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2010 MLB Division Previews: American League West

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2010 MLB Division Previews: American League West
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Like the American League East, I expect the West to be much of a three-horse race.

You've got three clubs that could all win the division and would all be decent playoff teams if they did so, because everything would have come together.

Unlike the East though, the West may only have one representative in the playoffs, which makes this division race all the more interesting. Los Angeles, Seattle, and Texas all had great seasons, winning 85 games or more.

Oakland will probably re-assume their position in the cellar once again, but don't discredit them because of it. They've got their own decent group of talent.

Being in the smallest division, all four teams get a good look at each other, so expect in-division records to carry a lot of weight in terms of who wins it. The team that is able to have the most success against the other three (not just against one other team) is probably the one that will survive.

That's mostly the case for every division, but it goes more for a close division like this one, with one less team.

*Denotes Free Agent has an Option Year

 

Los Angeles Angels

Last Year: Won the AL West, Lost in Playoffs

Additions: P Fernando Rodney, DH Hideki Matsui, P Brian Stokes, P Joel Piniero

Subtractions: P Darren Oliver, P John Lackey, DH Vlad Guerrero, P Kelvim Escobar, P Dustin Moseley, P Jose Arredondo, OF Gary Matthews Jr.

2010 Free Agents: DH Hideki Matsui, P Scot Shields, *P Brian Fuentes

Three Strikes: 3B Brandon Wood, OF Juan Rivera, P Fernando Rodney

Brandon Wood is one of those guys who seem to have been around for awhile as that “next good prospect” for a certain team. Strangely he’ll only be 25 this season. With Chone Figgins gone, Wood needs to step up at third.

How underrated is Juan Rivera? Sure he had some issues in 2007 and didn’t have a stellar 2008. But he had a career year in 2009 with a quiet 25 home runs. He’s a decent source of production for the Angels.

Fernando Rodney believes game 163 last year cost him some money in free agency because people remember what they saw last. I don’t think that’s a bad thing for him. He was shaky down the stretch closing games, but he’s much better in the eighth inning role.

What’s different?

They didn’t start the season with John Lackey (injury) last year and they won’t be starting this one without him either (free agency). So in reality, they’re where they were last year at this time as far as the rotation.

However the Angels did make a deal for Scott Kazmir last year and I would say that he is going to be needed to reestablish himself for the Angels to feel comfortable. They were able to add Joel Piniero in the offseason to form a formidable starting five.

The bullpen added Fernando Rodney to set up after the Jose Arredondo fall out of 2009. Durable Scot Shields gives them a great one-two leading up to closer Brian Fuentes.

Finally on the offensive side, they let Vlad Guerrero walk to division rival Texas and replaced him with World Series winner Hideki Matsui. The upside is that Matsui has progressed in health and may even be able to see a little time in the outfield.

Lackey and Guerrero weren’t the only Angels to walk however. Chone Figgins also made the in-division switch by going to Seattle. Not only did they lose their starting third baseman, but they lost their leadoff hitter in Figgins.

Summary

The Angels are looking to claim their fourth straight American League West title in 2010, but it won’t be easy.

Seattle and Texas have both closed the gap overall, both in the pitching and hitting departments. With the big time players the Angels lost, especially to division rivals, they should start to sweat.

Now you can replace John Lackey and Chone Figgins, but can you replace them immediately? Sure Lackey missed some time last year to start the season, but they got off to a bad April start without him.

You absolutely knew you could count on Figgins to set the table and be the leadoff guy. What can you expect out of Erick Aybar or any other player they try to plug in at some point? You don’t know what to expect, that’s the point.

I think the Matsui addition is solid and there are far worse rotations, but there is something missing with this Angels squad. They’ve got a killer bullpen and Kendry Morales is a budding hitting star, so it is hard to pinpoint.

Maybe it’s the fact that for the first time in a few years, everyone has legitimate concerns about the Angels not winning this division? For me, I think it has more to do with Texas and Seattle than it does with the Angels. Hey, I picked them to win it all last year, I had faith in them, but now things are cloudy.

They haven’t gotten infinitely worse. Sure I can’t say they improved based off the fact they lost their best pitcher, most veteran hitter, and leadoff guy in the offseason. But the teams around them have improved and that’s a problem for the Angels.

If they want to maintain their streak of AL West crowns, they’ve got some fighting to do. It will not be the cake-walk it has been in the past few years.

 

Oakland Athletics

Last Year: Finished Fourth in the AL West

Additions: 3B Dallas McPherson, OF Coco Crisp, OF Michael Taylor, P Ben Sheets, OF Gabe Gross, 3B Adam Rosales, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, P Jason Jennings, 3B Jake Fox

Subtractions: 2B Adam Kennedy, SS Bobby Crosby, 1B Nomar Garciaparra, P Brett Tomko, P Santiago Casilla, 3B Brett Wallace, OF Aaron Cunningham, OF Scott Hairston, P Dana Eveland

2010 Free Agents: P Ben Sheets, *2B Mark Ellis, *3B Eric Chavez, *OF Coco Crisp

Three Strikes: P Brad Kilby, SS Cliff Pennington, C Kurt Suzuki

It seems like the Athletics never end the year with the same closer as of late. Could Brad Kilby be their next flavor of the month? Kilby came up in September and pitched 17 innings and giving up just one run. Watch your back Andrew Bailey.

Oakland has a weird looking roster at this point but Cliff Pennington’s name sticks out like a sore thumb. The constant changing in Oakland didn’t stop Bobby Crosby for hanging on as long as he did though. Pennington will need to hold off hard-charging Adam Rosales for the starting gig.

It was actually Kurt Suzuki that led this team in RBI last year. That can’t happen if they are going to be successful, but Suzuki is one of their best talents overall. Unfortunately, they may not have another big-time run-producer.

What’s different?

It surprised a lot of people, including myself, when the Athletics went out and spent some serious money on a pitcher who didn’t see a lick of action in 2009.

And for me, it partially had something to do with the fact they’ve already got one of those guys in their rotation. Ben Sheets joins Justin Duchscherer in rotation to form the dynamic duo of starters who compiled a grand total of zero innings pitched last season.

Part of the reason that Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill were pretty much thrown into the fire was due to Duchscherer’s injury. Now both have gained valuable experience and join him and Sheets to make a formidable top four, if everyone is healthy.

The Athletics also added Coco Crisp to their outfield equation and giving them two speed guys at the top of the lineup. The big offensive addition was acquiring third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who should provide some necessary pop.

Summary

Oakland was a victim of the division last year and I think that will be the case again in 2010.

In some ways, Texas and Seattle both look stronger. While Oakland isn’t necessarily weaker, they don’t exactly have the proven commodities that the other three AL West teams do.

In spots they look good, like behind the plate, at third base and in the bullpen.

In other areas, they’ve got questions. First base, shortstop, and right field came into spring as questions and could remain that way throughout the year. You just don’t really know.

The less questions, the better, but Oakland seems to have the most out of anyone in their division with no immediate answers.

 

Seattle Mariners

Last Year: Finished Third in AL West

Additions: 3B Chone Figgins, OF Corey Patterson, P Cliff Lee, OF Milton Bradley, C Josh Bard, SS Chris Woodward, 1B Casey Kotchman, OF Eric Byrnes, 1B Ryan Garko, Eliezer Alfonzo, P Yusmeiro Petit, P Brandon League

Subtractions: C Kenji Johjima, 3B Adrian Beltre, OF Endy Chavez, P Miguel Batista, 1B Russell Branyan, P Chris Jakubauskas, P Carlos Silva, 3B Bill Hall, P Chris Jakubauskas

2010 Free Agents: P Erik Bedard, P Cliff Lee

Three Strikes: 1B Ryan Garko, P Chad Cordero, P Ian Snell

I’m a huge Ryan Garko mark, so I have high hopes for the guy. I think they got Garko at a bargain though and he could provide excellent value at first.

Either way, Seattle did a good job of getting two possible options at first with Garko and Kotchman. Depth is good.

Are we to presume Chad Cordero is on the comeback trail? If so, can we presume David Aardsma should be getting worried soon? Aardsma’s year was the definition of one-hit wonder to me. I don't see another option in their bullpen to close games, so I earmark Cordero to possibly get a hold of that role.

I think Ian Snell finished 2009 strong with his new team and I think the pressure of being the main guy in Pittsburgh got to him. He’ll be at the back of this Seattle rotation behind two of the best pitchers in the game in Lee and Hernandez. I expect him to start to re-find himself, but it won't be easy.

What’s different?

Everything seemed to fall in place for Seattle this offseason.

The no-doubt, slam dunk, completely brilliant move of the entire offseason was done by Seattle, when they traded a few prospects away for Cliff Lee. They can now pair Felix Hernandez up with another ace to give themselves a potentially frustrating top two.

Before that, Seattle made a big splash by signing away Chone Figgins from the AL West Champion Angels. The Mariners will be playing Figgins at second and shifting Jose Lopez from second to third in an effort to be more secure defensively.

Seattle and Toronto swapped a pair of Brandon relief pitchers, with the Mariners getting League in exchange for Morrow. I thought Morrow had more upside due to his youth, but a change of scenary may have been what League needed.

They did offer Russell Branyan a pretty penny to return to the club, he declined and that may not be a bad thing. Their cheap alternatives of Casey Kotchman and Ryan Garko (maybe a left-right platoon?) seem perfectly fine to me.

All this to me, equates to the best offseason. But perhaps when they made the phrase, “the games aren’t played on paper," they remembered someone like Milton Bradley existed.

The Mariners traded away Carlos Silva and his unworthy salary to take on Milton Bradley as their left fielder. They also added Eric Byrnes to strengthen their outfield depth, which is wise with Bradley around.

And finally they handed out some long term extensions to Felix Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez, two of their most important young pieces.

Summary

Seattle is the darling of preseason prognostications so far. Everyone is on the Mariners bandwagon before the season has even begun and it has a lot to do with their offseason.

I want to say this. Just because a team had a great offseason (and they had probably the best) doesn’t automatically mean they are going to win the division. I see way too many people put stock into what a team does just on paper coming into the year.

I really like Seattle, but there are things about them that I don’t like. I don’t like all the expectations that people have now heaped on them. I love Cliff Lee, but I don’t love the abdominal injury that is bugging him. That’s the same injury that hampered him in 2007 when he was awful.

And while they have the best duo at the top of the rotation, the rest of it looks very mediocre. Beyond Ryan-Rowland Smith, they’ve got questions. Erik Bedard is already not healthy and Ian Snell can’t be trusted, even though I think he can turn it around. This club should really go out and bring back Jarrod Washburn for security reasons.

I think they are weak at the catching position offensively and their bullpen isn’t something I fully trust. David Aardsma closed out 38 games, but does he have another year like that in him?

And if he doesn’t, who behind him will be able to step up into that closer’s role?

Maybe I poked one too many holes in the Seattle balloon. The chances are a lot of the questions I brought up will go by the side and not be issues. But I’m not forgetting all the good that this team does have.

They’ve got an excellent defensive team, one of the best hitters in the game, Ichiro, and as I’ve mentioned numerous times, perhaps the best one-two rotation punch.

But I’ve got one more issue for you.

Milton Bradley hasn’t changed and he never will. He wasn’t the total reason the Cubs struggled, but where there is smoke, there is fire and his attitude definitely had a negative impact on the clubhouse. He’s already been tossed twice in spring training. Who gets tossed from spring training, twice?!

That is where it is up to Ken Griffey Jr. to perhaps undertake his biggest challenge of his career and get him to fall in line. If he can do that, then Seattle will mesh and any of these issues I’ve brought up may not matter.

If he can’t, things may snowball, those issues may magnify, and they may go from AL West darlings, to AL West disappointments.

 

Texas RangersAL West

Last Year: Finished Second in the AL West

Additions: P Clay Rapada, P Chris Ray, P Rich Harden, P Darren Oliver, DH Vlad Guerrero, P Colby Lewis, C Toby Hall, OF Endy Chavez, P Willie Eyre, C Matt Treanor

Subtractions: P Jason Grilli, C Ivan Rodriguez, P Eddie Guardado, OF Marlon Byrd, 1B Hank Blalock, P Joaquin Benoit, SS Omar Vizquel, OF Andruw Jones, P Kevin Millwood, P Jason Jennings

2010 Free Agents: *DH Vlad Guerrero, *P Rich Harden, *P Darren Oliver

Three Strikes: P Neftali Feliz, P Colby Lewis, 1B Chris Davis

How long before Neftali Feliz is closing games for this club? They obviously worry about Frank Francisco and don’t seem to fully trust C.J Wilson, even before he was moved to the rotation. Feliz’s fastball is way too intimidating to be limited to the early relief innings.

Colby Lewis comes back to Texas after two years in Japan. He says he’s learned a lot and the fact that more teams than the Rangers offered him multi-year deals might endorse his thoughts.

Chris Davis, just cut down on the strikeouts bud. Unless you are going to hit many, many home runs, then you may get a pass.

What’s different?

Texas actually has some pitching, which enabled them to trade away Kevin Millwood to Baltimore. They added Rich Harden in free agency to man the top of the rotation and they brought back a reformed Colby Lewis from Japan to join him.

They’re also trying to strike gold twice with another relief pitcher moving into the rotation, this time it’s C.J. Wilson. So far, so good for Wilson as he’s transitioned into a starter, joining former reliever Scott Feldman in the rotation.

Offensively, this team remains very much unchanged. Julio Borbon will be taking over in center for Marlon Byrd, but the one addition they made that wasn’t here last year will be spending the majority of his time at designated hitter, Vlad Guerrero.

Summary

A lot has surrounded Texas lately with the news that manager Ron Washington experimented with drug use during the 2009 season. You would think with a living example of just how bad cocaine is on his roster, he’d be one of the last people to make that mistake.

However what’s done is done and the Rangers decided not to let Washington go last year. That now officially puts him on the hot seat this season, even though he led the team to a second place finish and 87 wins in 2009.

I like this Texas team despite their questions, because I think they are ones easily fixable. I worry none about their lineup, because I know they will score runs. Josh Hamilton can be healthy or not and they’ll score runs.

Where I’ll start to worry is when Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Nelson Cruz all aren’t healthy. Unlikely, or else Texas will just be really unlucky.

So it comes down to pitching and I trust the amazing job Mike Maddux has done in Texas. The Ballpark in Arlington used to be the place where pitchers’ careers went to die. Now it’s not so bad.

They are weakening the bullpen by moving C.J. Wilson into the rotation, but they’ve got a lot of arms back there. One thing I would look out for is Scott Feldman repeating his year.

I find it unlikely he does it again, but there are some young arms like Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Tommy Hunter that could all break through. You could always move Feldman back into the bullpen if he loses his effectiveness as a starter, same with Wilson.

I think they’ve got a lot of options; it will just be a matter of finding where those options fit. There always teams out there with questions like Texas, but they’ve got something others don’t have and that’s possible answers to those questions. They just may have to search for them for a little bit.

 

"2010 MLB Division Previews" is a part of a month long series of articles that are previewing the 2010 MLB season. For the other parts of "2010 MLB Division Previews, " other features, and a schedule, click here . Winners and projections will be available after all divisions have been previewed.

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