We're continuing our MLB preview. Today, we're doing the AL West.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels' John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar are both on the DL already. But skipper Mike Scoscia isn't worried.
That's because the Angles are pitching-rich. Pitching-drunk, really.
Even with, arguably, their best two pitchers out, they still have young gun, Jered Weaver, who pitched well last year and has had an awesome spring. They also have Jon Garland, a reliable innings-eater and lefty Joe Saunders. They also have a solid pen, with Scott Shields, F-Rod and Justin Spiers, all studs.
Also, the Angels have one of the most talented outfields in the league. Garret Anderson is pushed to left, as seven-time Gold Glovers Torri Hunter mans centerfield and makes Angels pitchers happy. And huge thumper, Vladimir Guerrero finally has a lineup that can protect him and is ready to do damage.
The rest of the lineup is solid—the Angels scored 822 runs last year, good enough for 4th in the AL. That should only get better with Hunter in the lineup. Look for the Angels to weather this injury bug in their rotation and win 90 games.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: 2nd baseman Howie Kendrick walked just 9 times in 338 at bats last season.
The Mariners really couldn't have asked for a better off-season. After expressing a desire to test free agency, Ichiro decided to stay in the Pacific Northwest. Then, when it looked like the Mariners wouldn't get any more help for their rotation (aside from Carlos Silva, who is nice, but not the stud they needed) who pitched a combined 5.16 ERA, the Mariners get a true hoss, lefty Eric Bedard, from the Orioles.
Suddenly their biggest weakness could be a strength this year. With Bedard's and Silva's arrival, Miguel Batista's steady hold on the no. 3 spot in the rotation and King Felix Hernandez's development (he'll be 22 in April), the Mariners have a rotation that can stand up to most in the AL.
All this must make Seattle fans happy. Improving their record the last three seasons in a row, they can feel the playoffs within their grasp. They know already, what they can expect from Ichiro—a MVP contending type season—and from Adrian Beltre—25 HRs, 100 RBI, a Gold Glove on third. And they know all about J.J. Putz—1.38 ERA, 40 saves, .138 BA against—it's the rest of the team they are unsure about.
Is Richie Sexton the Paul Buynon guy who can club 45 jacks and bat .275. Or is he the guy who batted .205 last year and hit only 21 HRs? Is Jose Lopez the guy who made the 2006 All-Star team? Or the guy who batted .213 the second half of last year? is Raul Ibanez the guy who stunk it up for most of the season? Or the guy who batted .357 in August an September?
The Mariners are on the upswing. They can pitch with anybody in the AL and their lineup is solid. Should a few breaks fall their way, they could have their first division title since 2001.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Seattle's middle infielders, SS Yuniesky Betancourt and 2B Jose Lopez drew just 35 walks in 1060 ABs last season. And 3 of those were intentional.
Like the Twins, the A's had a fire sale this off-season. And what a fire sale it was. First they traded ace, Dan Haren, along with Connor Robertson to Arizona for prospects. Then they traded outfielder Nick Swisher to the White Sox for prospects. Then they traded centerfielder Mark Kotsay to the Braves for a prospect. All this is after last year, where they traded MIlton Bradley and Jason Kendall...for prospects.
Following the trend here?
And they might not be done. A bunch of teams, including the Yankees, have been scouting Joe Blanton and Rich Harden closely. 3B Eric Chavez, currently on the disabled list, has been quoted as saying, "If I was healthy, I'm sure I'd have been traded as well." SS Bobby Crosby and reliever Huston Street are options to be traded as well.
Still, I'm picking them to surprise and not finish last in the AL west. While that may say something about the Rangers, I think the A's are prospect rich and that some of these kids are going to compete sooner rather than later. Already Daric Barton has nailed down 1B with a nice call-up last September. Travis Buck had a nice 1st season in the bigs last season and can be counted on in right field. Carlos Gonzalez, the prize of the Diamondback trade, and no. 22 on Baseball America's top 100 prospects list should be up by mid-summer at the latest. Pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, no. 26 on that same list and part of the White Sox trade, had 185 strikeouts
in 150 innings in the minors last year and could be ready to contribute this year. Another lefty, Brett Anderson, brought in from the Diamondback trade (36 on BA's list) probably won't contribute a lot this year, but could be ready for a September call-up.
And while all of this is moot, because half the club could be traded by July, the A's are stocked with young talent and can surprise a few clubs this year.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: The A's used the disabled list 22 times last year, tying a Athletics club record.
The Rangers need help. In a lot of places.
And Lord knows they've tried.
In 2006, they brought in Kevin Millwood to anchor the staff and youngster Brandon McCarthy as a future star. But Millwood has gone 26-26 since then and had a 5.16 ERA last year. And McCarthy had a 5-10 record last year with a 4.87 ERA and two trips to the DL. (McCarthy is already on the DL this spring.) Last season, the Rangers signed Vicente Padilla to a 3-year 33 million dollar contract to help Millwood and McCarthy in the rotation. Padilla went 6-10 with a 5.76 ERA. None of them had a complete game last year.
To try and bolster a starting rotation that pitched the least innings of any staff in the league, the Rangers signed Jason Jennings to be their no. 3 starter. Jennings was 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA.
Last season they traded Mark Teixeira for blue-chip prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia to be their catcher of the future. However he was beat out this spring by Gerald Laird, who batted all of .224 last year. Texiera, meanwhile batted .317 for the Braves and hit 17 HRs in 54 games.
But there's some good news. Josh Hamilton, who they traded for from Cincinnati, is having an electric spring and should solidify centerfield. Hank Blalock should be ready to play 3rd base again full-time after surgery last season. C.J. Wilson, the closer has an electric arm, and can get out anybody, when he's not walking them (33BB in 68 innings). SS Michael Young joins Wade Boggs and Ichiro as the only three players since 1940 to have 5 consecutive 200-hit season. And Milton Bradley is here too, taking over in right field and providing a reliable bat.
But that's about it. There are holes everywhere, especially in the rotation. New club president Nolan Ryan has made a commitment to the farm system, which hasn't provided enough help for the big club, again especially in the rotation. (Scouts joke, the best arm the Rangers have in their entire system is Nolan Ryan.) It looks to be a little while longer until the Rangers are back in contention for the postseason.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: The Rangers projected rotation combined to win only 25 games last year.