Now is the time for Seattle to be a top contender in the AL West and American League. I sense a change of dominance in the AL West...and I don't think that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will necessarily remain on top for long.
We all remember back in the day when the Mariners were the best team without a doubt. We also remember the Mariners having a lot of hall of fame players on their team during the '80s and '90s, such as Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Ken Griffey Jr. After the year that the Seattle Mariners won the record 116 games and of course lost in the first round of playoffs, the Mariners have never been the same. Until last year, it has been tough to be a Mariners fan, but things are better now.
Jack Zduriencik is one of the newest GMs in all of baseball, and he has again brought high hopes to the city of Seattle. He watched over a team that was 61-101, one of the worst teams in baseball in 2008, and galvanized it to a 24 game improvement.
I predict that the Mariners are going to make a strong push in the AL West next season and possibly win the division and make playoffs again for the first time since 2001. However, it's not going to be easy. The Angels are still going to be good. The Rangers and Oakland A's got better. I predict that the AL West will look something like this:
1. Seattle Mariners
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4. Oakland Athletics
The entire AL West is not gonna be a weak division. Other than the AL East, the AL West will be the second best division in all of baseball (nobody can be better than the Yankees and Red Sox and the AL East).
Before I talk about the Mariners, I'm going to talk about all of the other teams first. The worst team out of the AL West teams is obviously Oakland, which is going to be better than it was last year, but the sad fact is that Oakland just won't be as good as the other three. Oakland in the offseason signed Coco Crisp, re-signed Justin Duchscherer, re-signed Jack Cust, signed Ben Sheets, obtained Kevin Kouzmanoff from San Diego for Hairston and Cunningham, perhaps turned a healthy Eric Chavez into a Utility Player, obtained Fox and Miles from Chicago, and then obtained Taveras and Rosales from Cincy for Miles. These moves will improve the A's.
There is also a young group of starting pitchers (Anderson, Cahill, Gonzalez) who have a season under their belts. With the addition of a healthy Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer and, oh yeah, that stud prospect Chris Carter, Oakland should have pretty solid pitching.
Even though the offense is still kinda weak, it did get somewhat better with the addition of Kouzmanoff. They sure have one hell of a good defensive outfield and some great speed with Crisp, Davis, Sweeney, and Taveras.
The Texas Rangers almost made the playoffs last year and were a very good team, but this year they got even better. This offseason the Rangers signed Rich Harden, Vladimir Guerrero, Khalil Greene, Colby Lewis (remember him?), Darren Oliver, and traded Kevin Millwood to Baltimore for Chris Ray.
If Texas' pitching can come through, then they will be a huge threat in the AL West. They have pretty solid offense carried by Hamilton, Cruz, Young, Guerrero, Kinsler, Andrus, Borbon, and Davis. Texas also has young promising prospects like Neftali Feliz which offer balance next to offense, speed, and defense. The problem with Texas is that they just aren't as balanced as the Angels and the Mariners. Texas' time will come soon, but don't get me wrong: Texas should be a solid team.
The Angels are, well, complicated. They are about the same team, but they also lost some key players who were the faces of their franchise. With the loss of Figgins (Seattle), Guerrero (Texas), and Lackey (Boston), it's bound to hurt them a little bit. The Angels also lost other players: Darren Oliver, Quinlan, Jose Arredondo, Kelvim Escobar, Justin Speier, and Gary Matthews, who was traded with cash to the Mets. LA filled the hole left by Vlad with World Series MVP Hideki Matsui; he should be better than the departed player.
The offense ultimately took a dive, mostly because it lost Figgins, who offered speed and lead-off abilities. He is one of the fastest guys and best lead-off hitters in the game. One problem the Angels face replacing Figgins at third is having a lead-off hitter with speed. The Angels should have signed Tejada or Beltre to play third but missed out. So let's all hope that Brandon Wood can do wonders at third base as a defensive and offensive player. He has potential, and this is now his chance to prove it. The Angels could put Eybar/Izturis at lead-off too.
Los Angeles also filled in the pitching holes. They signed Fernando Rodney, who is good but has his problems, and he is essentially replacing Arredondo. The Angels also signed Joel Pineiro, who I like but is no John Lackey; he had a very solid season, which I doubt he will do again. The pitching rotation won't be as solid because of the absence of Lackey, but Pineiro will help fill the void. Luckily, Scott Kazmir will be with the team for an entire season. The rotation should ultimately be solid with Weaver, Santana, Saunders, Kazmir, and Pineiro. The bullpen will be about the same, if a little better.
Even with these changes, the Angels are always going to be a threat because they have one of the best managers in Mike Scioscia. In my opinion, the Angels should be a little worse than they were last year, but not by much.
And now Seattle. Seattle has basically completely rebuilt its franchise and has made itself a contender for the crown of the AL West...possibly for the entire American League.
Let's take a look at what Seattle has done this offseason: they signed Chone Figgins to a four-year deal, locked up King Felix with a five-year deal, re-signed Griffey for another year, signed Gutierrez to a four-year deal, re-signed Jack Wilson to a two-year contract extension, traded Brandon Morrow to Toronto for Brandon League, signed Ryan Garko, signed Eric Bynes, re-signed Langerhans, traded for Casey Kotchman from the Red Sox, traded Carlos Silva to Chicago for Milton Bradley, and the best move of them all, traded three prospects to Philadelphia so that they could acquire Cliff Lee in the blockbuster Roy Halladay trade.
I don't know about you, but Seattle has come up on top as the winner for this offseason. Seattle doesn't have to worry about losing any free agents other than Branyan and maybe Batista and Bedard, but with all of the other moves/signings/trades, the M's are set.
Seattle now has the best one-two punch at the top of the lineup with Ichiro Suzuki, one of the best lead-off hitters to ever play the game, and Chone Figgins. Seattle also has the best one-two punch in its pitching rotation with Felix Hernandez, who was runner-up to the Cy Young winner award last year, and former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, who helped the Phillies make the World Series. However, Seattle has two very obvious problems. Other than Hernandez and Lee, the Mariners have no other reliable pitchers (too bad they traded Morrow). And Seattle is missing that big bat vacated by Russell Branyan.
Seattle should have signed Jason Bay, Ben Sheets, and Bengie Molina, but obviously they didn't. If Milton Bradley gets over his attitude problem and performs like he did two years ago in Texas, then that will be a great pick-up for Seattle and will help the offense substantially. I still think the Mariners should sign Branyan, and if not, then Orlando Hudson. They should also move Jose Lopez over to first.
The other thing that they NEED to do is sign Jarrod Washburn and then sign Erik Bedard with a low-base salary loaded with incentives. And for the final touches, sign Barajas to go behind the dish.
Even is they don't sign anymore of these guys, the Mariners are the most improved team this offseason. If they don't do anymore significant moves, then the Angels will win the division, but if the Mariners complete some more moves, then I think that they might win the division. They definitely have the talent. If Aardsma, Snell, and all the other players can pick-up right where they left off last season, Seattle should be in pretty fine shape for the immediate future. I'm definitely a big fan of GM Jack Zduriencik, and what he has done to rebuild the Mariners has once again brought hope to the city of Seattle. I'm hoping and wishing for big things from the M's this season.
This division will be really interesting and fun to watch. I'm not promising anything, but I think it's gonna be between the Angels and Mariners and will come right down to the wire. This could be the time for Seattle to be on top of the game once again.