The American League West in 2011


When you start thinking about the players being associated with teams in the AL West this off-season, it can get a bit mind-numbing.

Texas chasing Cliff Lee… California chasing Carl Crawford… Texas and California and Oakland chasing Adrian Beltre…

I 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?

Somehow, 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.)

And here are some other thoughts…

I would not be surprised to see any of three different teams win this division. That would be Texas, California, or Oakland.

I would not be surprised to see three teams finish the year with losing records. That would be California, Oakland, and Seattle.

I 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…

The 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.

Texas Rangers
What I expect in 2011: 88-74

What they did in 2010: 90-72

Key personnel changes: Didn’t sign Cliff Lee. Signed Adrian Beltre. Added Mike Napoli.

My expectations: Hard not to like this club to win the division.

The 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 order.

The 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.)

Bullpen 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.

The 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.

Again… hard not to like this club to win the division.

Where 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...

Here 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.

In 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.

While 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.

California Angels
What I expect in 2011: 84-78

What they did in 2010: 80-82

Key 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.)

The 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.

My 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.

But I can’t.

See… 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.

And 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.

Boston traded youth for Adrian Gonzalez. Texas signed Adrian Beltre while Boston signed Carl Crawford.

And for all the promises of activity, California traded for no one in particular (sorry Vernon, but it’s true) and signed no one.

They just got older. (A fact that Vernon Wells supports.)

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Well… things aren’t horrible out here in California.

First 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.

Secondly, 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 in September.

And third… well… let’s get to the really interesting thing.

Dan 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.

In 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.)

Oakland A’s
What I expect in 2011: 80-82

What they did in 2010: 81-81

Key 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 and July.

My expectations: Despite all eyes being on Texas, this division is surprisingly balanced. Heck… Seattle has Ichiro and one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Oakland 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.

And then again… it’s not too far off either.

I 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.)

Where 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.

No place to go but up… right? Well…

Sorry. 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.

I 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.

Seattle Mariners
What I expect in 2011: 64-98

What they did in 2010: 61-101

Key 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.


Don’t count on it paying off.

Given 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.

I 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.)

My 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 previously.)

And 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.

Pitching? 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.)

And 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.

I’m 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…

There 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.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Do I have to?

Because there’s nothing that’s going to get them out of the basement.

Call 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.

Shot 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.

And 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 concerns.

The changes they’ve made do not close that gap.

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