2009 MLB Preview: AL West

The SportmeistersAnalyst IApril 2, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 20:  Starting pitcher Jered Weaver #36 of the Los Angeles Angels pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game on August 20, 2008 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

With Opening Day right around the corner, now is the time to preview the 2009 baseball season. Today we look at the AL West.

Los Angeles Angels: The team with the most confusing name had another confusing season. They won the most games in franchise history with 100, yet fell in the American League Divisional Series to the Boston Red Sox for the second time in a row. From that, or maybe the lack of money, the team then saw two of its top players in Francisco Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, head for greener pastures elsewhere. Too offset that, they brought in Brian Fuentes, who they tried to get in 2008, and Bobby Abreu. It’s more likely that Fuentes will have a closer impact to Rodriguez than Abreu to Teixiera.

The loss of Teixiera takes a huge chunk out of the meat of the lineup. They will get adequate production from Abreu, Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter, but it won’t replace the power infusion Teixiera had for the playoff run. Instead, added pressure will be put on Mike Napoli, Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins for production.

While the big question would have been the closer situation for Los Angeles, bringing in Fuentes should prove to be an efficient pickup. The question instead falls upon the rotation. The return of Kelvim Escobar, who missed 2008, helps the back end remain strong, but it will be whether or not Pitchers like Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana can repeat their success from 2008. The AL West is a weak division, one that Los Angeles should claim easily, but a deep run in the playoffs should be the goal after two early exits.

Oakland Athletics: The youth of Oakland got the best of the squad, as they suffered their second straight losing season. While the rotation has potential, it was the offense that needed a jump start. Enter GM Billy Beane, who swung a trade to bring in Matt Holliday, as well as signing Orlando Cabrera and Jason Giambi to help out the lineup. They did lose Huston Street in the Holliday trade.

The combination of Holliday, Giambi, and Cabrera sweetens the pot for the team, but the concern is whether or not Holliday can keep up his power while away from the hitters comforts of Coors Field. Offensively, they’re still not an amazingly deep team, as they don’t offer much else in power or speed. The young bucks will have to grow up quickly and contribute if Oakland wants to be competitive.

The youth movement also spreads out to the rotation. The team will be without ace Justin Duchscherer until close to June, forcing Trevor Cahill to step into a starting role, and putting great expectations on rookie Brett Anderson, who is making the jump from Double-A. The goal is going to be limiting the innings pitched and saving the young arms as deep as they can. They should be able to do that with a highly effective bullpen, starting with closer Brad Ziegler, and relievers Joey Devine, Russ Springs, and Jerry Blevins. While still a young team, if they catch on fire, they could make some heads turn.

Seattle Mariners: Disappointment was the theme in 2008, which does keep up with the gloom of Seattle, but Mariners fans were even more so than usual thanks to a 61-101 record. The Mariners tried to make some adjustments by bringing in Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, and welcoming back Ken Griffey Jr. However, the loss of Raul Ibanez does hurt a team that already struggled to get men on base.

The Mariners boast some quality performers, but need big years out of them to keep a fire-sale from happening this season. Ichiro Suzuki can get on base, and Adrian Beltre can get a few out of the park, but Griffey is a shell of his former self and the rest of the lineup isn’t too much to brag about. Career years and breakout seasons are the best terms Mariner fans can hope for.

The rotation has a few bright spots in an area mired with just as many questions. Felix Hernandez has made positive steps in his career, and Brandon Morrow had an effective stint in the bullpen, leading to him earning the closer role. Other than that, questions abound if Erik Bedard can return to healthy form, and the rest of the pitching staff is a big enigma. This team will either succeed at the highest, or fail at the lowest. There is no in-between.

Texas Rangers: The offensively dominant Rangers, who led the AL in runs scored last year, had some breakdowns in the pitching department with an AL high 5.37 ERA, which lead to a disappointing 79-83 record. They lost Milton Bradley, but feel prepared to deal with that loss, and still plan on scoring lots of runs.

The firepower in the offense comes directly from Josh Hamilton. After a resurgent 2008, he looks to top that in 2009. Ian Kinsler has overcome his injury issues to become an offensive force, with added speed to boot. Rookie Elvis Andrus will get his first chance to shine for the Rangers, and is effective in the field as well, to go along with Gold Glover Michael Young, who will move to third base.

The pitching staff has some young arms in the minors who could make a splash this summer and potentially into 2010, but for now, the Rangers have to deal with the amalgamation of arms they have now. Kevin Millwood is the incumbent ace, but injury trips have marred his performance. Frank Francisco will start off as the closer, but if this team wants to succeed, they will need to hold their own defensively. The Rangers have to give themselves a shot at succeeding before they make their call ups, to get themselves ready mentally and physically for 2010.

Prediction: 1. Los Angeles 2. Oakland 3. Seattle 4. Texas