Previewing the 2010 American League West
The Angels are a strange team, constantly outperforming their run differential and always doing enough to hold on to the division crown. This year they’ll face another big test, having lost John Lackey, Chone Figgins, and Vladimir Guerrero in free agency. In come Hideki Matsui, Fernando Rodney, and Joel Pineiro to pick up some of the slack. Matsui has had several injury-plagued seasons recently, but has been productive when he’s played; hopefully the Angels won’t let him pick up a glove. Pineiro is another St. Louis Carninal special: a hard-throwing pitcher that they teach to get groundballs. His profile worked in the National League, but I think he might struggle quite a bit in the junior circuit. The rest of the rotation has question marks also, as Ervin Santana attempts to come back from injury and Joe Saunders tries to prove he’s good. They replace Figgins with eternal prospect Brandon Wood, who has struggled mightily in the big leagues but has annihilated minor league pitching. The Angels have some chinks in the armor, but I feel like I say that every year and they keep winning; I won’t be picking against them until they lose.
The Mariners have been doing some things, and an organization that looked to be in dire straits two years ago has turned around fast under the guidance of General Manager Jack Zduriencik. He stole Franklin Gutierrez from Cleveland, stuck him centerfield, and watched him quickly becoming one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game. He got rid of Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Silva, and got some value back for these two black holes. He swiped Jack Wilson from Pittsburgh because of his value with the glove, and moved Jarrod Washburn last August when it was clear the Mariners would need a miracle to win the division; also Washburn had been very lucky to that point, was to be a free agent, and wasn’t a part of the team’s future. It’s trades like that that have to make Mariner fans giddy; Jack Z clearly has a plan and an understanding of his assets. This offseason he stole Cliff Lee for a trio of decent prospects, but nobody who has a decent shot of becoming as good as Cliff Lee. He signed Figgins, an on-base machine and a good defender, and took a flier on Milton Bradley, who he got for free basically by moving Silva. When Bradley’s head is on straight, he hits. I’m not sure that the Mariners were as close last year as their 85-win season suggests, but they got a lot better for 2010 and appear headed in the right direction. Imagine how good they might be if they didn’t move Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, and Adam Jones to the Orioles a couple years ago for Erik Bedard.
The A’s are a team built to win 76 to 81 games; just good enough to hang around, but not good enough to win anything. Their young pitching staff, headlined by Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, had six rookies start 128 games last year, and while Anderson was good enough to hold his own all year, the others showed but brief flashes of what they might be but struggled otherwise. Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer are both really good pitchers, but the A’s shouldn’t be counting on either one past their first starts. The bullpen was pretty good, and the A’s always seem to find someone who can get outs for them in the late innings. Adding Coco Crisp to Ryan Sweeney and Rajai Davis in the outfield provide a three-centerfielder defense, which will catch everything in Oakland’s spacious outfield but won’t hit for power like a typical outfield might. They’ll still struggle to score runs, despite having added Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base. A’s fans should prepare for a lot of frustrating games that end 2-1.
A lot of the Rangers improvement in run prevention in 2009 came from their improved infield defense. Installing Elvis Andrus at shortstop, moving Michael Young to third and Chris Davis to first, and having a healthy Ian Kinsler gave the Rangers a defense that turned a lot of batted balls into outs. The pitchers in turn threw more strikes, confident that they could get outs, so the home runs that will inevitably happen hurt less. The Rangers added Rich Harden to be their ace, but traded Kevin Millwood, basically swapping talent for reliability. Harden, when he pitches, is a lot better than Millwood, but with Millwood, the Rangers knew they would get 180 innings from him. It’s a true sign that the Rangers think they can win this year. They’ll be counting on their collection of young starters to improve on 2009. Derek Holland, the best of the bunch, had a rough début as he was moved between the bullpen and rotation frequently. Scott Feldman, who went 17-8 with an ERA over 4.00, defied most statistical logic and will need to either improve his strikeout and walk rates or risk a repeat of 2008. The lineup suffered as a result of struggles and injuries to the two best hitters, Kinsler and Josh Hamilton. Nelson Cruz’s coming out party at age 29 was a pleasant surprise, and Elvis Andrus more than held his own at the plate as a 20-year old rookie. The Rangers have more hitters and pitchers coming through the farm system, but for 2010, I don’t see it all coming together in a manner that nets a playoff berth.
Projected 2010 Standings