***All projected rosters according to Baseball Prospectus***

 

1 - Texas Rangers (92-70)

Projected Starting Lineup:

LF - Shin-Soo Choo

SS - Elvis Andrus

1B - Prince Fielder

3B - Adrian Beltre

RF - Alex Rios

DH - Mitch Moreland

C - Geovany Soto

2B - Jurickson Profar

CF - Leonys Martin

Projected Bench:

C - J.P. Arencibia

C/1B - Robinson Chirinos

IF - Adam Rosales

OF - Engel Beltre

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Yu Darvish

2 - Alexi Ogando

3 - Martin Perez

4 - Tommy Hanson

5 - Joe Saunders

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Joakim Soria

SU - Tanner Scheppers

SU - Neftali Feliz

MID - Neal Cotts

MID - Jason Frasor

MID - Robbie Ross

LR - Michael Kirkman

Back to back Division titles for the Oakland Athletics have transformed the Texas Rangers from the hunted to the hunter and a substantial offseason trade shows how proactive the Rangers are in the hopes of finally gaining elusive October glory.

The prominent offseason move I just mentioned is of course the trade that sent Ian Kinsler to Detroit and Prince Fielder to the Rangers. I covered my thoughts on the move in my Central preview earlier this week, and I expect Fielder to have a monster regular season. The left-handed-hitting Prince Fielder should have more than a few bombs with the very inviting right field porch in Arlington. A return to the 30-home-run plateau is a virtual guarantee.

Someone overshadowed a bit by the acquisition of Fielder is new LF Shin-Soo Choo. Choo will be at the top of the lineup and his ability to get on base at an elite level will be crucial for the Rangers' hope of capturing a Division crown and avoiding the dreaded Wild Card playoff game. With Fielder and Adrian Beltre in the middle of the lineup, the Rangers should have no issues driving in runs. Expect Alex Rios to have a stellar year worthy of All-Star consideration.

Once considered to be baseball's top positional prospect, Jurickson Profar is finally getting the reins taken off of him. Despite being in the big leagues for much of 2013, Profar's growth was sidetracked as Texas toyed with the prized prospect and turned him into a utility bench player. His numbers suffered, but with Kinsler gone and an opening at 2B, Profar will finally have a shot to showcase his spectacular skill set.

The projected disabled list for the Rangers is already starting to get a little crowded with rotation arms. Derek Holland had knee surgery that will keep him out until around midseason while Matt Harrison continues to have major back issues. If the Rangers could build some depth behind their extraordinary Cy Young-worthy ace Yu Darvish then they could sew up the Division. Outside of Darvish and Martin Perez -- who anchored the rotation a year ago -- there is not a lot of sure things in Texas. Same goes for the bullpen that is now void of closer with Joe Nathan gone. Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz are expected to battle for save opportunities.

Yu Darvish is my Cy Young favorite while Adrian Beltre is always an intriguing MVP candidate. There are a lot of issues on paper for the Rangers, but luckily for them it is still only March. I see everything working out for them and a return to the top of the Division.

 

2 - Oakland Athletics (88-74)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Coco Crisp

3B - Josh Donaldson

SS - Jed Lowrie

LF - Yoenis Cespedes

DH - Brandon Moss

RF - Josh Reddick

2B - Alberto Callaspo

C - John Jaso

1B - Daric Barton

Projected Bench:

C - Derek Norris

IF - Nick Punto

IF - Eric Sogard

OF - Craig Gentry

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Jarrod Parker

2 - Scott Kazmir

3 - Sonny Gray

4 - Dan Straily

5 - A.J. Griffin

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Jim Johnson

SU - Ryan Cook

SU - Luke Gregerson

MID - Sean Doolittle

MID - Danny Otero

MID - Fernando Abad

LR - Jesse Chavez

Oakland is an incredibly exciting and fun team to watch. Their fans' electricity is palpable during intense regular season games and in the playoffs. They get the most out of their cheap and young players and manage to not only compete with the big spenders of the league, but also straight up beat them.

The pitching in both the rotation and bullpen will keep Oakland as prominent contenders in the American League. The A's issued a bullpen overhaul by adding two top-notch pitchers in new closer Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson. Gregerson has been a great set-up man for San Diego for the past few seasons while Johnson is still a very good closer who has been at the top of the save leaders each year he closed for Baltimore. Mix them in with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle and you have a whole lot of shortened games for the Athletics.

The rotation is not nearly as solid, but definitely has the potential to be. Jarrod Parker will be counted on to be the ace, and while his numbers were more than fine once the season concluded in 2013, it was a very rocky campaign. This will be his third season and it's time for Parker to harness his abilities and lead this young rotation -- though not as young as years' past with the addition of Scott Kazmir. Sonny Gray is the man to watch here as his spectacular repertoire will make him a nightmare for opposing batters all summer long.

Another season of a lineup void of true superstars but a ton of heart is in store for Oakland. Josh Donaldson emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate last season out of nowhere and as per usual with guys like that, the following season is always a challenge to prove it was not a fluke. Yoenis Cespedes saw drastic drops in both his batting average and on-base percentage during his sophomore MLB campaign and a WAR rating decreased by almost two wins.

As a baseball fan, nobody outside of Oakland would be happier than me to see the Athletics competing for a World Series again, and with the collection of arms on the roster, they should be right back at it.

 

3 - Seattle Mariners (85-77)

Projected Starting Lineup:

LF - Dustin Ackley

3B - Kyle Seager

2B - Robinson Cano

RF - Corey Hart

1B - Justin Smoak

DH - Logan Morrison

CF - Michael Saunders

C - Mike Zunino

SS - Brad Miller

Projected Bench:

C - John Buck

IF/OF - Willie Bloomquist

OF - Abraham Almonte

OF - Cole Gillespie

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Felix Hernandez

2 - Scott Baker

3 - Erasmo Ramirez

4 - James Paxton

5 - Blake Beavan

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Fernando Rodney

SU - Danny Farquhar

SU - Tom Wilhelmsen

MID - Charlie Furbush

MID - Yoervis Medina

MID - Joe Beimel

LR - Hector Noesi

After a very busy offseason that saw additions of Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Scott Baker, Fernando Rodney and prized 2B Robinson Cano, the Mariners are expected to compete for at least a Wild Card spot in the American League. The A.L. West is a good Division, but absolutely winnable for any one of the top three teams.

It is always disconcerting for a team to hear rumblings of a disabled list having multiple key pieces added to it in the middle of Spring Training, but that is what the Mariners are currently dealing with. Their rotation has become very watered down with All Star Hisashi Iwakuma dealing with a finger issue and potential Rookie of the Year candidate Taijuan Walker plagued by dreaded shoulder inflammation. The rookie duo of Walker and James Paxton will have to wait a month or so into the season to come to fruition. With both these guys gone and Scott Baker, Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez trying to fill the void, super-ace Felix Hernandez will once again have to carry the pitching.

Despite recording 37 saves in 2013, Fernando Rodney struggled for much of the season one year removed from his dominate 2012 run. The good news for Rodney was his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, but walks destroyed him. Seattle will likely have little patience for any bumps in the road with fellow bullpen arm Danny Farquhar itching to get some save opportunities.

Robinson Cano is going to be a stud, no doubt, but his numbers may not be as eye popping in Seattle as they were in New York. Cano only has four home runs in Safeco Field in his career and left-handed hitters have historically had issues hitting out of the ballpark in Seattle's spacious park. Cano's hopes of returning to the 30-home-run mark may not happen, but he will still post spectacular hitting numbers across the board.

An improvement over last season is a virtual guarantee for the Mariners as this roster will certainly not fall to 20 games under .500 again. However, expectations need to be tempered in Seattle as the team is simply not as good as the Rangers or Athletics, despite the copious amount of transactions.

 

4 - Los Angeles Angels (82-80)

Projected Starting Lineup:

RF - Kole Calhoun

CF - Mike Trout

1B - Albert Pujols

LF - Josh Hamilton

3B - David Freese

DH - Raul Ibanez

2B - Howie Kendrick

SS - Erick Aybar

C - Chris Iannetta

Projected Bench:

C - Hank Conger

1B - Carlos Pena

IF - Grant Green

OF - Collin Cowgill

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Jered Weaver

2 - C.J. Wilson

3 - Garrett Richards

4 - Hector Santiago

5 - Tyler Skaggs

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Ernesto Frieri

SU - Joe Smith

SU - Sean Burnett

MID - Kevin Jepsen

MID - Fernando Salas

MID - Brian Moran

LR - Joe Blanton

For the past two years I have sipped the Los Angeles Angels Kool-Aid and hyped them up as the team to beat in the West and looked absolutely silly. Enough of that silliness, the Angels are an average team with an above-average payroll and nothing more.

Imagine a world with no Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout would be having the most incredible beginning to a career as anyone in the history of baseball. Trout could have two MVPs and a Rookie of the Year on his mantle before he even sniffed a life outside of arbitration eligibility. As it stands, the Angels are being proactive about their superstar oufielder by attempting to work out a mammoth contract extension as he should be a mainstay in Anaheim for the next decade-plus. He continues to improve and mature physically and it is just a matter of time before he starts winning those elusive MVP awards. I think it happens this year.

If Mike Trout is the poster boy of hope for the Angels, then Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols are the punk kids spray painting the poster. Their huge contracts will hinder the Angels' ability to build around Trout and while they don't put up atrocious numbers, they are certainly not worth the incredible amount of money the Angels are paying them. David Freese should help the depth of the lineup, but he will have to show he has recovered from an injury-plagued 2013 season.

The Angels traded away their big power bat in Mark Trumbo for two young pitching arms. Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs will likely be given the back-end of the rotation spots and in the case of Skaggs, it could turn out to be a very sneaky good deal for Los Angeles' American League team. Skaggs, once a prominent pitching prospect for the Diamondbacks, has plenty of stuff to make him more than just a number-five starter.

The Angels always have the potential to bust out and take the Division by storm if guys like Hamilton and Pujols could actually live up to expectations, but nothing of the sort is even remotely a guarantee.

 

5 - Houston Astros (58-104)

Projected Starting Lineup:

CF - Dexter Fowler

2B - Jose Altuve

C - Jason Castro

1B - Chris Carter

DH - Marc Krauss

LF - Robbie Grossman

3B - Matt Dominguez

RF - L.J. Hoes

SS - Jonathan Villar

Projected Bench:

C - Carlos Corporan

1B/OF - Jesus Guzman

IF - Cesar Izturis

OF - J.D. Martinez

Projected Starting Rotation:

1 - Scott Feldman

2 - Jarred Cosart

3 - Brett Oberholtzer

4 - Jerome Williams

5 - Dallas Keuchel

Projected Bullpen:

CL - Chad Qualls

SU - Matt Albers

SU - Josh Fields

MID - Kevin Chapman

MID - Josh Zeid

MID - Anthony Bass

LR - Lucas Harrell

The Astros did just enough this offseason and have just enough young players who may get their shot to save them from being historically bad once again. Instead, they will just be the worst team in baseball, BUT not historically bad. Baby steps.

Truth be told, it does not matter how many prospects emerge for the Astros, they are still many years away from even sniffing .500, let alone being relevant. They are basically a minor league team hiding in the West. Dexter Fowler, Jose Altuve and Jason Castro are a nice trio at the top of the lineup while Chris Carter could mash a few home runs; not to mention Jonathan Villar being a very real sleeper candidate in fantasy baseball when it comes to steals. But the rest is blah and the Astros are sure to get walloped by everybody. Somehow George Springer got cheated out of a September call-up last year despite an incredible 30/30 season. He will assuredly be in Houston sometime this summer.

Scott Feldman is their number-one starter. I want to go into how promising Brett Oberholtzer looked last season or how improved Dallas Keuchel and Jarred Cosart are looking in Spring Training, but I can't. Scott Feldman is their number-one starter.

I have never seen a bullpen quite like Houston's. It is like they know they will never have leads to save so they filled it with quality mop-up relievers. Jesse Crain is probably going to be on the disabled list to start the season, but will likely be the closer eventually for Houston if you are into fantasy and are desperate for a guy to grab the random save here or there.

Much like the Chicago Cubs in the National League, Houston fans are more interested in minor league names like Springer, Jonathan Singleton, Carlos Correa and Mark Appel. Only Springer and maybe Singleton should be expected to be seen in 2014, though.

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