The American League West in 2012


It’s a two-horse race, with no surprises coming. Look for California and Texas to battle it out on the top. Oakland and Seattle possibly not even visible in the mirror.

California Angels
What I expect in 2012: 95-67

What they did in 2011: 86-76

Key personnel changes: An awesome off-season that signals the Angels expect to win right now.

Albert Pujols, LaTroy Hawkins and C.J. Wilson were brought in. Chris Iannetta was an interesting trade acquisition.

Now… the unexpected steals are Iannetta and then Wilson.

See… Iannetta is very good defensively, but also brings along a high on-base percentage. (His career on-base is .357, but three of his six big league seasons with some game time have involved him being at .370 or over. And… get this… his two highest seasons for games played, 2008 and 2011, had his two highest percentages at .390 and .370 respectively. He needs to play… more than the 104 and 111 that are current highs. But he’s not a one-sided player. And for an Angels team that needed to improve the offense, Iannetta brings really good defense plus someone that can hit. This off-season was much more successful than just Pujols and Wilson. That said…)

Wilson… after being touted as a rotation saver and to-be-paid-as-an-ace question… joins a staff with Jered Weaver and Dan Haren up front, where he will be asked to simply contribute with Ervin Santana as part of what may be top to bottom the best rotation in the American League, if not all of baseball. (It’s not… I prefer Tampa’s… but it’s still damn good. And with pitchers like Haren… who simply walks no one… this rotation won’t tax the bullpen.)

They also looked to solidify some places with signings like Jason Isringhausen… low risk, significant potential reward.

My expectations: Ok… flip a coin… because this is going to be close.

Frankly… I like the high end pitching more in California, and that’s what gives the division title to them here. If Haren, Wilson and Weaver all make more than 30 starts, the Angels are in great shape.

The offense isn’t as deep as some… Texas, New York and Boston are still likely all better. But, a combination of Kendrick, Aybar and Morales in some fashion around Pujols means this club will score runs. Considering the past two years, that means something.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): In the next five years, the Angels could deliver two or three appearances in the World Series. And that could include a championship or two.

If that happens… awesome… everything after that, such as Albert Pujols declining and maybe even spending half of a season (if not full seasons) as a designated hitter, will still earn applause and happy thoughts.

The problem is if the Angels fall short of a title. Pujols was not signed to lead this team in 2019… or even 2016. He was brought in for now. 2012… 2013… for the next four or five years, getting past the Rangers in the division and being able to dominate a series against the Tigers, Red Sox or Yankees.

Second place in the West would be horrible… not in the playoffs would be unacceptable.

(Oh… you want specifics and not drum beating? Ok… why do the Angels consistently have players that work as first base – designated hitter – corner outfield players? They so very rarely do well at short, second, or center. Oh sure… Pujols, Morales, Abreau… we could go on… the list is filled with players that are all ok, if not better than most. But it really ties up their flexibility. And if you don’t believe me, than explain how someone like Vernon Wells is around. (And why Mike Trout isn’t.))

(More? Ok… Ervin Santana has cleared 220-innings the past two seasons, with a sub-4 ERA. He’s not one of their top three starters. Behind him though are incredibly unproven commodities. And… honestly… there are some that aren’t sold on Santana given the 2009 season. So the top pitchers had better produce.)

Texas Rangers
What I expect in 2012: 92-70

What they did in 2011: 96-66

Key personnel changes: Yu Darvish is… justifiably so… getting the most attention. Joe Nathan is in the bullpen (allowing Neftali Feliz to join the rotation). C.J. Wilson left Texas for California.

My expectations: Overall, there’s no reason to believe the Rangers aren’t as good as they were last year. Yu Darvish should be able to deliver at the same level as Wilson did… plus the rotation appears stronger with Feliz in it.

The thing is… the team puzzles me. And for that, I’m going to mention Adrian Beltre.

See… I’m not a Beltre fan. I like his defensive ability and talents just fine. And I think he’s ok offensively. But the past two seasons are way out of line… matching up more with his 2004 season than any other part of his career. To put it into perspective, his 162-game average is a .276 batting average, .329 on-base percentage, 26 home runs and 92 RBIs. Those are all numbers that he bettered in 2010 and 2011 with Texas and Boston. From 2005 to 2009 he was worse in just about every measurable category every season except for two spots… both in 2007, when he hit 26 home runs to match the average and 99 RBIs. When a guy is putting up offensive numbers at 31 and 32 that he didn’t touch at 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30… well… you get the idea. I just can’t commit to a big year from Belte as part of my predictions for the club. Probably some sort of blinders on my part… as hitting between Hamilton and Young should allow him to be just fine… but I expect a drop.

Could players like Beltre, Mike Napoli and Michael Young be part of a big year in Texas? Sure they could. On the other side, everyone is watching Josh Hamilton… coming back after some off-field problems in what may be his final season with Texas.

Look… I can throw darts out all day long. I could tell you about ghosts and rumors that could swirl, and yet might amount to nothing. The simple idea is that after two trips to the World Series, I have to wonder if this team might not be a bit tired heading in to 2012.

With teams like A’s and Mariners in the division though, they should be able to stay right with the Angels. And even outside of the division, for every battering the games with the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Tigers offer, there are comparable numbers of games with the Royals, White Sox, Twins and Orioles.

You have to like the Rangers to make the playoffs, and to cruise along a steady course during the regular season.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): It would not surprise me to see Texas not making the playoffs. I’m telling you... this is going to be a very strange year in the American League. There is a real difference between the haves and the have-nots. The bigger teams seem deeper to me. A real separation from the top to bottom in every division, even when you consider Toronto and Cleveland as decent.

That said… this is a club that will win around 90 games, even if they have problems. And that is a result blurred only by success as a comparison. (Remember… Boston won 90 last year in their miserable season of complete failure. But 90 is a decent accomplishment.)

So… where could it fall apart? Ok…

If Darvish struggles and cannot be a solid pitcher… let’s for argument use generic ideas and say something around a number two or three starter would be acceptable, even though they are just asking him to be ok… that could cause problems. (I expect 15-plus wins for Darvish and very real consideration for the Rookie of the Year award.)

If Perez struggles as a starter (not likely) or Nathan can’t deliver as a closer (possible, considering age and coming off an injury were reasons Minnesota let him leave)… that could cause problems.

If Beltre looks more like his career averages than his three contract-making seasons… yeah, you got it, problems.

Oakland A’s
What I expect in 2012: 75-87

What they did in 2011: 74-88

Key personnel changes: Traded, released, didn’t pursue keeping: Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and others. Brought in Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon and Josh Reddick.

My expectations: Umm… I don’t know… maybe a run at an even record?

The problem is that Texas and California should clubber them… with pitching, offense, and defense that is simply superior in every way. That’s roughly a quarter of their season. A significant portion of what remains involves New York, Boston, Detroit, Tampa and Toronto.

In short… consider… you know how sometimes you hear people talk about how tough it is to play in the AL East? …or someone will mention how you have to win the games you’re supposed to win? Ok… on nights when they get away from two top American League clubs, they will often find themselves playing the AL East. And… the A’s are generally one of the opponents in the games you’re supposed to beat.

More to the point… Josh Reddick.

I watched Reddick all last season. I think he’s a good player and a great guy. I’d love to have him on my team. I am not sold on him getting an everyday position.

And if you want to debate Reddick, let’s drop that and ask about Bartolo Colon. Is he really a season-saving-commitment? Or is he someone you hope to get 8-10 starts out of and then cross your fingers? Because the A’s will start him twice in their first four games (thanks to the early opener in Japan).

(Didn’t expect that, did you? In fact, it might take another reading to settle in. The A’s… the organization of young pitching on parade… starting Bartolo Colon twice out of the first four games in the 2012 season.)

There is some talent… there is some room for interesting performances (Cespedes is a Rookie of the Year candidate). I don’t see it translating into significant wins.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Coco Crisp signed with Oakland to play centerfield this year.

The A’s went out and added Yoenis Cespedes, and he will now play center.

Crisp isn’t happy.

In fact, thanks to players like Reddick on the roster… Crisp might have gone from starter to the bench.

And that’s the kind of stuff that has me wondering about Oakland this year.

See… let’s say you think the A’s are building something… youth and talent and getting a few veterans to fill in the spaces.

Texas and California are better… much better.

In the AL East, we find three teams with playoff hopes, and all are better… much better.

So that moves Oakland into fighting for a place in that second level. The happy to look at a winning record, and not at all a postseason candidate level.

(With players that aren’t happy, but need to take things for what they are… or significant innings expected from Colon… that makes for a long year.)

Seattle Mariners
What I expect in 2012: 64-98

What they did in 2011: 67-95

Key personnel changes: Added Jesus Montero in a trade that sent away Michael Pineda.

My expectations: Not much.

In a way, I kind of like what they did between seasons. There really is no way they were going to be able to run with California and Texas this year (or next). So, why overpay for window dressings that won’t change the results? I could be wrong, but I believe their biggest signing was a one-year deal for about a million and a half.

The problems are simple though… do you believe that Ichiro and Felix Hernandez will both be here the next time the Mariners have a winning record for a regular season? Because I don’t. (And I’m taking the obvious… Ichiro gone or retired.)

Sure… Jesus Montero… they added offense. This is a club that scored less than 4-runs per game when Hernandez was on the mound last year. One bat… and a bat that hasn’t regularly been playing in the majors… is not an answer.

And let’s have no misunderstandings… this club couldn’t score runs at all. They were under 3.5 per game for the entire year.

You can look over their batting order for chicken salad… the way Chone Figgins has played since coming to Seattle, it’s still more likely to be chicken feathers.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): If Ichiro’s best days are completely behind him… if Jesus Montero doesn’t hit… and good lord, if Pineda becomes a star… the Mariners could find themselves treading water at a below mediocre level with a media nightmare on top.

California and Texas have shown a willingness to spend (even if Texas isn’t opening the wallet as much). That puts them with Detroit… a club that has been playing with the checkbook happy Boston and New York organizations. The point is… we are seeing teams like Washington and Florida spend money this off-season. Unexpected heavy hitters suddenly are all over the place in baseball payroll.

We also still have clubs like Tampa managing to accomplish things with hard work and attitude.

I don’t see the prospects (as in the Rays) or the arrival of free agents (the Red Sox and Yankees, and this year the Angels and Marlins) supporting a revival of successes here in Seattle. I know some people think they have a few young pitchers. And that’s good. The trouble is… after Tampa, name me a club that thought they had several pitchers on the way and then delivered them.

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