Path to the playoffs: AL West

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
2:08
PM PT
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The American League West may be baseball's most entertaining division in 2015 -- following an entertaining 2014 when the A's blew a huge midseason lead. The up-and-coming Astros and a healthier Rangers squad should both be improved, turning this division into a potential five-team mad scramble.

Here is each team's path to the playoffs ...

Los Angeles Angels
2014: 98-64, +143 run differential, lost in ALDS
2015 projection from FanGraphs: 84-78, +26

After leading the majors in wins, it would be easy for the Angels just to stay the course and ride Mike Trout for another playoff season.

As you can see from the projection, however, the Angels don't project as anything close to a 98-win team. General manager Jerry Dipoto understands this and has added depth to a starting rotation that may have been over its head last year, acquiring Andrew Heaney for Howie Kendrick and Nick Tropeano from the Astros, two young pitchers who will compete for a starting job.

AngelsThe path to the playoffs for the Angels:

Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker have to be the real deal again. They were two of the biggest surprises in baseball last year, with Richards developing into one of the best starters in the league before his August knee injury and Shoemaker going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA as a rookie (after a 4.64 ERA in Triple-A in 2013). The Steamer projection system has Richards with a 3.64 ERA -- a run higher than 2014's 2.61 -- and Shoemaker at 4.06.

• Mike Trout, back-to-back MVP winner.

• A healthy season from Josh Hamilton. He doesn't even have to be the Josh Hamilton of his Rangers days, but something better than .263/.331/.414 and 89 games would be helpful.

• Something from second base. Trading Kendrick (5.4 WAR) is a big blow. Former Rockies infielder Josh Rutledge is the favorite for the job right now.

• More consistency from C.J. Wilson. He went 13-10 but with a 4.54 ERA as he walked 85 in 175.2 innings and averaged fewer than six innings per start.

• The bullpen that was terrific from June 15 onward (3.08 ERA) to be terrific all season.

• Another 200-inning season from Jered Weaver. After dipping below 200 innings in 2012 and 2013, Weaver was back up to 213, as he tied for the league lead with 34 starts (and tied for the lead with 18 wins). He did allow a career-high 27 home runs and his 3.59 ERA was his highest since 2009, but he's still a solid No. 2-caliber starter.

The Angels beat up on the Astros and Rangers last year, going 26-11. They also went 11-0 against the Twins and Phillies. Can they count on going 37-11 against the bottom-feeders again in 2015?

A'sOakland Athletics
2014: 88-74, +157 run differential, lost wild-card game
2015 projection: 82-80, +11

Billy Beane has made so many moves this offseason, so let's take stock of where the club stands. The lineup would look something like this:

CF Coco Crisp
3B Brett Lawrie
DH Billy Butler/John Jaso
1B Ike Davis/Butler
RF Josh Reddick
C Stephen Vogt/Josh Phegley
LF Sam Fuld/Craig Gentry
SS Marcus Semien
2B Eric Sogard

SP Sonny Gray
SP Scott Kazmir
SP Drew Pomeranz
SP Jesse Hahn
SP Jarrod Parker/A.J. Griffin/Chris Bassitt/Jesse Chavez/Sean Nolin/Kendall Graveman

Bullpen: Sean Doolittle, Dan Otero, Eric O'Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Fernando Abad

It's difficult to get a good read here. The projections see a .500-ish team, but there are so many moving parts it's a difficult team to project proper playing time. Bob Melvin will be platooning throughout the lineup and the rotation has many options, depending on whether Parker and Griffin are back from their Tommy John surgeries and which of the young guys step up.

The lineup obviously has a big hole minus Josh Donaldson, but here are the positives: They're going to catch the ball; they have some hitters with on-base skills; they have a guy who looks he's ready to be a No. 1 in Sonny Gray; they have depth in the rotation; and the bullpen should be solid.

They're going to need the pitching staff to carry the team, but it looks like a rotation that could be sneaky good, with Pomeranz and Hahn, two young starters who looked good last year in limited action (Hahn came over from the Padres in the Derek Norris trade). They need Reddick to stay healthy and hit a few more home runs and Butler to hit better than he did in 2014 with the Royals and Semien to handle shortstop and display the on-base ability he showed in the minors.

Everyone's going to be counting out the A's, but in some ways this club resembles the 2012 team that came out of nowhere to win 94 games. I'm not saying they're going to win 94, but sometimes the sum of the parts add up.

MarinersSeattle Mariners
2014: 87-75, +80
2015 projection: 88-74, +65

The Steamer projection system that FanGraphs uses has the Mariners as the best team in the American League. But games aren't won via projection systems!

How the Mariners can make the postseason for the first time since 2001:

1. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma both have to stay healthy. There is little depth in the rotation, so a major injury to one of their workhorses could be catastrophic, especially considering young starters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker both had injury issues in 2014.

2. They need Paxton and Walker to deliver on their potential.

3. Nelson Cruz has to be worth the money. He doesn't have to hit 40 home runs like he did with Baltimore, but he needs to stay on the field and produce that right-handed power in Seattle's lefty-leaning lineup.

4. Production from the leadoff spot. That probably means Austin Jackson, who was terrible after coming over from Detroit.

5. Better offense and defense from Brad Miller. He's been in trade rumors all offseason and now there's the idea that he turns into a hybrid shortstop/right fielder (platooning with Justin Ruggiano). Miller hit .221/.288/.365 last year, but Steamer projects a .252/.314/.395 line and he has more potential than that if he can hit lefties better.

6. More of the same from lineup linchpins Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.

7. More tightrope walking from Fernando Rodney. Seattle's bullpen had an MLB-best 2.52 ERA last season, and they are bringing back everyone except Joe Beimel. Some regression is likely. While the M's have depth behind Rodney, he's still a big key as the ninth-inning guy.

8. Mike Zunino has to improve his awful approach/OBP. Yes, he hit 22 home runs, but that came with a .199 average and .254 OBP (and that was helped because he got hit by a league-leading 17 pitches). Is he simply the new J.P. Arencibia or will he be something better?

The Mariners have core players in their prime years and excellent front-line talent in Felix, Cano, Seager and Iwakuma. I'd still like them to acquire another hitter to give them more depth, and they have a big problem in center field if Jackson doesn't hit. The strides made in 2014 appear legitimate, but can they go farther in 2015?


AstrosHouston Astros
2014: 70-92, -94 run differential
2015 projection: 76-86, -47

The Astros have made some free-agent signings -- relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson and shortstop Jed Lowrie -- that suggest general manager Jeff Luhnow expects the Astros to make a leap into contention.

Certainly, improving the bullpen will be a huge help. The Astros had an MLB-worst 4.80 bullpen ERA last season, but that doesn't tell the whole story. The Astros were just 61-8 when leading entering the ninth inning. The MLB average is barely over three games lost when leading in the ninth, so better ninth-inning work could be worth an additional four or five wins.

The Astros also had two positions where they got basically no production: first base (they ranked last in the majors in WAR as Jon Singleton hit .168 in 95 games) and third base (they ranked 29th in majors as Matt Dominguez hit .215 with a .256 OBP). Lowrie looks like he'll stay at shortstop in 2015, holding down the position until Carlos Correa is ready, so Dominguez may get one last chance to show he can hit at the major league level. Singleton will certainly be given another chance at first base. They need much better results from both players.

They can also expect big numbers from a full season of George Springer -- I like him to exceed the 2.6 WAR projection by quite a bit. Jose Altuve became a star in 2014 and Chris Carter tied for the MLB lead with 18 home runs after the All-Star break. The Astros were next-to-last in the AL in runs scored but all indications are that total will increase.

The rotation was much improved as Dallas Keuchel (2.93 ERA) and Collin McHugh (2.73 ERA) developed into a solid 1-2 combo. While nobody expected those numbers, their peripherals were solid, indicating they weren't fluke seasons. Scott Feldman was a solid No. 3, so they just need some improvement from the back end of the rotation. New catcher Hank Conger, one of the best pitch-framers in the business, could help here.

The Astros improved by 19 wins in 2014. If they improve by 19 wins again, that's 89 ... and maybe a postseason berth.

RangersTexas Rangers
2014: 67-95, -136 run differential
2015 projection: 77-85, -34 runs

Obviously, it starts with getting Prince Fielder healthy. And Shin-Soo Choo. And Yu Darvish. And Jurickson Profar. And a full season from Derek Holland. Anyway ...

If we start the Rangers out at 77 wins, there are three areas where there is need for improvement:

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--Corner outfield. Choo may end up in left or right, but the other position is projected at less than 1.0 WAR. This is why the Rangers were rumored to be in on Justin Upton.

• DH. The Rangers are projected at 0.6 WAR. So either Mitch Moreland outperforms or they find a better solution.

• The back of the rotation behind Darvish and Holland. Those two combined for 6.4 of the 8.8 projected WAR from the rotation. At least two from the group of Ross Detwiler, Matt Harrison, Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez must have big seasons.

Fielder and Choo are huge keys. Both are capable of on-base percentages close to .400. Get them back and producing like they did in 2013 and a lineup of Choo, Adrian Beltre and Fielder suddenly has a lot more meat to it.

Still, the Rangers probably need to make a big move or two. Maybe they go after an outfielder/DH (Seth Smith or Carlos Quentin from the Padres?). Or maybe they sign James Shields or Max Scherzer. It's an organization with depth and some interesting young players like second baseman Rougned Odor and third baseman Joey Gallo. They won 90-plus games from 2010 to 2013. They won't lose 95 again.

Angels land Matt Joyce for Jepsen

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
12:43
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[+] EnlargeMatt Joyce
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsMatt Joyce batted .254 with nine homers and 52 RBIs last season for Tampa Bay.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Angels have acquired outfielder Matt Joyce from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for right-handed reliever Kevin Jepsen.

The Angels have big plans for Joyce, envisioning him as their primary designated hitter and possible No. 2 hitter, which would allow AL MVP Mike Trout to hit third in front of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Joyce's left-handed bat and playing experience at both corner outfield spots also should allow Hamilton to spend more games as a designated hitter.

"He gives us a lot of flexibility and makes us a deeper and more balanced team," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "We just felt like this was an opportunity for us to build a deeper and well-balanced lineup for 2015, and continue to move in such a way that we feel like we're making the team better."


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Mid-December World Series odds

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
12:08
PM PT
Courtesy of Bovada.lv ...

Los Angeles Dodgers: 15/2
Boston Red Sox: 9/1
Washington Nationals: 15/2
Chicago Cubs: 12/1
Detroit Tigers: 12/1
Los Angeles Angels: 12/1
San Francisco Giants: 14/1
Seattle Mariners: 14/1
St. Louis Cardinals: 14/1
Baltimore Orioles: 18/1
Toronto Blue Jays: 18/1
Kansas City Royals: 20/1
New York Mets: 25/1
New York Yankees: 25/1
Atlanta Braves: 28/1
Chicago White Sox: 28/1
Cleveland Indians: 33/1
Miami Marlins: 33/1
Pittsburgh Pirates: 33/1
Cincinnati Reds: 40/1
Milwaukee Brewers: 40/1
Oakland Athletics: 40/1
San Diego Padres: 40/1
Texas Rangers: 40/1
Tampa Bay Rays: 66/1
Arizona Diamondbacks: 75/1
Colorado Rockies: 100/1
Houston Astros: 150/1
Minnesota Twins: 150/1
Philadelphia Phillies: 150/1

On Oct. 30, the Cubs were 50-1. After signing Sandy Koufax and trading for Yogi Berra, they're down to 12/1. I mean, Jon Lester is a nice pitcher, but come on.

My good buys right now: Pirates and Indians at 33-1. The Pirates have made the playoffs the past two years, have a superstar in Andrew McCutchen and some young guys who could improve. The Indians won 85 games in 2014 and their starting rotation really came together in the second half. Obviously, the odds are somewhat reflective of market size, which is why Pittsburgh and Cleveland have longer odds right now. And teams that have made a big splash so far in the offseason seemed to have gotten a big boost in their odds.

Bad buys: Tigers at 12-1 and Braves at 28-1. The Tigers have been busy so far but have mostly just been spinning their wheels, while likely losing Max Scherzer. With the Indians and White Sox potentially stronger, the Tigers' grip on the division is more tenuous than it's been in years. The Braves have lost their best player in Jason Heyward and still have big issues on offense while coming off a sub-.500 season in a division where the Marlins and Mets should both be better.

The offseason is young. Lots of free agent signings and trades to come. We'll see how the odds change before Opening Day.

Richards could miss start of season

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
6:56
AM PT
[+] EnlargeGarrett Richards
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesGarrett Richards, hurt in August, may miss the beginning of the season.

The Los Angeles Angels don't expect starting pitcher Garrett Richards to be ready for the start of the 2015 season, manager Mike Scioscia said Wednesday.

Richards had surgery after tearing a tendon in his left knee while covering first base in a game at Boston on Aug. 20. He was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA last season.

"I think the prognosis of having him back somewhere in the first month to maybe the first six weeks of the season looks very good," Scioscia said.

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto took a slightly different approach than his manager, calling Scioscia cautious.

"Mike is preparing for the worst-case scenario, which is more his nature," Dipoto said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We understood it would be a six- to nine-month [recovery]. Mike sleeps better at night planning for it to be the latter of the two. We believe Garrett will be back if not on Opening Day, then at some point in the not-too-distant future."

Richards said earlier this offseason that even though his year ended early, he felt good about what he accomplished.


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Dodgers acquire Howie Kendrick

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
11:00
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SAN DIEGO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers overhauled their infield and shook up the third day of the winter meetings with trades with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels that involved eight players.

The Dodgers acquired All-Star second baseman Howie Kendrick from the Angels for young left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney, a player they had acquired hours earlier Wednesday from the Marlins. The Dodgers also got infielder Enrique Hernandez, reliever Chris Hatcher and minor leaguer Austin Barnes from Miami.

The Marlins received Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon, pitcher Dan Haren and infielder Miguel Rojas.

And the Dodgers weren't done with one more day left at the winter meetings.

They agreed early Thursday with the San Diego Padres on a deal sending Matt Kemp to San Diego and catcher Yasmani Grandal to Los Angeles, according to media reports.

The Dodgers have coveted Kendrick, 31, for several years and nearly completed a trade for him involving pitcher Zach Lee


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Dodgers acquire Howie Kendrick

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
9:36
PM PT

SAN DIEGO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have acquired second baseman Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Angels for left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney, a player they acquired just hours earlier from the Miami Marlins.

The Dodgers remade the middle of their infield during a frantic day of deal-making at the winter meetings, adding three-time All-Star shorstop Jimmy Rollins in a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, then moving Dee Gordon and Dan Haren to Miami in exchange for Heaney and three prospects.

The Dodgers have coveted Kendrick for several years, nearly completing a trade for him two Julys ago in exchange for pitching prospect Zach Lee.


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Scott Snodgress takes offer from Angels

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
1:57
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SAN DIEGO -- Left-hander Scott Snodgress, who became a free agent when he was non-tendered by the Chicago White Sox last week, has reportedly signed with the Los Angeles Angels.

The White Sox were believed to be exploring the possibility of bringing Snodgress back to the organization, but the Southern California native took a minor-league offer from the Angels with an invite to big league camp in spring training. The Angels are the closest major league team to his hometown of Yucaipa, Calif.

Snodgress was a September call-up this past season but struggled in his brief opportunities (2 1/3 innings). He has a 3.84 ERA over four minor league seasons.

The White Sox made Snodgress their fifth-round pick in the 2011 out of Stanford.

Dodgers trade Drew Butera to Angels

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
2:48
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SAN DIEGO -- The Dodgers continued to tinker at the margins of their roster while everyone here seems to be anticipating bigger deals.

They traded catcher Drew Butera to the Angels on Tuesday for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Butera had been designated for assignment three days earlier to make room on the 40-man roster for Ryan Lavarnway, who was claimed off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.

It’s the first trade between the Dodgers and Angels since 1976, when they swapped outfielder Orlando Alvarez for catcher Ellie Rodriguez.

Butera hit .188 with a .288 slugging percentage in 61 games for the Dodgers. He is eligible for arbitration and out of options. The Dodgers, at least for now, appear to be content with a catching rotation that includes A.J. Ellis, who batted .191 last year, and Tim Federowicz, a .194 lifetime hitter, with Lavarnway, whose catching defense is marginal, possibly getting some time at catcher and first base if he makes the major-league roster.
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Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto comments on his team's 2014 season and the outlook heading into the 2015 season.
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Topps' Zvee Geffen breaks down his company's reason for bringing back its High Tek baseball product and some of the features and autographs collectors can expect from it.

Everth Cabrera, Eric Young Jr. cut

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
9:46
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San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera and New York Mets outfielder Eric Young Jr. were among 32 players tossed into the free-agent market Tuesday.

More than 200 players entered Tuesday eligible for salary arbitration this winter. Any player offered a contract would be entitled to, at a minimum, roughly one-sixth of his 2015 salary as termination pay if he gets released.

Los Angeles Angels infielder Gordon Beckham, Oakland first baseman Kyle Blanks, Texas right-hander Alexi Ogando, New York Yankees left-hander David Huff, Cincinnati reliever Logan Ondrusek and St. Louis infielder Daniel Descalso also were among the players let go.

Cabrera, an All-Star shortstop in 2013, faces charges of resisting arrest and possession of marijuana in a car after he was stopped by authorities in eastern San Diego County on Sept. 3, while he was on the disabled list. He is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 8.

He was suspended by Major League Baseball for the final 50 games of the 2013 season for violating the sport's drug agreement in relation to its investigation of the Biogenesis of America drug clinic.


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Top 10 center fielders in MLB 

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
8:05
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Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen & Carlos GomezUSA TODAY SportsThe top two center fielders in MLB aren't tough to pick out. From there it's a little more difficult.
Ranking the best center fielders is fairly simple at the top. Mike Trout, widely regarded as the best player in the game, is No. 1. Andrew McCutchen, arguably the second-best position player, is No. 2.

It gets more complicated after

Raul Ibanez finalist to manage Rays

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
2:44
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[+] EnlargeRaul Ibanez
Jason O. Watson/Getty ImagesRaul Ibanez has been tabbed as one of three finalists for the Rays' managerial opening.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Raul Ibanez, Kevin Cash and Don Wakamatsu are the finalists to replace Joe Maddon as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dave Martinez, the Rays' bench coach for the past seven seasons, was among seven candidates dropped Friday. Also cut were Barry Larkin, Doug Glanville, Manny Acta, Craig Counsell, Charlie Montoyo and Ron Wotus.

Tampa Bay said interviews with the finalists will be scheduled for the week of Dec. 1. Maddon left the Rays after nine seasons to manage the Chicago Cubs.

"The decision on Dave Martinez was especially difficult," Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said in a statement. "He's played a key role in our organization's evolution, and he's done all he can to put himself in position to be a manager. In the end, we determined that our clubhouse would best benefit from a new voice that will add to our already strong and cohesive culture."

Ibanez, 42, has spent 19 seasons in the major leagues with Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia, the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels and has 305 homers and 2,034 hits. He helped the Royals win this year's AL pennant.


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Rangers protect players, make a trade with Angels

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
11:28
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The Texas Rangers reached the 40-man roster limit and protected four players from the Rule 5 draft with several moves Thursday night.

The team added right-handed pitchers Luke Jackson and Jerad Eickhoff, infielder Hanser Alberto and catcher Jorge Alfaro to the 40-man roster, protecting them from Rule 5 draft.

To make room for the players, the Rangers designated outfielder/first baseman Jim Adduci for assignment and traded outfielder Daniel Robertson to the Los Angeles Angels for cash or a player to be named later.

The club also placed pitchers Miles Mikolas and Aaron Poreda on unconditional-release waivers, allowing each to play for the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese League.

The Rangers will receive cash for this move.

In Robertson, 29, the Angels are getting a corner outfielder who hit .271/.333/.333 in 70 games 2014. The Rangers considered him as a possible No. 4 outfielder, but with the team needing to get to the 40-man roster limit, it was best to trade him.

Of the prospects moved to the 40-man roster, Jackson has a possibility of making the roster at some point during the 2015 season.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jered Weaver
WINS ERA SO IP
18 3.59 169 213
OTHER LEADERS
BAH. Kendrick .293
HRM. Trout 36
RBIM. Trout 111
RM. Trout 115
OPSM. Trout .939
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOJ. Weaver 169