A lack of household names won't keep Oakland from a third straight AL West title. Despite playing in a pitcher-friendly park, the A's finished fourth in MLB in runs last year (4.73 per game). It was thanks to a breakout year from 3B Josh Donaldson (.301 average) and strong seasons from 1B Brandon Moss (30 HRs), SS Jed Lowrie (.290 average), and OF Coco Crisp. If OF Yoenis Cespedes, their best player, bounces back from an injury-filled year, this lineup will be great. Young righties Jarrod Parker and Sonny Gray lead the rotation, and Oakland signed lefty Scott Kazmir, coming off a big comeback year for Cleveland.
Seattle spent like the Yankees this off-season. They stole New York's best player in the process: 2B Robinson Cano (.314 average, 107 RBIs). They further beefed up the lineup with ex-Brewer Corey Hart and former Marlin Logan Morrison, power hitters coming off injuries.
Former AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez leads a strong pitching staff, while Hisashi Iwakuma has quietly emerged as a consistent Number 2 pitcher. Flamethrower Taijuan Walker is one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball. If the 21-year-old steps up, the Mariners should make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Texas was aggressive this off-season, trading All-Star 2B Ian Kinsler to Detroit for slugging 1B Prince Fielder (25 HRs) to complement 3B Adrian Beltre (.315 average, 30 HRs). The Rangers also signed OF Shin-Soo Choo (.423 on-base percentage with Cincinnati) to hit leadoff. They won't miss Kinsler if 21-year-old Jurickson Profar fulfills his enormous potential.
Aside from ace Yu Darvish (277 strikeouts), this pitching staff looks shaky. Lefty Derek Holland is out until midseason due to a knee injury. Matt Harrison missed almost all of 2013 because of back problems. And veteran closer Joe Nathan signed with Detroit.
Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton were supposed to join superstar OF Mike Trout (.323 average) to form baseball's most powerful offense. Last year, Pujols (age 34) and Hamilton (age 32) started to look their ages. The Angels hope new faces 3B David Freese and DH Raul Ibanez can help turn things around.
L.A. may be better off counting on pitching. Jered Weaver (11–8) and C.J. Wilson (17–7) form a decent 1–2 punch. The Angels also acquired two young lefties. Hector Santiago was surprisingly solid for the White Sox last year. Tyler Skaggs was considered a top prospect for Arizona before struggling in 2013.
The Astros have had baseball's worst record in each of the last three years, but things are starting to look up. Houston traded for CF Dexter Fowler, a dynamic talent but inconsistent at the plate. He could be joined by top prospect George Springer, who has a rare combination of power and speed but strikes out a lot (161 times in 135 games in the minors last year).
Along with leadoff hitter 2B Jose Altuve (35 SBs) and power hitters Chris Carter (29 HRs), Matt Dominguez (21 HRs), and Jason Castro (18 HRs), they'll score more runs. Their pitching is weak, but righty Mark Appel, the top pick of last June's draft, could make his MLB debut this summer.
Photos: LEON HALIP/GETTY IMAGES (PARKER), ROD MAR FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HERNANDEZ), STEVEN BISIG/USA TODAY SPORTS (BELTRE), CLIFF WELCH/ICON SMI (TROUT), JUAN DELEON /ICON SMI (CASTRO)