New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter will miss the April 1 season opener against Boston as he continues his recovery from offseason ankle surgery. Jeter is one of three starting Yankee infielders on the disabled list to start the season, as he joins third baseman Alex Rodriguez (offseason hip surgery) and first baseman Mark Teixeira (partially torn wrist tendon). These three alone will make more than $69 million in salary this year, which is more than the estimated Opening Day team payroll for the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the Yankees' AL East rivals.
Some suggestions on how you should approach certain injured players on draft day
Opening Day of the 2013 MLB season is right around the corner, but there are quite a few players who won’t be available to help your fantasy team from the outset. For some, their season debuts should only be delayed while others will be on the disabled list for a little longer. Here are some of the key hitters and pitchers who are dealing with injuries headed into Opening Day and how you should handle them during your draft.
New League, New Uniforms, New Manager, Old Results
The American League West is arguably the toughest division in baseball, which isn’t great news for an Astros team making its move into the division while trying to rebuild following the two worst seasons in franchise history. Coming off a club-record 107 losses in their final year in the National League in 2012 and 106 losses in 2011 — the Astros enter the AL with new uniforms, a new logo and a new manager in Bo Porter. The club is committed to staying the course of rebuilding through the draft and player development, which means playoff contention is likely years down the road. That’s especially true in the AL West, where the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s are all built to contend, while the up-and-coming Mariners are no pushovers. Enter the Astros, who will play each of these teams 18 or 19 times while they try to give young players looks at several positions all over the diamond. Astros owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow, entering their second seasons with the club, are committed to youth and don’t plan to start spending major money in free agency until the team’s youngsters start coming of age. Baseball fans in Houston, who will get to see a different set of teams come through Minute Maid Park this year, can only hope the team grows up sooner than expected because life as the punching bag in the AL West won’t be fun.
The first three arms in the rotation are set, with righthanders Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles. Norris will need to rebound following a 7–13 campaign in which he battled various injuries and went three months without getting a win. Harrell was one of the biggest bright spots for the Astros last year, coming out of nowhere to go 11–11 with a 3.76 ERA while making a team-high 32 starts as a rookie. He led the team in wins and innings pitched and went at least five innings in all but one of his starts. Lyles pitched all last year at 21 years old and struggled through a 5–12 season, though he threw a shutout in his final appearance. The Astros hope this is the year the promising youngster finally puts it all together and becomes a mainstay in the rotation. The final two spots in the rotation are up for grabs among a group of arms that includes lefthander Erik Bedard, a non-roster player, veteran Edgar Gonzalez and newcomers John Ely, Alex White and Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game with the White Sox in 2012. The odds are now that Humber and Bedard will break camp as starters.
The Astros’ youth shows in their bullpen, which was made up of fresh faces after Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers were traded last July. The team gave the closer job to Wilton Lopez to finish the season, but he was dealt to Colorado in December. Houston signed veteran Jose Veras — who will be on his sixth team in five seasons — to handle the closing duties, not that there figure to be too many chances to save games. The Astros also plan to give Josh Fields, taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft, a chance to pitch late in games too. Among those returning to the bullpen this year are righthanders Hector Ambriz and Rhiner Cruz and lefties Wesley Wright and Xavier Cedeno.
The middle of the infield, perhaps the Astros’ biggest area of strength last season, may now be only half full after the trade of shortstop Jed Lowrie. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve returns for his second full season. Tyler Greene, who seemed to always be on the cusp of a breakout season with St. Louis, takes over at short. Altuve, the 5'5" dynamo, hit .290 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 33 steals last year, getting plenty of time at the top of the lineup. At 22, he was the second-youngest member of the NL All-Star team after Bryce Harper and led the Astros with 147 games played, including 142 starts at second. Greene hit .246 in 39 games with Houston after managing just .218 in 77 games with the Cardinals. His speed is his greatest asset offensively. The two middle infielders will bat 1-2, perhaps even rotating until the offense finds a groove.
Brett Wallace got most of the time at first base last year following the July 4 trade of Carlos Lee and will enter the season as the favorite to hold onto the job this year. That’s assuming veteran Carlos Pena, who signed with the club in December, gets most of his at-bats at designated hitter. If Wallace can keep hitting for power, though, the position will be his. The Astros enter the season at third base with Matt Dominguez, who has a great glove and has hit well in a limited look. Then there’s Rule 5 pick-up Nate Freiman, who hit .298 with 31 doubles, 24 homers and 105 RBIs in 137 games with Double-A San Antonio (Padres) in 2012. Chris Carter, acquired from Oakland, is penciled in the outfield, but is more suited to first base. Stay tuned.
The competition for spots in the Astros outfield has been a free-for-all this spring. The only player assured of a spot somewhere in the outfield is Justin Maxwell, who slugged 18 homers and 53 RBIs last year as the club’s biggest power threat. Maxwell played all over the outfield a year ago, and where he winds up in 2013 may have more to do with which players lock down the other spots. J.D. Martinez will get another long look after a disappointing 2012 that saw his season end prematurely because of hand surgery. The Astros liked what they saw last year from Fernando Martinez, who along with Maxwell hit some of the longest homers in the majors. If his knees hold up, the former Mets top prospect could win a starting job, or at least platoon. Carter has impressed with his bat and will find his way into the lineup somewhere, most likely in left field, leaving the Martinezes to share right. Brandon Barnes proved he could play center field at a high level, though his bat remains a question mark.
Former first-round pick Jason Castro returned in 2012 after missing all of the previous season following ACL surgery and played well offensively. His knee forced him to the DL at one point, but he wound up hitting .257 with six homers and 29 RBIs, including a .281 average and five homers and 17 RBIs in his final 160 at-bats. Castro is the starter entering the season, but he’s going to have to improve his defense. He let too many balls scoot past him last year, which put his pitchers in tough spots. Castro has enough talent and smarts to be a solid everyday catcher.
Moving to the American League for 2013, the Astros were forced to find their first full-time designated hitter and wound up signing Pena to a one-year deal. He hit 19 home runs with 61 RBIs last year for Tampa Bay, but he doesn’t hit for much average anymore. Houston could also give Wallace some time at DH, but Pena figures to get most of the at-bats. The bench is thin with Marwin Gonzalez backing up in the middle of the infield and Carlos Corporan at catcher. Whichever player from the outfield mix of Fernando Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Barnes doesn’t win a starting job will likely be asked to come off the bench.
This will be the first season as manager for the 40-year-old Porter, who was hired after spending last year as the third base coach of the Nationals. He’s hired a diverse and experienced staff to help him along, but until the team puts better players on the field, it’s going to be challenging to deliver wins.
The Astros will be young and should play hard, but it’s difficult finding a scenario in which they won’t finish in the cellar of the AL West. They’re light years behind the veteran teams in Texas and Anaheim, and Oakland has proven it’s going to contend in the division for years. Perhaps the Astros can look at the A’s as hope that they can reach the playoffs sooner than expected, but they’re in the middle of a long-term rebuilding project and will continue to take lumps at the big-league level.
Lineup SS Tyler Greene (R)
Combined to hit .230 with the Cardinals and Astros last year and showed some good power numbers. 2B Jose Altuve (R)
Named team MVP after breakout season during which he hit .290 with seven homers, 33 steals and 37 RBIs. DH Carlos Pena (L)
The Astros signed him to be their first full-time DH with hopes he can hit for average again. LF Chris Carter (R)
Hit just .148 after Aug. 31 for the A’s last season, essentially forced to sit out the team’s late surge. Could be an adventure in the outfield. 1B Brett Wallace (L)
Finally began to show the power stroke the Astros wanted, hitting nine homers in 229 at-bats. CF Justin Maxwell (R)
Played in a career-high 124 games; led the team with 18 homers and was second with 53 RBIs. C Jason Castro (L)
Bounced back from injury that cost him 2011 season to hit .257, including .281 in his final 61 games. RF Fernando Martinez (L)
Martinez doesn’t run well anymore, but he showed last year he has plenty of power in his bat. 3B Matt Dominguez (R)
He’s a polished defensive player at the hot corner who showed promise with the bat to end last year.
Bench OF J.D. Martinez (R)
He couldn’t duplicate his promising half season of a year earlier, but still led team with 55 RBIs. He will platoon with Fernando Martinez in right field. C Carlos Corporan (S)
Veteran did a nice job with the Astros, hitting .269 in 78 at-bats with four homers and 13 RBIs. SS Marwin Gonzalez (S)
He’s about as good as they come defensively at short, but can his bat keep him in majors? OF Rick Ankiel (L)
The athletic outfielder will make at least two throws this season that you cannot believe you saw.
Rotation RH Bud Norris
The Astros’ “ace” is a combined 22–34 with a 4.41 ERA over the last three seasons. RH Lucas Harrell
Was named Astros Pitcher of the Year after going 11–11 with a 3.76 ERA in team-high 32 starts as a rookie. RH Jordan Lyles
As a 21-year-old in 2012, he set career highs in innings, starts, strikeouts, quality starts and wins in going 5–12. RH Philip Humber
Native Texan returns home to pitch for Astros after going 5–5 with a 6.44 ERA — and a perfect game — last year for White Sox. LH Erik Bedard
Was a no-so-inspiring 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts for Pittsburgh last season.
Bullpen RH Jose Veras (Closer)
5–4 with a 3.63 ERA in 72 games for Brewers in 2012, averaging 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. LH Wesley Wright
Appeared in a career-high 77 games last year, which led the club; held lefties to a .198 average. LH Xavier Cedeno
Lefty bounced between minors and majors, but didn’t allow a run in 16 of his final 17 games with the Astros. RH Hector Ambriz
Signed as a minor league free agent in June, he did nice work, appearing in 18 games for the Astros. RH Rhiner Cruz
He throws harder than just about anyone on the staff, but he needs to refine control from 2012 rookie season. RH Josh Fields
The No. 1 overall pick in Rule 5 draft, Fields went 4–3 with 2.01 ERA with 78 strikeouts in minors.
Under-the-radar players that could be valuable fantasy contributors this season
Mike Trout went from largely undrafted prior to the start of the 2012 season to the AL Rookie of the Year and one of the top players in all of fantasy baseball. Trout wasn’t the only player to come out of nowhere and be a valuable fantasy contributor. National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper, National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, Toronto first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and Atlanta pitcher Kris Medlen are just some of the others who broke out in big ways in 2012.
Who are the biggest relief pitcher sleepers and busts to watch out for on the fantasy mound?
Using Athlon Sports' Big Board as the barometer, here are some potential relief pitcher sleepers who get the ball late in games to keep an eye on, as well some possible busts to potentially be wary of. Keep in mind that the "bust" tag doesn't necessarily mean that player won't produce, it's more an indication of concern that he won't do so in relation to his position on the Big Board.
Who are the biggest starting pitcher sleepers and busts to watch out for on the fantasy mound?
Using Athlon Sports' Big Board as the barometer, here are some potential starting pitcher sleepers who toe the rubber to keep an eye on, as well some possible busts to potentially be wary of. Keep in mind that the "bust" tag doesn't necessarily mean that player won't produce, it's more an indication of concern that he won't do so in relation to his position on the Big Board.
The Mariners head into their fifth year under general manager Jack Zduriencik with too many holes in their offense and pitching rotation to fix in one offseason. Significantly improving the roster became a challenge once the Mariners were outbid by $25 million for Josh Hamilton and saw the price for shorter-term fixes like Torii Hunter, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Napoli spiral away from them. And when potential trade partners demanded too many top prospects, Seattle’s game plan shifted toward a more cost-effective approach to upgrading. Rather than spend on Nick Swisher or Cody Ross in the outfield corners, the Mariners signed cheaper free agents Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez to one-year deals. They also filled a hole in the middle of the order by trading left-handed starter Jason Vargas to the Angels for first baseman Kendrys Morales. Despite a so-so comeback year in 2012, Morales had better numbers than any full-time Mariners hitter and provides an answer at designated hitter or first base while Justin Smoak finds his way. Seattle scored 513 runs in 2010 — second-fewest in club history — and 556 runs in 2011. The Mariners’ production improved to 619 runs in 2012, but the bats could again doom the team’s fortunes without improvement from several members of the lineup. With more hitter-friendly dimensions this season, the Mariners should get an offensive boost by scoring more runs at Safeco Field, where they averaged 3.2 runs per game last season compared to 4.5 on the road. But Seattle’s pitching allowed only 3.2 runs per game at home compared to 4.8 on the road, so any offensive gains from a revamped ballpark could be quickly offset. The Mariners’ pitching could also regress without surprises by starters not named Felix Hernandez. Vargas and Kevin Millwood pitched a combined 378.1 innings last season, but neither is back in the rotation in 2012. The Mariners need some new starters to step up.
Hernandez, the 2010 Cy Young Award winner, has averaged only 13.3 wins in the past three seasons but is still considered one of the elite pitchers in the game. He went 13–9 with a 3.06 ERA in 2012 but did not win a game in his final six starts. The Mariners re-signed Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma to a two-year, $14 million deal based primarily on the strong second half to his first season in the big leagues. Iwakuma, who went 8–4 with a 2.50 ERA in his final 15 starts, will be the No. 2 starter after 2012 wins leader Vargas was dealt. The loss of Vargas is tough to gauge, given his success in a pitcher-friendly home park and struggles away from it. There was concern the new, smaller Safeco Field would hurt Vargas. Veteran Joe Saunders will fill in innings in the middle of the rotation. After his trade from Arizona, the Orioles won four of his seven starts down the stretch, scoring just two, one and zero runs in the other three. The Mariners have younger arms with big-league experience in Blake Beavan (24), Erasmo Ramirez (22) and Hector Noesi (26). But their best prospects remain in the minors, most notably James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer.
Second-year closer Tom Wilhelmsen, with his lethal curveball, leads a bullpen crew long on potential but short on experience. That’s why Seattle re-signed veteran lefthander Oliver Perez, who impressed the organization with his 2012 conversion to a late-innings specialist. The pen looks southpaw-heavy with Perez, Charlie Furbush and former Rule 5 pickup Lucas Luetge. The Mariners also have 100 mph flamethrowers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor, and both profile as late-inning specialists — or potential trade bait. Another 2012 surprise was Josh Kinney. He missed most of the spring with a rib cage injury giving veteran Kameron Loe an opportunity to prove himself.
Advanced metrics indicate shortstop Brendan Ryan is the game’s best defender at his position, but he hit only .194 last season. That has to improve. Second baseman and leadoff man Dustin Ackley hit .226 in a dismal sophomore season while battling bone spurs in his ankle. The spurs were removed during the winter, and Ackley should be healthy in 2013. The Mariners jettisoned light-hitting backup Munenori Kawasaki and traded for Robert Andino, who also doesn’t hit much. But Andino is still an upgrade, and he can play any spot on the infield.
Morales says he’s 100 percent after breaking his leg in 2010. He’ll play first base a few times per week, but will be the primary designated hitter. That will allow Smoak another chance to prove himself at the plate. Smoak, the former No. 11 overall pick by the Texas Rangers, hit only .217 with a .654 OPS in 2012. Ibanez can also play first, which gives the Mariners the option of sending Smoak to Class AAA to begin the season. Third baseman Kyle Seager likely profiles better at second. He led the team with 20 homers in 2012, and the Mariners lack options at the hot corner. With Ackley entrenched at second, Seager will remain at third base.
Seattle acquired Michael Morse from Washington and the former shortstop will be the left fielder. He hit .303 with 36 doubles and 31 homers in 2011 for the Nationals before injuries slowed him last season. His defense is sub-par, but he has the hitting thing figured out. Franklin Gutierrez is the starter in center field. He hit .260 with only four home runs and three stolen bases in an injury-plagued 2012. Michael Saunders will likely be the everyday right fielder. Casper Wells could remain on the roster as a reserve outfielder, but he’s out of minor league options and getting squeezed by incoming vets.
The Mariners have an offensive-minded catcher in Jesus Montero, who will get only limited at-bats at DH this season after the acquisitions of Morlaes and Morse. Acquired from the Yankees before the 2012 season, Montero was solid in his first full season in the big leagues. He hit .260 with 15 home runs in 515 at bats. Those are decent numbers — especially on a team like Seattle — but the Mariners are expecting more production in ’13. Montero started 55 games behind the plate last year and 77 games as the DH. He will catch more often this season and he must improve defensively.
Morales improved as the season wore on. Ibanez and Bay will also see significant time as the DH as well as filling in on the corners in the outfield. Andino doesn’t hit much, but he’s a versatile defensive player who will see time at all four infield spots. Veteran Kelly Shoppach is a capable backup to Montero.
Eric Wedge has implored his players to adopt a “ready to hit” mentality by swinging at hittable pitches and taking fewer walks. The team OPS improved from .640 to .665 in 2012 while runs jumped from 556 to 619 — but much work remains. Wedge doesn’t tolerate the clubhouse discord that toppled Seattle managers in 2008 and 2010, but he lost Miguel Olivo, one of the team leaders last season. He now will lean on newcomers Ibanez and Bay for leadership. There’s pressure on Wedge for tangible results in his third season. The only change on his coaching staff is the addition of Dave Hansen as the hitting instructor. He will replace Chris Chambliss. The Mariners says they can spend $90 million or more on payroll, but it appears that their 2013 Opening Day roster will be in the high-$70-million range. Zduriencik has yet to match Billy Beane, his counterpart with the A’s, in producing cost-effective winners.
The Mariners could flirt with the .500 mark with modest improvements on offense. They will also get a boost by playing 19 games against the Astros in the AL West. But contending is not likely in a division that features two teams that won 93 games in 2012 (Oakland and Texas) and another in the Angels that features arguably the best lineup in baseball. Anything higher than fourth place in the AL West would be a surprise.
Lineup 2B Dustin Ackley (L)
Hit .226 in first full season, but played much of it with bone spurs in ankle. CF Franklin Gutierrez (R)
Injuries limited him to 163 plate appearances in 2012 after only 344 in 2011 due to stomach condition. 3B Kyle Seager (L)
Was team’s most productive regular with .259 batting average, 20 homers and 86 RBIs in first full season. LF Michael Morse (R)
Returns to Seattle where he was primarily a shortstop. DH Kendrys Morales (S)
Posted OPS of .900 in August and .829 in September/October in comeback season with the Angels. C Jesus Montero (R)
Showed some power with 15 homers, but hit just .228 off right-handed pitching. 1B Justin Smoak (S)
Demoted to Class AAA in second half of season in which he hit .217 with 19 homers, but strong September raised hopes. RF Michael Saunders (L)
Seattle’s best power-hitting regular in 2012 with 19 homers and .432 slugging percentage. SS Brendan Ryan (R)
Gold Glove finalist and arguably the game’s top defender at his position, but hit just .194 in 470 plate appearances.
Bench C Kelly Shoppach (R)
Has thrown out 37 percent of would-be base stealers over the past two seasons. OF Raul Ibanez (L)
Will get plenty of at-bats, either in LF, 1B or DH; had OPS of .811 versus righthanders in 2012. IF Robert Andino (R)
Mariners feel he’ll rebound from down year in Baltimore and provide upgrade in over departed Munenori Kawasaki. OF Jason Bay (R)
Mariners need the right-handed power he used to display before he hit .165 in final New York flameout.
Rotation RH Felix Hernandez
Added perfect game in August to résumé that includes 2010 Cy Young Award, but went 0–4 with 6.62 ERA from Sept. 1 on. LH Joe Saunders
Has made at least 28 starts each of the last five seasons. RH Hisashi Iwakuma
Went 8–4 with 2.50 ERA in 15 second-half starts. Had one start and 4.84 ERA in 15 first-half outings. RH Erasmo Ramirez
Missed two months with elbow injury, then posted 2.86 ERA in four starts and one relief outing in September. RH Blake Beavan
Made 26 starts and logged 152.1 innings in first full season for former first-rounder.
Bullpen RH Tom Wilhelmsen (Closer)
Notched 29 saves in 34 opportunities after taking over closer role from Brandon League in May. RH Carter Capps
Proved capable of hitting 100 mph on radar gun and landing some off-speed pitches in second-half call-up. RH Stephen Pryor
Debuted last June, but missed seven weeks with groin injury and struggled with off-speed stuff. LH Oliver Perez
Mariners leaned heavily on his veteran presence and late-inning stuff in second half of a 2.12 ERA season. LH Charlie Furbush
Was a reliable late-inning and multi-inning reliever until July triceps injury cost him a month. RH Josh Kinney
Mostly minor league journeyman became a go-to guy late for manager Eric Wedge because of tough slider. He has missed most of spring training with a rib cage injury. LH Lucas Luetge
Lefties hit .193, righties .318. RH Kameron Loe
Appeared in 142 games over last two seasons with Milwaukee.
If at first you don’t succeed — buy and buy again. Last winter, the Angels rocked the baseball world with the biggest one-day spending binge in the sport’s history. They committed over $320 million to free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, signing the two within hours one day in December. Even with the emergence of dynamic rookie Mike Trout, that did not get the Angels back into the postseason picture. So this winter, the Angels shocked everyone with another unexpected free-agent splurge, signing outfielder Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $123 million contract. If that isn’t enough to get the Angels into the playoffs for the first time since 2009, it’s hard to imagine who Angels owner Arte Moreno might try to buy next winter.
The Angels thought they had assembled one of the best rotations in baseball last season when they added lefthander Wilson to ace Jered Weaver and righthanders Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. The rotation was solid for most of the season and even added Zack Greinke in midseason. But Haren and Santana underperformed, dragging the rotation down in the second half of the season and leading to an offseason makeover. Greinke didn’t re-sign. Santana was traded, and Haren was allowed to leave as a free agent. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto used trades (for lefthander Jason Vargas and righthander Tommy Hanson) and free agency (signing Joe Blanton) to rebuild 60 percent of the rotation for 2013. After Weaver and Wilson, the quality drops off. The Angels will be happy just to get consistent performances from the rest of the rotation.
More than any other area of the team, it was the Angels’ bullpen that kept them from the playoffs in 2012. Angels relievers blew 22 saves, tied for the most in the American League and third in the majors. To no one’s surprise, the group received a major makeover for 2013. After electing not to sign an established closer for 2012 — Dipoto said he did not believe it was wise to invest big money in relief pitchers — the Angels signed closer Ryan Madson as a free agent this past winter. Madson had 32 saves for the Phillies in 2011 but missed all of 2012 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and will be limited to start this season. Dipoto also added free-agent lefthander Sean Burnett to a group of holdovers that is led by Ernesto Frieri, who led the Angels with 23 saves last year but will probably slide into a setup role when Madson is healthy. Veteran lefthander Scott Downs and righty Kevin Jepsen are two more dependable options for manager Mike Scioscia’s rebuilt pen. Downs has given up only 82 hits in 99.1 innings pitched in his two seasons with the Angels. Jepsen had a 3.02 ERA and 1.142 WHIP in 44.2 innings in 2012.
The Angels have set their keystone in stone for the next few seasons after giving contract extensions to both second baseman Howard Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar last spring. Neither has lived up to the potential that seemed to lie ahead in their early years — Aybar hit .312 in 2009 and won a Gold Glove in 2011; Kendrick made the All-Star team in 2011 — but both offer above-average defense and could become more productive offensively as they continue to mature. One (most likely Aybar) is likely to get the enviable boost of batting second in the Angels’ lineup this year between Trout and Pujols. That cushy slot led to a career revival for veteran outfielder Torii Hunter in 2012.
Pujols seemed unaffected by human distractions as he rolled out year after year of consistent production with the Cardinals, earning the nickname “The Machine.” All of that changed last season. Changing teams and leagues for the first time in his career, facing a steady diet of unfamiliar pitchers and trying to live up to the massive pressure of his $250 million contract all proved too much for Pujols last year. Early in May, he was hitting .194 with no home runs and only five RBIs when Scioscia benched him. Buoyed by the arrival of Trout, Pujols was more like himself the rest of the way and finished with enviable numbers (.285, 30 home runs, 105 RBIs). But those numbers have been in a three-year decline now, and The Machine isn’t what he used to be. Teamed with Hamilton in the middle of a deep Angels lineup in 2013, though, he won’t have to be. Third base, meanwhile, remains an unsolved riddle for the Angels — as it has been since Troy Glaus left following the 2004 season. The Mark Trumbo experiment did not last long last spring, and Alberto Callaspo spent another season as the Angels’ primary third baseman. Callaspo is an above-average defender but little more than a placeholder until something better comes along. He hit only 10 home runs with 53 RBIs in 520 plate appearances in 2012.
The 2012 season was transformative for the Angels — not because of Pujols’ debut but due to the arrival of Trout. At age 20, Trout had one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history and one of the most dynamic of any kind. Trout’s promotion in late April last season transformed the Angels’ lineup from a dysfunctional unit dragged down by underperforming veterans (i.e., Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and Pujols) into one of the most productive offenses in the American League. Hamilton’s addition for 2013 and beyond should take the Angels’ offense to another level. Defensively, the Angels will often field an outfield of three center fielders — Trout in left and Hamilton in right flanking Peter Bourjos — each capable of Gold Glove-caliber coverage that could make the team’s pitchers look better than they really are.
Satisfying Scioscia’s defensive demands and still offering some offensive contributions has proved too much for a generation of Angels catchers. Chris Iannetta is the latest to try, and Dipoto gave him a three-year contract extension as a vote of confidence. Iannetta did his best work in 2012 after returning from a wrist injury — he hit .306 in August.
The Angels’ decision to trade the limited Kendrys Morales clears the way for Trumbo to become the primary designated hitter. Trumbo figures to still see plenty of playing time in right field and first base with Hamilton and Pujols rotated through the DH spot on a regular basis. The bench, meanwhile, figures to offer little on a team where the everyday lineup is virtually set.
Friction between Dipoto and Scioscia was evident as the Angels got off to a bad start in 2012, reaching a head when Dipoto fired long-time hitting coach (and close Scioscia friend) Mickey Hatcher in May. The Angels turned around their season, but Scioscia figures to be on a very hot seat if the Angels underachieve again after Dipoto has handed him arguably the game’s top lineup.
In the past two years, the Angels have added two of the best players of the past 10 years (Pujols and Hamilton) and one who could be the best player of the next 10 years (Trout). That should allow them to field one of the most productive offenses in baseball and a defense capable of covering some of the team’s pitching deficiencies. The financial commitment it took to put that team together, however, figures to create high expectations and a pressurized atmosphere for Scioscia with a clubhouse now devoid of Hunter’s stabilizing presence. The Angels did not handle that pressure well last year, and it remains to be seen whether Moreno’s checkbook can buy a winner.
Lineup LF Mike Trout (R)
Hard to believe his historic rookie season did not result in third MVP-Rookie of the Year double in MLB history. SS Erick Aybar (S)
Torii Hunter thrived last year in this cushy spot between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Was one of best hitters in AL from June 2 until end of season (.326 with 111 hits in 91 games). 1B Albert Pujols (R)
Numbers have declined for three consecutive years — but still reached 30 HR-100 RBI plateau in 2012. RF Josh Hamilton (L)
His K rate increased in 2012 (to 25.5 percent) fueled by jump in fastball miss rate (13.7 in ‘11 to 24.6 in ‘12). DH Mark Trumbo (R)
Was his second-half slump a sign of growing pains or a regression to the mean? 2B Howard Kendrick (R)
Has hit between .279 and .287 with 14 steals in each of the last three seasons. 3B Alberto Callaspo (S)
Combined .664 OPS of Angels’ third basemen in 2012 ranked 28th in majors, 13th in American League. C Chris Iannetta (R)
Missed 70 games in his debut season with the Angels with a wrist injury and a forearm strain. CF Peter Bourjos (R)
Gold Glove-caliber defense but questionable offensive potential, though he did hit .271 in 552 at-bats in 2011.
Bench C Chris Snyder (R)
Mike Scioscia loves veteran catchers who can handle pitchers. OF Vernon Wells (R)
The Angels would give anything to be out from under this disastrous contract. IF Andrew Romine (L)
Slick fielder can handle shortstop or third base but has yet to show he can hit at big-league level. OF Kole Calhoun (L)
Scrappy player but scrappiness can get you only so far when your batting averages hovers below .200.
Rotation RH Jered Weaver
Has pitched at Cy Young level for three seasons now without winning the award. LH C.J. Wilson
Blames bone chips in elbow for second-half slump last year — 4–5, 5.54 ERA, 1.57 WHIP in final 16 starts. LH Jason Vargas
Benefited greatly from Safeco Field — ERA (2.74 to 4.78), WHIP (1.02 to 1.31) jumped on the road last year. RH Joe Blanton
Two-year deal with innings-eater seems unnecessary with Garrett Richards knocking on door. RH Tommy Hanson
Started 2009 10–4 with 2.44 ERA, .190 average against — in 36 starts since is 14–13 with 4.96 ERA, .277 average.
Bullpen RH Ryan Madson (Closer)
During 32-save 2011 with Phillies had 62 Ks, only eight unintentional BBs, two HRs allowed in 62 appearances. Doubtful to start the season as closer. RH Ernesto Frieri
Unhittable in debut with Angels — no hits in first 13 innings, no runs in first 26.1 with 45 strikeouts. Will assume the role of closer until Madson is ready. LH Sean Burnett
Held left-handed hitters to .211 average with 28-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2012. LH Scott Downs
Veteran had shoulder issues, was not as reliable in the second half last season — hence the Burnett signing. RH Kevin Jepsen
After two years of knee problems and command issues, righthander has regained his velocity and reliability. RH David Carpenter
Allowed 22 hits with 22 whiffs to right-handed batters in his debut season. LH Brad Mills
Logged 378.2 minor league innings over the past three seasons. RH Jerome Williams
Will be the long relief man and available for spot starts.
Consider this about how far the Rangers franchise has come: Their 93 wins in 2012 were viewed as a major disappointment for a team that has disappointed often since coming to Texas in 1972. Fans in the Metroplex had reason to be upset after the Rangers blew a five-game division lead with nine to play. Texas bowed out of the playoffs with a 5–1 loss to Baltimore in the inaugural AL Wild Card Game. The offseason didn’t start out any better, as five-time All-Star Josh Hamilton bolted to the division-rival Angels, and free agent Zack Greinke turned down the Rangers’ pile of money for a bigger one with the Dodgers. But the Rangers’ lineup, despite losing Hamilton, is still productive. The rotation should be a strength, assuming it can avoid the injuries that led to the club’s downfall last year. There’s too much talent to count this team out.
Failed bids to land Greinke and James Shields were met with dismay by Rangers fans, but the team’s rotation likely will feature three All-Stars and a 16-game winner. Yu Darvish finally lived up to the hype as he thrived down the stretch in 2012. The Rangers saw an ace-in-the-making who went 3–0 with a 2.21 ERA over his final five starts. Darvish made the AL All-Star team via the Final Vote contest on MLB.com. Matt Harrison could be considered the ace after winning a career-high 18 games. He dominated in June, when he was the AL Pitcher of the Month, and was a first-time All-Star in July. The third All-Star is Alexi Ogando, who made the AL team as a starter in 2011. The Rangers have settled on using Ogando as a starter after he spent the 2012 season in the bullpen. Ogando uses three pitches, though a mid- to upper-90s fastball is his best one. Derek Holland, who went 16–5 in 2011, and prospect Robbie Ross will round out the rotation, but the Rangers are expecting a significant contribution later in the year from Colby Lewis as he returns from surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon last summer.
There is little doubt that the Texas bullpen will be much stronger in the second half. That’s when the crew will be at full strength after the return of injured pitchers Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria and Martin Perez. And with the return of Lewis to the rotation by then, Ross will have returned to his valuable role in the bullpen. Soria, the former Royals closer will be an impact arm, but not until late May as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Jose Lindblom, who was acquired from Philadelphia in a trade for Michael Young, takes another spot. He’s a power pitcher who relies on a mid-90s fastball and a slider, but he gave up too many homers (13 in 71 innings) in 2012. Closer Joe Nathan, who saved 37 games, headlines the group of returning relievers. Feliz should return from Tommy John surgery around midseason. Perez may miss a couple of months.
There were multiple offseason discussions about where All-Stars Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus would play in 2013. The reason is top prospect Jurickson Profar. Club brass would like to see the switch-hitting Profar in the lineup every day. To do so, though, either Kinsler would have to be moved from second base or Andrus would have to be moved to another team. With free agency looming for Andrus after 2014 and with Scott Boras as his agent, the shortstop’s willingness to stay in Arlington is in question. Profar, who turned 20 early in spring training, is considered the top prospect in baseball. The Rangers believe his bat would upgrade a lineup that was inconsistent for much of 2012, and he’s athletic enough to play second base regularly even though he has been developed as a shortstop. He still could very well force his way into the Opening Day lineup, but the more likely scenario is that he will begin the season in the minors getting regular at-bats.
Adrian Beltre stands as the Rangers’ undisputed best player after Hamilton left for the Angels’ $125 million offer. Beltre, though, was moving toward that title last season as he swatted 36 homers with 102 RBIs and a .321 batting average. He also played spectacular defense, committing only eight errors, and earned his second straight Gold Glove — as well as the Platinum Glove, given to the best defensive player in the American League. The other side of the diamond, though, could be in flux. Mitch Moreland entered spring training as the starting first baseman, but wasn’t oozing with job security. The Rangers had flirted with the idea of playing Kinsler at first base in an attempt to make room for Profar. Moreland is the only true first baseman on the roster, but the left-handed hitter hasn’t shown much success against lefty pitchers. He also hasn’t had many chances the past two seasons, with the right-handed-hitting Young, Napoli and Mike Olt playing against lefties.
The loss of Hamilton obviously hurts, but there were a couple winners in the fallout of his departure. David Murphy will take over left field on a permanent basis. Murphy, who bats left-handed, hit a career-high .304 last season in 457 at bats and proved that he could hit left-handed pitchers (.347 in 75 at bats). The other winner was Leonys Martin, who defected from Cuba in 2010. He has power in his bat, though he will find more gaps than outfield seats, and his speed allows him to be a threat on the bases and a weapon in the outfield. Martin will open the season in a platoon with another strong-armed speedster, Craig Gentry, but the Rangers want to see Martin seize everyday duties. Nelson Cruz has manned right field since late in 2008, but leg injuries have made him less effective despite having the strongest arm in the outfield.
Along with the bullpen, catcher was the other area that the Rangers needed to address during the offseason. Free agent A.J. Pierzynski signed a one-year deal to be the Rangers’ primary catcher, with Geovany Soto re-signing to be the backup. Pierzynski had his most productive season in 2012, with a career-high 27 homers and a career-high-tying 77 RBIs for the White Sox. Numbers like that ordinarily warrant a multi-year deal, but at 36 years old, Pierzynski’s most attractive offer was the Rangers’ one-year pact. Soto disappointed after being acquired from the Cubs on July 31. He batted only .196 after the trade, but many pitchers preferred to have him as their catcher rather than the departed Napoli.
The Rangers like to use the DH spot as a chance to rest regulars without taking their bat out of the lineup, but the addition of Lance Berkman will limit that practice. Berkman might not be able to play 150 games, but it isn’t outrageous to think he will get 400 at-bats. Some of those could come at first base. Gentry will most likely serve as the fourth outfield, assuming Martin seizes center field. Veteran Jeff Baker appears to have won a reserve spot as a non-roster player. The most interesting decision remains what to do with Profar. Keeping him would most likely send Moreland to the bench. Sending him to the minors would open a spot for utility infielder Leury Garcia, a switch-hitter who has never played above Double-A.
Ron Washington is back for his seventh season as manager. His primary strength is that he consistently gets the most out of his players and allows them to play an exciting brand of baseball. But he also stresses the fundamentals, and the Rangers had their best season defensively since he took over, but their worst on the bases. Hitting coach Dave Magadan left the same post in Boston and takes over an offense that led the majors in runs (808) and finished third in batting average (.273). Dave Anderson and Gary Pettis are swapping coaching boxes, with Pettis heading to third as the Rangers try to maximize the base-running knowledge he had as a player.
The Rangers won’t be favored to win the West this year after losing Hamilton and failing to make an offseason splash. But this team still has multiple All-Stars, including three in the infield and three in the rotation, and they have the prospects and financial flexibility to alter the roster before the July 31 trade deadline. In short, the Rangers know how to win and still have the talent to compete for the AL West title.
Lineup 2B Ian Kinsler (R)
Kinsler is looking for a rebound season after a subpar 2012. Don’t be surprised to see him play some first base, too. SS Elvis Andrus (R)
He set career-highs in average, on-base percentage and RBIs in 2012, and was terrific defensively. DH Lance Berkman (S)
Nolan Ryan helped woo the veteran to Arlington. If Berkman is healthy, he can be a threat in the middle of the lineup. 3B Adrian Beltre (R)
The Rangers’ best player put up huge numbers for a second straight year. No one in the clubhouse is respected more. RF Nelson Cruz (R)
A more slender Cruz produced career-highs in doubles and RBIs, but was streaky. He’s in his walk year, so look for a big 2013. LF David Murphy (L)
The longtime fourth outfielder seized his chance to play every day over the final two months of 2012. C A.J. Pierzynski (L)
Signed in late December, the veteran upgrades the catching situation and provides a needed left-handed bat. 1B Mitch Moreland (L)
He must show that he can stay healthy and handle left-handed pitchers. He had only 46 at-bats against them in 2012. CF Leonys Martin (L)
A .323 average in 533 minor league at-bats has the Rangers believing he’s ready to succeed in the major leagues.
Bench C Geovany Soto (R)
A .196 hitter after the July trade from the Cubs, this former Rookie of the Year expects more from himself in 2013. OF Craig Gentry (R)
The defensive-minded outfielder showed something at the plate in 2012, but he is not viewed as an everyday player. UT Jeff Baker (R)
Hit just .248 for three different teams last season. UT Leury Garcia (S)
The Rangers are likely to keep Garcia as a bench player and allow Jurickson Profar the opportunity for regular at-bats in the minors.
Rotation RH Yu Darvish
The Japanese import was one of the league’s top pitchers over the final two months, giving the Rangers high hopes for 2013. LH Derek Holland
His 2012 was a disappointment after a 16-win 2011 season. Holland’s main problem was the long ball (32 HRs allowed). LH Matt Harrison
He has won 32 games the past two seasons, tied for eighth-best in the majors. Won a career-high 18 in 2012. RH Alexi Ogando
An All-Star in 2011, Ogando was back in the bullpen last year. He’s a starter once again, and it’s the job he wants most. LH Robbie Ross
A longshot to make the 2012 roster, he posted All-Star numbers before fatigue caught up to him. He’s a key piece in 2013, and injuries to others have opened a door to the rotation.
Bullpen RH Joe Nathan (Closer)
The veteran was a workhorse and an All-Star in 2012, and must be again while some key relievers try to overcome injuries. RH Joakim Soria
The former Kansas City closer won’t be ready until late May (Tommy John surgery); will give the bullpen a boost on return. RH Josh Lindblom
Acquired in the Michael Young trade, Lindblom gave up 13 homers in 71 innings in 2012. He knows that must improve. RH Tanner Scheppers
Made big-league debut in ’12, two years later than anticipated. Fastball can hit 98 mph but straightens out too frequently. LH Michael Kirkman
The former starting pitcher has found a home in the bullpen, and his slider is a key pitch against tough left-handed batters. RH Jason Frasor
Says he’s healthy after hitting the DL (forearm strain) for the first time in his nine-year career in 2012.