MLB 2010 – American League West


In part four we switch over to the American League, and find what may be… top to bottom… the most competitive division in baseball.

Ok… not completely fair.

Only four teams here.

But three of them have a legitimate shot to win it… one with solid pitching and another with playoff experience. And the fourth appears to preparing for July by stockpiling a few trade chips.

Seattle Mariners
What I expect in 2010: 89-73, playoffs

What they did in 2009: 85-77

Key personnel changes: Put Cliff Lee in their rotation and then place Chone Figgins on the field. In a funny way… you could say both of these were at the expense of California. Figgins directly… and Lee is, without much of a debate, at least the equivalent of John Lackey (who left for Boston). Either way, the Mariners got stronger. Alot stronger. California loses… Seattle gains. What I don’t get is the Milton Bradley acquisition. I suppose to get rid of Carlos Silva it makes some sense… still, it’s Milton Bradley. (And… despite my concerns… if it works, it will work wonderfully since he should be hitting behind Ichiro and Figgins. Bradley has zero worthy of complaining about heading in to this season.) Eric Byrnes and Casey Kotchman could contribute. Overall, a nice job here. Could be good enough to win the division.

My expectations: Out in the West I think the Mariners have a real shot to take the division. No one is strong enough to win 95 or more… and yet, if you picked any one team that could do it, for me it would be the Mariners. Hernandez… Lee… and now room to wait and see with Erik Bedard instead of praying he delivers (and the comfort of holding off on him until June as he recovers from surgery).

Chone Figgins won’t solve all of the problems on his own, but this is still the land of Ichiro, and the addition of Figgins makes this club a bit more dynamic… a bit more explosive… and heck, maybe even a bit unpredictable and dangerous. (That’s two guys with a mentality that they are in scoring position once they reach first base.)

The outfield is going to be brilliant on defense, and Kotchman offers a good glove to an improving infield. (This is easily the best defensive Mariner infield since John Olerud left. Not even close, and maybe their best ever. Don’t read that as an amazing, breathtaking infield. The outfield is scary, breathtaking good. But this infield will be solid.)

I don’t expect long losing streaks… I don’t see them losing games they should win with silly errors… and in a division where no one is going to run away, I’m predicting a first place finish.

Unfortunately… I’m not alone. And remember the bandwagon. With everyone jumping on, you should probably be betting on California or Texas out here.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Cliff Lee.

Last year I had my doubts. Basically, the story goes like this… guy comes out of a concession stand job to win the Cy Young award. How? How does anyone look at Lee’s career and expect that again? I know that’s not completely fair… 18-5 with a sub-4 ERA in 2005 was advance warning… but we’re talking 22-3 with a 2.54!

And then in 2009 he gets traded to Philly and I’ll be darned if he didn’t look pretty good. I will be quiet now as far as Lee is concerned and having questions.

Still… he’s 31. And he’s being counted on to deliver along with Felix Hernandez and provide this club with some of the strongest top-of-the-rotation stuff in the American League. I think he’s shown himself to be capable of it. But he is definitely the player to watch.

Also… what about Aardsma? Is he going to pitch well again? Was 2009 an accurate reflection of his ability? Can he even be close? (Again… I say yes. While 2009 was a fantastic season for Aardsma that showed improvements over his career numbers, a quick look over his record shows he’s always averaged about a strikeout per inning and a walk every two innings. I think alot could be said for a different home park and a strong outfield defense behind him.)

I think the answers are good, but these are questions that could sink some pretty well drawn plans.

California Angels
What I expect in 2010: 87-75

What they did in 2009: 97-65, playoffs

Key personnel changes: Here’s where the Angels are in trouble… because the big news, good and bad, was who they managed to get rid of. Gary Matthews, Jr. was a hrrible signing to begin with, but he’s gone now. (Yeah! Well done California, well done.) They also lost several players, like Chone Figgins and John Lackey. (Umm… not so well done.) And the reality is, Hideki Matsui and Fernando Rodney aren’t helping make up for all the departures. (Really. Now don’t cheat… who would you rather have as your designated hitter… Matsui or Guerrero. See? That’s actually a tough one because you know Guerrero is brittle now. But the reality is both of them are effectively locked in as designated hitters. Let’s repeat the first line of this section… the Angels are in trouble.)

My expectations: Of last year’s American League playoff teams, this is the only one that is visibly weaker.

They no longer have a true top-notch pitcher in the rotation. And honestly… if you recall all those years when people used to wonder when the Angels were going to get some support in the batting order for Guerrero, then you understand what things are going to be like for Torii Hunter.

The one thing you can say is that they won’t lose many games they should win.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): On the bright side, Rodney could bring some stability to the Angels. And the reality is, this is a club you shouldn’t simply dismiss.

If Brian Fuentes can establish himself as the club’s closer and Scot Shields is healthy, suddenly Rodney joins the mix and the Angels look really good from the seventh inning on. (No… that’s really good. Really, really good.)

Mike Scioscia is aggressive… and he has been doing without alot of offensive power for quite some time. (At least, making it appear that he is doing without.) So the batting order could actually be a bit stronger than before with Hideki Matsui involved. I love Guerrero. I do. But keep in mind, Matsui and Abreu are unappreciated, professional hitters. Abreu works counts and Matsui can be a wizard with the bat. Torii Hunter may have some support after all.

The real question then is left to the starting rotation. If one of the youngsters can step up and become the ace of the staff, the Angels could win the division again. But that means finding a 17 to 20 game winner. I see depth. I see good guys. I don’t see a winner of 15-plus.

(Umm… or do I? These Angels are going to get a full season from Scott Kazmir. Thought I forgot him… didn’t you? This is a guy that actually scared both New York and Boston when he pitched for Tampa Bay. He’s not afraid of big games, and he might just be pitching with a major chip on his shoulder this season. So let’s think about this… if you want to pitch for a solid organization… with a chance every year to make the playoffs… where there is as little media pressure as is possible… yeah, the Angels are that club. Kazmir is in a good spot. And, it would not be insane for someone to suggest that the best pitcher in the AL West is Kazmir. He’ll need to prove it… and alot of people will wonder if you’ve seen Seattle’s staff if you say it… but you could certainly say it without people laughing at you. And yes, that is a bunch of other interesting arms in the rotation with him, including Jered Weaver and the newly acquired Joel Pineiro. This starting staff could destroy my expectations of them.)

Texas Rangers
What I expect in 2010: 86-76

What they did in 2009: 87-75

Key personnel changes: Weird few months between seasons. For instance… they took a flyer a few years back on Kevin Millwood. In December they traded him to Baltimore and now take a flyer on Rich Harden. When you have the money, I think any chances you take for a million… two million… heck, five million dollars can be worth it. The problem is… and I’ll get to this… when you take those flyers with expectations. In other news, while I love Vlad, I just can’t say bringing in Vladimir Guerrero is a significant move for the club. (Actually, for virtually the same reasons. And we’ll get to that.) And we are now officially at three teams willing to try Khalil Greene because he looked good before he ever played a major league game.

My expectations: I want to believe in the Rangers… maybe even give them a shot at the division… but I can’t. Let’s get to my rant on taking chances…

In recent years, the Boston Red Sox have done an amazing job bringing in low cost, zero risk players that could have made huge impacts. Brad Penny… John Smoltz… Bartolo Colon… and there are plenty of others. I can’t tell you the results show that it was worth it or not. Penny and Smoltz did much better once they left Boston. Colon had his moments. What I can tell you is that Boston lost absolutely nothing by bringing those three in (and others over recent years). And, had Rich Harden or Ben Sheets been available at around $5 million for one year, I think Boston would have moved on it.

Here’s the trick though… Schilling… Pedro… Beckett… Lester… and now Lackey… and what you can see is that over the past seven years or so Boston never signed these zero risk pitchers (or, honestly position players) thinking that they had to be tremendous contributors. Heck… they didn’t sign them believing they would be tremendous contributors. They signed them because they might be contributors and were worth taking a chance. And that’s why the term “zero risk” is appropriate.

Let’s move to Texas.

Is Rich Harden a “zero risk” pitcher for them?

I say no.

Boston made the playoffs in 2009 after letting go of Penny and Smoltz. There is no way Texas even sniffs the playoffs without Harden contributing. And now you see why I have them falling short.

There are other reasons involved…

Is Josh Hamilton the player we saw in 2008… or is that just a nice story?

Kahlil Greene… when I started this he was an interesting addition… as I continued working on this he wasn’t coming to spring training and… yeah, he’s gone.

Is Vladimir Guerrero going to produce? (Love Vlad… can’t get enough Vlad… and at worst he’ll hit around .300 for them. But… will he stay in the lineup? He was involved in 100 games last season. That’s his lowest total since 1998. get him into 140 or more as the designated hitter and it’s a great move. 120 or less and it moves into that risky category with Harden.)

Catching… which had been a surplus when Boston was calling last season, and when Texas dealt with Detroit last season… is now a huge question mark.

I like the intensity and gritty play I saw at times out of Texas last year. And because of that I’ll give them a winning record and an outside shot. But they need several things to work in their favor, and in addition to what I’ve mentioned, collapses in both Seattle and Anaheim might be part of that.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): I wish I had a name for you. But I don’t.

See… Texas has some decent pitchers, but virtually every one of them is one they hope continues to develop. Seriously… is Boston counting on Clay Buchholz to be an ace? Then sell me on Tommy Hunter and company dominating the AL West in 2010.

Ahh… but if they do.

See Ian Kinsler is at second base. And we are now a year removed from the drama of moving Michael Young to third base. When Texas comes to town, you’re going to look at the batting order and be stunned at how difficult they are to get out. Not a great batting order… just full of headaches. (Seriously. If you’re not a fan of Texas, then I want you to try a fun experiment. On June 1st I want you to go to some site… pick any of them… and look up the batting statistics of the Texas regulars. You’re going to be shocked the team isn’t about 35-10. Then check the numbers out again on August 1st. And you will wonder why they are no better than in the wild card race, trailing the Angels and Mariners, and have at best a 55-45 record while Boston and New York are both solidly over 60 wins already. I mean it… when Texas comes in to play your favorite team, you’ll be sitting there watching them introduce the clubs as the first inning gets going, and they’ll show the numbers for the Texas batting order, and you’re going to say something to yourself like “I didn’t know he was hitting that well” while cringing and hoping your starter lasts five innings against them.)

Last year those headaches had people discussing Texas in August. While I don’t see it… in 2010 those same causes of headaches and a few changes could have people talking about Texas in September.

Look to the pitching… that’s where it could all go right… or horribly wrong.

Oakland A’s
What I expect in 2010: 74-88

What they did in 2009: 75-87

Key personnel changes: Any time I look at Oakland, I always wonder if they are bringing in players to get better… or bringing them in so they can trade them later on. Ben Sheets… Kevin Kouzmanoff… Coco Crisp… I don’t see how any of these guys will help Oakland in this division. And yet, I could see any of them… for a variety of reasons… suddenly in demand by July.

My expectations: Eric Chavez.

Doesn’t it seem like Chavez has been trouble for Oakland since about 1972? I’m asking because… well…

Bobby Crosby is gone.

The starting rotation has effectively been turned over… in fact, pretty much more than once since the days of Mulder, Hudson and Zito.

But there’s Chavez. Part of the 2010 plans. Sort of.

If we’re being honest with each other, the A’s are loading up on trade chips. Ben Sheets… Coco Crisp… it’s a group of “send me two young AA players under the age of 22 with potential and he could be yours in July” players.

I have no expectations of Justin Duchscherer winning 17+ for Oakland this year… and if he looks even close to accomplishing that, he will be wearing a different uniform by the end of June.

When this club wins a game this season… you will be kicking things in the house. Why? Because everything I said about Texas numbers on offense being surprisingly scary is reversed here. Most of these guys would have trouble hitting .300 in tee ball.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Simply put… it can’t go right.

Amazingly, this team will clear 70 wins. If you want to know why that’s amazing… look back at the other teams in this division. Any of the others could win the West. And yet Oakland is going to take their share from them and the rest of the league… win some… lose some… building for tomorrow.

By the way… some news came in as I was putting the final touches on this section before editing. News that I honestly could have included, but it was on the edge of late in the process… and it didn’t change a single thing about my review of Oakland. They signed Brett Tomko. (And Jason Jennings.) If Tomko delivers during spring training… likely… he’ll be on the roster when the season starts, and a potential trade chip when we arrive at July.

Dare to dream though… Sheets and Tomko do spell a nice pair for a 70-win club.

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