1. Texas Rangers
One of the majors’ toughest lineups got a little deeper when All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre agreed to an $80 million, five-year contract with the A.L. champs in January. Beltre, an outstanding defender, hit .321 with 28 homers and 102 RBIs for Boston last season. He pushes Michael Young to designated hitter and utility infielder, unless the Rangers agree to trade the six-time All-Star.
Texas tried to bring back ace starter Cliff Lee, who instead decided to sign with Philadelphia. A.L. Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz toyed with becoming a starter but will stay as the closer. Brandon Webb, who won the N.L. Cy Young Award in 2006 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, also could help the rotation at some point.
2. Oakland Athletics
Newcomers Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham are being counted on to boost an offense that managed just 109 homers and 663 runs last season, the team’s second-fewest in the last 28 non-shortened seasons. Matsui will serve as the primary DH after batting .274 with 21 homers and 84 RBIs last season for the Angels.
The pitching staff is young and talented from the front of the rotation to the back of the bullpen. Trevor Cahill went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA last season and fellow All-Star Andrew Bailey had 25 saves and a 1.47 ERA. But Bailey was hampered by a strained forearm during spring training, a concern heading into the regular season.
3. Los Angeles Angels
Mike Scioscia’s team is hoping the return of Kendry Morales and a retooled bullpen will help return the Angels to their winning ways. Los Angeles finished third in the division last season at 80-82, its first losing record since 2003.
Morales, who hit 34 homers in 2009, was lost for the year when he broke his leg while jumping on home plate to celebrate a game-ending grand slam against the Seattle Mariners on May 29. Free-agent relievers Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi will help in the middle innings, and Vernon Wells should provide a lift on offense and defense after coming over in a trade with Toronto. Wells hit 31 homers in his final season with the Blue Jays.
4. Seattle Mariners
There was a lot of anticipation in Seattle a year ago, and the Mariners finished with the A.L.’s worst record at 61-101 – they also finished the 2008 season with an identical league-worst record. Manager Don Wakamatsu was fired in August and Eric Wedge agreed to take over the rebuilding job in October.
Wedge inherits a club that finished with a major league-low 513 runs last season. At least he still has All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and A.L. Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez, who had a majors-best 2.27 ERA in 2010.
The Mariners’ bullpen will start the season in an early hole with incumbent closer David Aardsma still recovering after offseason hip surgery. Brandon League will assume closing duties at least until Aardsma is able to return to action.
Capsules and predictions by Jay Cohen, Associated Press