you start thinking about the players being associated with teams
in the AL West this off-season, it can get a bit mind-numbing.
chasing Cliff Lee… California chasing Carl Crawford… Texas and
California and Oakland chasing Adrian Beltre…
mean, we watched three of these organizations going after several
of the big fish in the free agency pond. In some cases, we watched
them chasing the same player. When was the last time that happened?
Signing free agents is one thing. Three of them in on the big-ticket
items of the year?
none of them landed any of the players they really wanted. (I’m
not buying for a second that Texas wanted Adrian Beltre. I don’t
believe it was option 1 or option 2… don’t believe it was part
of their plans… and don’t believe they expected to add him. I
think they started adjusting on the fly as players began committing
elsewhere, and ultimately he thought it was his best chance to
win and get paid, and after missing out on other moves they thought
it at least made them better.)
here are some other thoughts…
would not be surprised to see any of three different teams win
this division. That would be Texas, California, or Oakland.
would not be surprised to see three teams finish the year with
losing records. That would be California, Oakland, and Seattle.
believe you could create an argument that none of the teams in
this division is in the top six of the American League… and yet
one of them will get into the playoffs. Expanding on that, what
I mean is I would listen to you if you claimed that the top three
teams in both the East and Central were better than anything found
in the AL West. And yet…
team that should be placed in the best of the American League…
Texas… probably doesn’t have a starting pitcher in the top five
of their division. You heard me. If healthy and playing near expectations,
I would probably take Felix Hernandez and then a combination of
at least four or five others from California and Oakland before
I would take a starter from Texas for my team.
What I expect in 2011: 88-74
they did in 2010: 90-72
personnel changes: Didn’t sign Cliff Lee. Signed Adrian
Beltre. Added Mike Napoli.
expectations: Hard not to like this club to win the division.
batting order… whether I like Beltre or not… is solid from the
moment the first hitter gets to the plate. Kinsler… Hamilton…
Young… you get the idea. Even Napoli can play a few positions
(catcher, first base, DH) and provide some power to the batting
rotation may not possess names you can immediately identify… and
it may not possess Lee… I’m not sure that matters over the long
regular season. C.J. Wilson is a very decent lefty… and when you
combine the Rangers relying on him to lead the staff along with
a likely division-winning team, there is room for him to enter
postseason award conversations. (I’m not saying Wilson will win
the Cy Young. I’m not saying Wilson will even finish within sight
of the top ten for voting. I am saying he could win 18-plus, deliver
a low ERA, and look good as a candidate.)
is going to be fine. (Though… warning… I seem to recall the Rangers
have had ups and downs with the bullpen in years past. Awesome
one year, can’t-stop-the-bleeding the next. I don’t expect that
to be the case… but for a team to keep telling you Neftali Feliz
would be an awesome starter, and for that team to have question
marks at times in its rotation, only for them to not really hesitate
about putting Feliz back in the bullpen when the decision needed
to be made… well, that tells me something about how secure they
are about pitching late in games. By July they could be looking
for any arm that can last an inning.) Management seems solidly
in place. Team could make moves in July if it needed to.
club was fine without Lee for most of 2010, so his not being there
now shouldn’t have much to do with whether or not they can take
the division title in 2011.
hard not to like this club to win the division.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): I’m going
to mention injuries… but as you may have noticed, I usually do
that when I have to and not because I want to, since more often
than not it tends to be an easy way out. Saying injuries could
hurt a team is not only obvious... since injuries could hurt any
team... it usually is something you resort to because you have
nothing else to say. Texas though... well...
in Texas those injuries and such concerns do matter because this
is not a team that has a track record of hitting on every first
option they plan. They wanted Cliff Lee last year… they got him.
That was good. They wanted to keep Cliff Lee this year… they got
Beltre. That’s still to be decided. I do believe looking at those
two moves together shows that you can’t matter-of-factly say this
club can make a plan and then go out and get what it needs in
the form of its first target. They tend to act on many plan b
and plan c options. So if they need a position player or they
need a pitcher, I am not convinced they get one.
the next effort we are going to look at how the Twins have dominated
division rivals for three years. And, at how the one year they
didn’t do it better than everyone else is the year they didn’t
earn a postseason slot. I mention that here because I think another
big thing that could go wrong for the Rangers is an AL West playing
better than expected. If both Oakland and California play better,
it almost certainly will come at the expense of the Rangers. Granted…
the Rangers played well against the AL Central and West last year…
and both the A’s and Angels were over .500 in the division in
2010. (The Mariners were brutal, losing more than two-thirds of
divisional games. But we’re talking about a team that was very
good at home, and a division where three-quarters of the teams
could win more than they lose. If Oakland is going to improve
on last year… or California is to return to the top of the West…
there are victories that need to be found. Texas could be the
place they are located.
I don’t expect much movement… there is an interesting factor to
keep an eye on… depth at the plate. This team may not have the
best defense in the world (they’re good) and may have questions
in the bullpen. They also have hitters in bunches and bunches
that can crush the ball.
What I expect in 2011: 84-78
they did in 2010: 80-82
personnel changes: Traded Mike Napoli (he went to Toronto
and then ended up back in the division with Texas), and ended
up with Vernon Wells. (I know. Vernon Wells. Vernon... Is there
anyone out there that wants me? Anyone?... Wells. The club had
slow feet because they didn’t want to overpay to get into negotiations
with Carl Crawford. Gave Crawford a low enough offer that he immediately
signed with Boston. And then they traded for Vernon Wells.)
trouble is… Vernon Wells jokes aside… this club hovered around
even, finishing just below it… and doesn’t look much better heading
into 2011. Might be a bit better in the bullpen… should get some
better results from a decent roster… but really not much different.
expectations: I suppose if I go around giving credit
to Texas for Wilson and Hamilton and Kinsler, I should be willing
to react favorably to Weaver and Hunter here.
the Angels never really delivered on their promise. What we kept
hearing was about how brilliant their minor league system was.
And that they had player after player they didn’t want to give
up because… you know… dynamite.
now everyone else has moved three or four or five years along…
and Tampa has played in the World Series and Colorado has played
in the World Series and Texas has played in the World Series…
and the Angels are still playing like it’s 2006 or so, telling
us to just wait and see what they have hidden up their sleeve.
traded youth for Adrian Gonzalez. Texas signed Adrian Beltre while
Boston signed Carl Crawford.
for all the promises of activity, California traded for no one
in particular (sorry Vernon, but it’s true) and signed no one.
just got older. (A fact that Vernon Wells supports.)
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Well… things
aren’t horrible out here in California.
of all, they did manage a winning record in the division games
last year, despite slipping to third place and below even for
the year. For me… that says this club can do what it has always
done… win the games they need to, even if they aren’t able to
knock off the big guns when it matters.
while I understand Texas is at the top and Oakland did well last
year (and could improve), let’s not go crazy about the AL West
as far as competition is concerned. In the Central, any of three
teams could be defended as a preseason favorite to win. In the
East, three teams are easily talented enough to make the playoffs,
and might be the three best in the American League. A stubbed
toe for the Rangers and a weak A’s club is not far-fetched at
all. If this division is up for grabs to a team with less than
90-wins, the Angels will find themselves within striking distance
third… well… let’s get to the really interesting thing.
Haren. (Thought I forgot him… didn’t you?) When I look at a staff
that could send Haren, Weaver and Kazmir to the mound… I like
it. I know Kazmir hasn’t taken over the California rotation the
way some expected. Got it. In fact, he’s been very bad at times
and many think his days starting for the Angels are numbered.
But when he faces New York and Boston, he more often than not
puts out a fantastic effort. Would you believe Kazmir just turned
27? Yup… January of 1984. There are plenty of teams that I believe
would like to have him as a headache on their roster.
other words… it is definitely possible that this team could put
together a really, really good 1-2-3 punch. (And a punch in which
I didn’t mention Joel Piniero.)
What I expect in 2011: 80-82
they did in 2010: 81-81
personnel changes: Surprisingly busy… and, since we are
dealing with reasonable expectations here, much of it could work.
Brian Fuentes… Grant Balfour… Hideki Matsui… Rich Harden… hey,
they may or may not be gems, but this is Oakland, and they are
making do quite nicely with what they have. If the team suffers
and doesn’t play well, all of these players could be viable trade
candidates in July. Seriously… if I need bullpen help… I’m watching
Boston to see if they let anyone go before the season starts,
and I’m watching Oakland once the year begins because if they
fall out of it there are pitchers near the Bay to get in June
expectations: Despite all eyes being on Texas, this division
is surprisingly balanced. Heck… Seattle has Ichiro and one of
the best pitchers in baseball.
is not a bad team, and they are looking to build on last season’s
81-81 record. To simply dismiss them as no money, recent troubles
Oakland would be a mistake.
then again… it’s not too far off either.
guess I’d make Brett Anderson their top starter. It lacks a certain
star power, but the end result is that their staff is young and
good. But more impressive than Anderson or anyone in the rotation
is their bullpen. Fuentes and Balfour are very decent additions,
and they join Andrew Bailey in setting up a really solid group.
(I’m not kidding you… people are watching Boston, and will probably
be doing so after they decide to use Pawtucket as a place to store
anyone with options available. But after that, the relief arms
are residing in Oakland.)
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Oakland
is better than they were in 2010. Oakland has solidified and strengthened
what already was the best pitching staff in the division.
place to go but up… right? Well…
I’m still not too much a believer when it comes to their batting
order. I probably should learn my lesson. I probably should remember
those games where they somehow managed to score 5 or 6 even though
the contributions in those games seemed to be coming from “who’s
that” and “never heard of him” parts of the lineup.
respect Hideki Matsui pretty much on a par with virtually any
hitter that’s played in the past ten years. Those I wouldn’t blink
at wanting ahead of him are few, far between, and counted probably
without running out of fingers. But it’s a fact… he’s not in Oakland
because he’s getting younger, better and the A’s were one of the
few that could afford him.
What I expect in 2011: 64-98
they did in 2010: 61-101
personnel changes: Kind of a quiet set of moves. Let’s
mention Royce Ring. (I know… stay with me.) Royce Ring was a guy…
back in 2005, when he joined the Mets… that was described as an
interesting player with tools, and if you could get him inexpensively
and not commit alot to him, could be a gamble that paid off down
the road. (Hey… he’s a lefty!) Same basic description was used
in 2007 when he was with San Diego and Atlanta, and yet again
in 2010 when New York (Yankees) brought him in. Here’s stop number
five, on a minor league deal, and once again… we’re being handed
the could be a cheap gamble that pays off description.
count on it paying off.
that example to start things in this section, now does anyone
want to discuss contracts they signed with Jack Cust or Erik Bedard?
We’ve heard these stories before. Heck… with these examples, we’ve
heard them in Seattle before.
like Manny Delcarmen. Not specifically for his performance. But
I was always pulling for him to do well for some reason. I do
not know anyone… not a soul… in Boston right now that even recalls
Delcarmen pitched for the Red Sox. Oh sure… they remember him
if you mention his name. But if you ask any Boston fan to tell
you the roster differences for the Red Sox between 2010 and 2011,
you will be way down the list before someone mentions Delcarmen
is missing. (And even less will know he ended up in Seattle.)
(And… even less than that will remember he went to Colorado on
the way to Seattle.)
expectations: Outside of Boston… where the top of the
order discussion all winter was Ellsbury – Crawford – Pedroia
and how the heck to arrange them… you’d be hard-pressed to find
a team with a better start to their order than Ichiro and Figgins.
(Potentially.) Speed… base running intelligence with a flare for
taking some chances… and a lethal supply of talent. (If Figgins
snaps out of whatever seemed to overtake him last year and gets
back to playing the way he did in California. And that happens
to be a big if... since you might be able to attribute his success
to the go-go-go philosophy of the Angels, and the Mariners are
now expecting Figgins to deliver on his own what had been coached
then the bottom drops out so fast you’ll start looking at Kansas
City’s order and wondering why the Mariners don’t have solid,
reliable bats like the Royals do.
Forget exceptions. You could go to any city and not find a pitcher
better than Felix Hernandez. Seriously. This is a guy that would
compare favorably to Roy Halladay. (I’m not saying he’s better
than Halladay. I am saying that if you offered Hernandez, one-for-one,
in a trade for any other pitcher in baseball… including the significantly
older Halladay… you would probably be getting the bad end of the
deal by letting him go.)
then the bottom drops out so fast… yes, again… you’d rather send
a batting tee out to the plate and take your chances giving the
opposition free swings rather than putting anyone on your roster
on the mound.
kidding. Right? Yes… but not by much. Seattle will be sending
out some youth this year. They could improve a bit… but moves
like Royce Ring don’t bode well. And… hold on… new paragraph…
are four teams in this division. When playing against any of those
other three divisional rivals, Texas, Oakland and California all
had winning records in 2010. Seattle couldn’t win a third of the
games they played against AL West opposition. So... yeah... apparently
the reason the Texas, Oakland and California had winning divisional
records was because they got to play Seattle. This is probably
the only thing you need to know.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Do I have
there’s nothing that’s going to get them out of the basement.
me crazy… and I didn’t look too deeply into the numbers to find
out what other factors might have been at play here… but in quick
hitting, general terms, hey for giggles let’s do some very rough
averages… when you put the it’s-not-even-close best pitcher on
the mound twice out of every ten divisional games and then on
average can’t win three of those ten, there’s a problem. It’s
cut and dry and definitive that whatever the real reason, the
Mariners are not as good as the competition here.
in the dark… the problem is offense. The Mariners are brutal.
They weren’t just last in baseball in virtually every category
for hitting… they were last by miles.
if that shot doesn’t hit a target, their pitching isn’t a combination
of deep, talented and reliable. More like rough-edged with health
changes they’ve made do not close that gap.