena
OF J.B. Shuck
3B/1B Ian Stewart
3B/1B Chad Tracy
OF Zach Borenstein
3B Kaleb Cowart
1B C.J. Cron
SP Hunter Green
3B Luis Jimenez
2B Taylor Lindsey
RP Nick Maronde
RP Michael Morin
SP Michael Roth
SP Mark Sappington
SS Eric Stamets
2B Alex Yarbrough
MINOR LEAGUE DEPTH
C Jett Bandy
SP Yeiper Castillo
C Anderson De La Rosa
SP Jarrett Grube
C John Hester
OF Matt Long
C Luis Martinez
1B Efren Navarro
UT Shawn O’Malley
SP Matt Shoemaker
C Yorvit Torrealba
SP Justin Thomas
Albert Pujols arrived to Spring Training early, as usual. Is looking trim, as usual.
And is feeling unusually healthy.
“You’re going to see it when I run around and move around,” the Angels’ high-priced first baseman said with a big grin. “I’ll let your eyes judge. … I might sneak five or six [stolen bases] this year.”
Pujols is ready to go after a season that was cut to 99 games because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot and a right knee that still wasn’t fully recovered from offseason surgery. He arrived to the Angels’ Spring Training facility on Wednesday, the day before pitchers and catchers reported, about seven pounds lighter and doesn’t expect to have any restrictions running or playing first base when full workouts begin late next week.
“It was a great offseason,” Pujols said Thursday morning from Tempe Diablo Stadium. “Like I told you guys at the end of the season last year, everything happens for a reason. It sucked sitting on the bench for almost two and a half months last year, as competitive an athlete as I am. But at the same time, it happened for the best because I was able to not have the surgery on my heel and miss maybe some of my offseason training.”
Pujols had an unprecedented 11-year run to start his career, batting .328/.420/.617 with 445 homers. In his first season with the Angels in 2012 — the first of a 10-year, $240 million contract — the 34-year-old recovered from a rough start to bat .285/.343/.516. Last year, his numbers dipped to .258/.330/.437, with most of his games coming as a designated hitter, and his season ended on July 26 with a partial tear of his left plantar fascia.
“It was like playing with a flat tire and a broken rim,” is how Pujols described last season, referencing his left foot and right knee.
That, however, allowed Pujols to have a normal offseason, though he hit earlier than usual to make up for the lost time.
How much difference will that have on his numbers?
“You can’t read the future and put pressure on yourself and say, ‘I need to do this,’” Pujols said. “I didn’t change my program. I did the things that I’ve always done in the offseason to prepare myself to come to Spring Training. Obviously this year was a little bit better because I didn’t have to worry about the injuries, like I did in the offseason of 2012 after my knee surgery.
“But as long as I stay healthy, I know I’m going to hit and I’m going to play this game as hard as I can and try to have a big smile and try to help this organization win a championship. This is not about Albert Pujols.”
– Alden Gonzalez
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 …