The American League West may be the most wide-open division in baseball this season, partly because of talent, and also partly because of injury. It’s widely anticipated that at least one, if not both of the wild-cards may come out of the West this season, but each of the expected contenders find themselves beginning the season at a disadvantage, which could certainly help a team like the Kansas City Royals or Tampa Bay Rays come September.
The Oakland A’s will begin the year with ace Jarrod Parker and #2 starter A.J. Griffin on the disabled list. Parker is expected to miss all of the 2014 season as he undergoes rehab for Tommy John surgery and A.J. Griffin will be out two months at the minimum as he seeks other opinions in his attempt to avoid season-ending surgery. Scott Kazmir was scratched from his last start with triceps stiffness and was clearly less than 100% in his next start, which does not bode well for the A’s as they enter 2014. Luckily for Oakland, Sonny Gray will step into the rotation and help what is expected to be a shaky but adequate staff.
The Texas Rangers made a couple of big splashes in the offseason and are seen as one of the most complete teams in the American League, but to begin the season there will be serious question marks. Starting 2B and one of the more hyped prospects since Harper/Trout Jurickson Profar has torn a muscle and will miss the first three months of the season. #2 starter Derek Holland is expected to be out until the all-star break, #3 starter Matt Harrison is currently on rehab but is struggling with post appearance recovery and Neftali Feliz may begin the season in AAA as he’s looked like a shadow of his former dominant self. The Rangers will begin the season with Tanner Scheppers, who hasn’t seen any success in the minors or majors as a starter in the rotation, and he’ll be joined by what appears to be Joe Saunders and either Tommy Hanson or Robbie Ross. Needless to say, Texas may have some serious issues at hand.
The Seattle Mariners were a popular dark-horse team entering Spring Training this season. It was expected that Hisashi Iwakuma would join Felix Hernandez atop the rotation in one of the game’s best 1-2 punches. Joining those two at the back-end would be top prospects James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. Iwakuma is expected to be out until mid-May and Taijuan Walker doesn’t have a definitive time-table on his recovery, only that he’ll begin the season on the DL. That’s a major blow to a team that would be in prime position to capitalize on a weakened A’s and Rangers squad.
Finally, we reach the Angels. While their rotation and offense are healthy for the time being, the bullpen could be headed for another year of disaster. This is discouraging news to Angels fans, who have witnessed four consecutive years of bullpen collapses prevent the team from making the playoffs. Dane De La Rosa may or may not begin the season on DL, newly acquired lefty specialist Brian Moran will for sure begin the season on the DL and expected setup man LHP Sean Burnett, who only threw a handful of pitches in 2013, suffered yet another setback in his recovery and currently has no timetable on his return. The Angels will be leaning on Ernesto Frieri, setup man Joe Smith and the hard-throwing yet terribly inconsistent Kevin Jepsen or Michael Kohn to fill the voids. It appears the Angels will enter 2014 with Nick Maronde serving as the lefty specialist. Maronde will have a lot to prove as he posted a 6.75 ERA in the major leagues last year and the AL West now features feared left-handed batters Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Robinson Cano. The Angels aren’t short on bullpen options, with Fernando Salas, a returned to form Brandon Lyon and an impressive trio of prospect relievers in Cam Bedrosian, R.J. Alvarez and Mike Morin. But, they are short on proven arms to carry them through the season.