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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: AL West

Since Opening Day is tomorrow I figured I should hurry up and write my preview of the American League West.  This is a top-heavy division.  Anaheim blew their entire wad of cash on the best available free agents while Texas should remain strong thanks to their core of young players.  Seattle is undergoing a youth movement and has several young players who they hope will be a part of their lineup for years to come.  And then there's Oakland, a team who traded away their top players to reload their farm system in hopes they can compete in three years. For some it's time to win now, for others it's in the future.  This division has a lot of both.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2011 Record: 86-76
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $159.1 million
Highest Paid Player: Vernon Wells - $21 million
Best Player: Albert Pujols might be the best player in baseball.
Best Pitcher: The Angels excellent outfield defense makes Weaver really tough to beat.  Give this team an average outfield and it's Dan Haren. Either way this is a really good staff.
Say Hello To: Albert Pujols 1B, CJ Wilson SP, Chris Iannetta C, Brad Mills RP, Jason Isringhausen RP, Juan Rincon RP, LaTroy Hawkins RP, Eric Hurley RP, Ryan Langerhans OF, Jorge Cantu 1B
Wave Goodbye: Russell Branyan 4C (NYY), Fernando Rodney RP (TB), Joel Pineiro RP (Phi), Tyler Chatwood RP (Col), Jeff Mathis C (Tor),
Biggest Questions:
1. Are the Angels the division favorites? They've got the best rotation, the best player, and the best outfield defense, and maybe the best depth but they're not necessarily the best team.  Expect a dogfight with Texas all summer.
2. When will we see Mike Trout?  Mike Trout is to the Angels what Bryce Harper is to the Nationals.  Trout is an electric player who also happens to be an excellent defensive outfielder.  After Vernon Wells' historically bad 2010, if Trout gets off to a hot start a change may be forced to happen.
3. Is the Pujols contract a mistake?  Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to get your man.  I think Pujols will be worth it the first three years or so but ten years is a long time and these kind of marriages don't always end well.
Expectations: This team forked over more money than any other last season and now sports the third highest payroll in the A.L. With that kind of spending frenzy come playoff expectations.  Winning the World Series should be the goal and this team has the talent to do it.
Perhaps the most underrated pitcher in baseball, Dan Haren
will just keep on keepin' on as this team's true staff ace.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Aybar SS
2. Kendrick 2B
3. Pujols 1B
4. Hunter RF
5. Morales DH
6. Wells LF
7. Callapso 3B
8. Iannetta C
9. Bourjos CF
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Weaver
2. Haren
3. Wilson
4. Santana
5. Williams
Cl: Walden

Oakland A's
2011 Record: 74-88
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $59.4 million
Highest Paid Player: Yoenis Cespedes - $6.5 million
Best Player: Jemile Weeks was excellent last season for Oakland hitting .303/.340/.421 as a rookie. The A's hope he'll continue to improve and be a cornerstone for the future.
Best Pitcher: Brandon McCarthy altered his throwing motion, started reading sabermetric websites, and voila, success!  His previous career high in wins was 7 and he earned 9 in 2/3 of a season in 2011.
Say Hello To: Josh Reddick OF, Jarrod Parker SP, Edgar Gonzalez RP, Tom Milone SP, Brad Peacock SP, Merkin Valdez RP, Seth Smith OF, Jonny Gomes OF, Bartolo Colon SP, Manny Ramirez DH, Yoenis Cespedes OF
Wave Goodbye: 
Michael Wuertz RP (FA), Craig Breslow RP (Ari), Trevor Cahill SP (Ari), Gio Gonzalez (Was), Hideki Matsui DH (FA), David DeJesus OF (ChC), Josh Willingham OF (Min), Rich Harden SP (FA), Ryan Sweeney OF (Bos), Andrew Bailey Cl (Bos), Jai Miller OF (Bal), Guillermo Moscoso (Col), Josh Outman SP (Col)
Biggest Questions:
1. Was it a mistake to sign Yoenis Cespedes?  In a bold move, the A's won a bidding war for the Cuban defector and plan to make him their opening day center fielder.  The team has stated they're willing to be patient and let him work through the struggles he'll endure during the season in hopes he'll be the centerpiece of the franchise if they move to San Jose.  There's a lot of risk here but the upside is huge.
2. Will the team get to build a new stadium in San Jose? In December the team thought they had a breakthrough but nothing new has come about since.  Bud Selig is on the record saying the issue is very important but this is a man who assigned a committee to evaluate the issue in 2009 and has made no public statements regarding the results. Until a conclusion is reached, this is a team in limbo.
3. Who's the best option at first base? Daric Barton put up a solid season in 2010 but was terrible last year; Brandon Allen has a career .210/.297/.383 line after 400+ plate appearances; while Chris Carter has enormous power but struck out over 25% of the time in the minors. Barton's probably the safest bet but Carter has the highest upside.
Expectations: This is a team that's treading water.  The team's best players were traded for prospects in the offseason as they await an update on the San Jose situation.  In the short term this team is not likely to finish above .500 nor lose 100 games. They're just kind of there.
Jemile Weeks great rookie season gives A's fans
a good reason for optimism. 
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Weeks 2B
2. Pennington SS
3. Crisp LF
4. Smith DH
5. Cespedes CF
6. Reddick RF
7. Suzuki C
8. Allen 1B
9. Donaldson 3B
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. McCarthy
2. Braden
3. Colon
4. Milone
5. Godfrey
Cl: Balfour

Seattle Mariners
2011 Record: 67-95
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $97.8 million
Highest Paid Player: Felix Hernandez -$18.5 million
Best Player: This was Ichiro's team for a decade but now the torch will be passed though it's hard to say to whom.  Ackley, Smoak, and Montero are all young players with star potential so it's not like the cupboard is bare.
Best Pitcher: Despite his pedestrian record the last two seasons (27-26), King Felix has carried this team and won the 2010 AL Cy Young Award.
Say Hello To: Jesus Montero C/DH, Hector Noesi SP, Kevin Millwood, John Jaso C, Luis Rodriguez SS, Aaron Heilman RP, Oliver Perez SP
Wave Goodbye: Michael Pineda SP (NYY), David Aardsma (NYY), Shawn Camp (ChC), Josh Bard C (LA), Adam Kennedy 2B (LA), Wily Mo Pena OF (FA), Jamey Wright SP (LA), Greg Halman (death)
Biggest Questions:
1. Why would this team trade their best young player?  The Mariners have finished dead last in the league in runs scored four straight years. Although Michael Pineda has a promising future he's not a hitter. In return they got the Yankees best hitting prospect who will start immediately and play every day.
2. Is the end of Ichiro near?  Last season was the first of his career where he failed to hit .300 and accumulate 200 hits.  His defense was also merely average according to the Fielding Bible.  The Mariners have moved him to third in the lineup in hopes he'll try to start driving the ball more this season but with another slip in production it's possible when his contract expires his time will be up.
3. Is Justin Smoak a bust?  I don't like using this term for someone who's still only 25 but the results thus far leave much to be desired. In his defense he's battled numerous hand injuries which limited his ability to drive the ball.  This is his make or break year.
Expectations: Progress isn't always easily seen and it's likely the record won't reflect the improvements to the offense. They'll battle to avoid the cellar but scoring runs will be a bit easier with Ackley, Montero, and a finally healthy Smoak.
In a league where pitchers don't hit, Seattle realizes
the value of a player who does just that.  Here's to
hoping he's the new Edgar Martinez.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Figgins 3B
2. Ackley 2B
3. Ichiro RF
4. Smoak 1B
5. Montero DH
6. Carp LF
7. Olivo C
8. Saunders LF
9. Ryan SS
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Hernandez
2. Vargas
3. Noesi
4. Millwood
5. Beavan
Cl: League

Texas Rangers
2011 Record: 96-66
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $118.4 million
Highest Paid Player: Michael Young - $16 million
Best Player: Tough question. I'll go with Adrian Beltre who's not only a great defender but a very good offensive player who might get more recognition if he could stay healthy a full season.
Best Pitcher: Derek Holland went 9-1 with a 3.08 ERA and 80 K's in 88 IP after the All-Star game last season.
Say Hello To: Yu Darvish SP, Joe Nathan Cl, Brad Hawpe OF, Conor Jackson OF
Wave goodbye: CJ Wilson SP (LAA), Endy Chavez OF (Bal), Darren Oliver RP (Tor), Darren O'Day (Bal), Taylor Teagarden C (Bal), Chad Tracy 1B (Was)
Biggest Questions:
1. Is a 3-peat realistic?  Yes, the Rangers lost their #1 starter but the remaining rotation is solid.  The offense finished third in the league in runs scored and remains intact.  They should be in the discussion for best team in the American League. 
2. Who is Yu Darvish and did the Rangers overpay?  Here's something I wrote about Darvish in November.  It's hard to say if the Rangers overpaid since you have to consider his posting fee on top of his annual salary.  Let's just say I think he'll be the best Japanese pitcher yet.
3. How will Josh Hamilton's relapse affect his contract situation?  This is tough to say.  The media may jump on this angle and beat it to death if he's not offered an extension but isn't it possible the Rangers consider his best days behind him? He's an excellent player but has had trouble staying healthy.  His relapse - and at this point it was only once - only complicates matters.
Expectations: The Rangers and Angels may put on one of the most compelling division races this summer.  With the addition of a fourth playoff team it's hard to envision the Rangers failing to qualify for the posteason and once there anything can happen.

Yu Darvish may be the greatest Japanese pitcher ever.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Kinsler 2B
2. Andrus SS
3. Hamilton CF
4. Beltre 3B
5. Young DH
6. Cruz RF
7. Napoli C
8. Moreland 1B
9. Murphy LF
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Holland
2. Darvish
3. Lewis
4. Harrison
5. Feldman
Cl: Nathan

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