"I WANT MY GRANT BALFOUR BOBBLEHEAD DOLL!!!" - Ezra Shaw
The Angels and Rangers have sure been busy lately. However, busier does not always equate to better and throughout the off-sesaon, each time there's been a move in the AL West I've come away feeling slightly better about the A's outlook -- which is funny, because the A's haven't made a significant move since the post-season ended. (Apologies to the mothers of Sandy Rosario and Jim Miller, for the previous sentence.)
The A's main move of consequence, trading Cliff Pennington and something called a "Yordy" for Chris Young, did not even address a need. In fact it created more weakness at a position of need (SS) in order to add to a position of strength (OF). That the A's wanted to make the deal anyway speaks to how lopsided it was in the A's favor. They still need to address SS, and they will, but in the meantime Oakland improved its team by adding Young -- and has been very quiet ever since.
Meanwhile, the Rangers have been busy: Busy losing key pieces to their recent success. First they lost Mike Napoli to free agency, then they dealt Michael Young, and now they have watched Josh Hamilton sign with their division rival. At the same time, they have seen potential additions to their rotation -- Zack Greinke, Jeremy Guthrie, Dan Haren, Anibal Sanchez -- opt to sign elsewhere. It now looks like if the Rangers want to get better for 2013 they are going to have to do it by trading away some of their future. This is significant because Texas has an excellent farm system so they really have a lot to lose.
Regarding the Angels, their rotation was gutted when they traded away Ervin Santana and then lost Greinke and Haren to free agency. Enter Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton, otherwise known as "That's who you replaced the middle of your rotation with?" With the addition of Josh Hamilton to augment Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Kendrys Morales, no doubt the Angels will hit and score some runs. And they'll have to, because honestly their pitching staff looks to me to be the poorest among the 4 teams who graced the AL West last year.
As for Hamilton, don't get me wrong: The guy is a scary hitter. But I think LAA is going to regret that contract because it's $125M less they have, and will have, to address their pitching, and because Hamilton is a time bomb waiting to go on the DL or rehab, and because frankly Hamilton has holes in his swing that show up in his less gaudy career numbers away from Arlington: .292/.354/.504, which is not bad at all, mind you, but might represent closer to what the Angels can expect from him for their $25M/year.
Best of all, from an A's fan's point of view, Hamilton's jump may have come at a perfect time. Going into the off-season, one could reasonably project that Texas looked a little stronger than Oakland, while perhaps Oakland looked a little stronger than LAA. By leaving Texas for LAA, Hamilton might have recalibrated the division (on paper) to where the A's are now as good as -- perhaps even a touch better than? -- the Rangers...but to where the Angels are still a notch below Oakland. All while leaving the Angels more hamstrung for the coming years.
However ("Aw man, if there weren't a 'however' I could be buying my playoff tickets already!"), not only is baseball not played on paper, but the off-season is far from over. It is hard for me to envision Jon Daniels losing Napoli and Hamilton, trading Young, failing to land a starting pitcher through free agency, looking at a division that is clearly up for grabs -- winnable but not certain in any way -- and doing nothing.
I believe the Rangers absolutely will make a significant move between now and spring training. Remember, they weren't even linked to Adrian Beltre until the 11th hour, when suddenly they signed him barely 24 hours after we first heard Texas was in the conversation. Just because they are quiet, just because they are not a huge part of the rumor mill, doesn't mean they are hibernating.
It's just that Texas' options are now quite limited. They could sign Nick Swisher, to which I'd say, "Solid player, but whatever" -- he's not that good. They could trade for a marquee player, such as Justin Upton, but to do so they would have to part with some of their better prospects and really weaken themselves long-term. It's going to be hard for the Rangers just to replace what they've already lost without giving up a lot more.
And the Angels have to be close to done because Hamilton, Pujols, and Vernon Wells (buuuaaaaaahaha!!!!!) alone now constitute a $395M commitment. It goes up to $425M if you add the manager. Yet they still need pitching and where exactly are they going to find it?
So the A's got a little better way back in October. Ever since, they've been sitting back and watching the Rangers get a little worse, watching the Angels get worse and then watching them get a lot more hamstrung to get a little better, and watching themselves simply become the team with the most flexibility now and long-term. Doing nothing was never so productive.