MLB 2014: West teams chase low-budget Athletics

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The big-spending AL West also-rans of recent years once more find themselves chasing those overachieving, low-budget Oakland Athletics.

Yet Bob Melvin’s A’s hardly consider themselves the favorite to win a third straight West crown, not in one of baseball’s best divisions that appears to have gotten even better this offseason.

“Obviously they won the last two years, so they’re the team to chase,” Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “There are probably teams that probably don’t take them seriously, but we do. They showed that they can get it done and as of right now, they’re the champions of the West. So it’s obviously that we’re chasing them now.”

While New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter tries to finish his Hall of Fame career in pinstripes the way he started it, with a World Series title, and the Detroit Tigers aim to unseat the defending champion Boston Red Sox, the West looks to be one of baseball’s top divisions again in 2014.

“I think you can make a legitimate case that all five teams are better,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “You’ve got the Yankees and Dodgers and a number of clubs that made a lot of moves out there, Washington and others, but from a division-to-division standpoint, I don’t know that any group was more active than the AL West.”

Robinson Cano is the new star in Seattle - for the next decade, no less. Prince Fielder takes over in the middle of the Texas lineup after his trade from the Tigers. Sluggers Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have something to prove for the playoff-starved Los Angeles Angels, who are feeling the pressure after missing the postseason the past four years.

Sure, the A’s have made their share of moves this winter - many via trade as general manager Billy Beane often does. But Oakland’s changes are minor compared to the acquisitions of Cano and Fielder.

“I think we’re still trying to prove people wrong,” Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp said.

Here’s a look at the American League by division, in predicted order of finish:

WEST

TEXAS RANGERS

Texas traded for Fielder, added Shin-Soo Choo for $130 million over seven years and is determined to bounce back from last fall’s early exit with Yu Darvish as its ace.

Ron Washington’s Rangers (91-72) lost the AL wild-card tiebreaker to Tampa Bay and hope for a World Series return this year after runner-up finishes in 2010 and ‘11.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

The A’s lost projected ace Jarrod Parker to a season-ending elbow injury, and he underwent surgery this week. That leaves another void to fill for a team that has done so well in recent years. While pitching depth has long been a focus for the organization, that will be tested early without Parker and also A.J. Grififn.

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