Welcome to what could be baseball's most competitive division race in baseball -- the American League West. You can learn a lot about watching how teams approach an offseason, and four AL West teams -- the Astros, Mariners, Rangers and Angels -- are in a clear go-for-it mode.As for the
Welcome to what could be baseball's most competitive division race in baseball -- the American League West. You can learn a lot about watching how teams approach an offseason, and four AL West teams -- the Astros, Mariners, Rangers and Angels -- are in a clear go-for-it mode.
As for the Athletics, they continue to amass young, talented pitching. That's what they had in 2012, a campaign that began a stretch of three consecutive postseason appearances.
All five AL West teams are confident good things will happen if they're able to execute their Plan A. What are the other options? Let's check in on each team's Plan B.
White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana is Plan B, and that's pretty much that. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has constructed the division's best team after a flurry of offseason acquisitions. But Houston must have productive seasons from its top two starting pitchers, Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel, both of whom were injured at the end of last season.
Both appear to be healthy, and if they combine for, say, 65 starts and 350 innings, the Astros probably are headed back to the postseason. There's enough depth in the everyday lineup and bullpen to sustain an injury or two. But if either Keuchel or McCullers is injured, Luhnow may be compelled to pay whatever the White Sox want for Quintana, even if it takes a package that includes top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker.
Rays right-handers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi are two other options who have been discussed. Luhnow has been reluctant to meet Tampa Bay's asking price, but an injury would change the dynamic.
In the Mariners' case, it's age instead of injury concerns with their top two starters, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. General manager Jerry Dipoto has been baseball's most aggressive GM the past two years, and he almost certainly will act quickly to upgrade the rotation if necessary.
However, Seattle could find its Plan B internally, with right-handers Andrew Moore and Max Povse.
In addition, the Mariners have prospects to deal -- for instance, outfielder Tyler O'Neill and first baseman Daniel Vogelbach, who could also potentially be used to fill holes that develop during the season.
Money probably won't be a problem. Seattle hasn't been to the playoffs in 16 years, and ownership has taken an extremely aggressive approach to snap that streak.
If either of the top two starters -- Garrett Richards or Matthew Shoemaker -- is injured, Angels GM Billy Eppler will be scrambling to come up with a Plan B. With a thin Minor League system, his trade options could be limited. And the budget is already stretched.
Eppler has worked hard to add pitching depth, so his logical Plan B is to hope to find contributions from Alex Meyer, JC Ramirez, Yusmeiro Petit or Bud Norris.
Do the Rangers really need a Plan B? They won the division last season despite a string of injuries to the starting rotation. That rotation finished with a 4.37 ERA, highest among the 10 postseason teams.
If the front of three of Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez stay healthy, Texas probably can find enough production from A.J. Griffin, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner to fill the rest of the innings.
The Rangers do have first baseman Joey Gallo, still a well-regarded prospect, to include in a possible package for pitching. Likewise, pitchers Yohander Mendez and Connor Sadzeck could get a shot at some point or be included in a deal.
Texas also has position player depth, including Jurickson Profar, Ryan Rua and Drew Robinson. As for financial flexibility, that's probably not a problem, given ownership's history of spending generously.
The A's have more depth and flexibility than they've had in a while. Even with Sonny Gray beginning the season on the disabled list, they have impressive -- and inexperienced -- pitching talent, including Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea.
There may not be much financial flexibility, but there's enough Minor League depth to create an assortment of possibilities. In addition, executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane has some veterans -- Gray, catcher Stephen Vogt and infielder Jed Lowrie -- who could bring more talent in a trade.
The Athletics will not be picked to finish above fifth, but they've surprised people before. With all the high-ceiling young players, Oakland is a team to keep an eye on.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice.