March 23, 2005

Frinklin's Second Annual Baseball Preview: AL West


1. Los Angeles Angels
The Good
Vladimir Guerrero, the defending AL MVP, patrols in right. He didn’t have any problem in his first AL season, hitting a robust .337/.391/.598. Despite the yammering about Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad or even-swear to God I read this in a preview mag- Chone Figgins, Vlad is the best player on this team. He’s one of a handful in the majors who can completely take over a game. Vlad does have some support here too. Anderson, though slowed by injuries last year, has been mercifully moved back to left. He should be healthy and productive again. Steve Finley was signed away from the Dodgers to move into CF. Despite being 39 Finley had his best power year, slugging 36 homers between LA and Arizona. The infield will be nearly completely revamped this season. Orlando Cabrera comes over from the Red Sox to replace David Eckstein at short and utility man Figgins will start the season at second due to Adam Kennedy’s injury problems. The big name is rookie Dallas McPherson, who takes over for Troy Glaus at third. McPherson destroyed minor-league pitching last season, and acquitted himself well during his September call-up. He starts the year as favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. On the mound the Angels are a bit erratic. Bartolo Colon pretty much defined the term last season. The portly right hander was awful to begin the year (6-8, 6.38 before the All-Star break), but rebounded and went 12-4, 3.63 after the break. Kelvim Escobar had a very nice year, save for actual wins. K-Rod, Francisco Rodriguez, takes over as full-time closer this year.

The Bad
The signing of Cabrera is a bit of a puzzler, as Eckstein was a serviceable shortstop and the Angels are loaded with middle infield prospects. Erstad is Erstad, offering offense that would be acceptable at a premium position but is way below average for first. The Angels should at least consider moving him back to the outfield, as two of their best prospects, Casey Kotchman and Kendry Morales also play first, and could offer much better bats. The signing of Finley was a bitter disappointment to many Angel fans, as they were hoping for Carlos Beltran. Finley is ageing, and by statistical analysis anyway, his range in center has slipped. The infield defense will be about the same; improved at short, where Cabrera offers better range and a much better arm than did Eckstein, but weakened at third, where McPherson is just an average defender. LA (or Anaheim or California or Whomever) will need Escobar to continue to pitch as well as he did last year, and Colon not to pitch like he did early last season. The rest of the rotation is questionable, as Jarrod Washburn, John Lackey and Paul Byrd all come with questions.

The Bottom Line
This is a very competitive division, as all four teams have their strengths and weaknesses. The Angels are the team best prepared to run away from the other three, but things will have to break right for this to happen. The biggest question, quite literally, is Colon. He needs to pitch like the ace LA pays him to be.

Texas Rangers
The Good
The Rangers are powered by their fantastic infield: Mark Texeria, Alfonso Soriano, Michael Young and Hank Blalock are all All-Stars or close to it. Young was a revelation last season, moving to short after the A-Rod trade, he hit .313/.353/.483 with 22 HR and 99 RBI. He will back down to earth bit, but still should provide above-average production at a premium position. The corners, Texeria and Blalock, aren’t far away from MVP consideration. Soriano might well be traded this season for pitching, clearing the way for prospect Ian Kinsler. The Rangers have the start of a nice power bullpen, led by Francisco Cordero, who broke through with 49 saves, and set-up man Frank Francisco.

The Bad
The rotation is still below par. Kenny Rogers was the ace last season and delivered 18 wins despite an unsightly 4.76 ERA. Ryan Drese solidified his spot with 14 wins and a slightly better ERA. Beyond them there is little, leaving youngsters Joaquin Benoit and Chris Young, plus whatever remains of Chan Ho Park. Prospects Juan Dominguez and Kameron Loe could contribute as well. As settled as the infield is, the outfield is a bit of a mess. Laynce Nix remains in center, and the Rangers think he could breakthrough this season. The corners will be reclamation project Richard Hidalgo and Kevin Mench. Catcher is a soft spot too, with Gerald Laird trying to reclaim his job from Rod Barajas.

The Bottom Line
If you squint a little bit, you can see The Next Big Thing here. The Rangers infield is spectacular, and if the pitching can come around –a HUGE if- this team will be in the playoff hunt all season. On the other hand, if Rogers and Drese don’t match what they did last season and the youngsters pitch like Chan Ho, this could be a lousy year in Arlington.

3. Seattle Mariners
The Good
Everything that’s good and decent in Seattle baseball begins with Ichiro. The right fielder had a season for the ages last year, shaking off a slow start to set a new single-season hit record. If the team had been any good, he would have received some serious MVP consideration. The M’s have improved around him this year, adding Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson to improve a power-deficient lineup. With the retirement of Edgar Martinez, Raul Ibanez should claim most of the DH at-bats, with Randy Winn moving to left and rookie Jeremy Reed in center. The outfield defense still won’t be as good as it was with Mike Cameron, but it will improve. The infield defense is excellent: Beltre and SS Pokey Reese might be the best in the AL at their positions. Bret Boone, looking to recover after a down year at the plate, has won multiple Gold Gloves. On the mound, Joel Piniero is healthier than last year, though still not at 100%. Bobby Madritsch solidified his position in the rotation with a very strong August and September.

The Bad
This is still a team with holes. Its best centerfielder plays in right, but none of the other outfielders could play right if Ichiro was willing to make the switch. Both Beltre and Sexson come with questions. Is Beltre a one-year wonder? Will Sexson prove worth the enormous contract Seattle gave him? Quick answers: No and No. Beltre might slip from last year’s career numbers, but a .275-25-100 would still be better than 75% of the thirdbaseman in the AL. Sexson, though, is a huge risk; a player with “old” tools and a back injury is not the best bet for a long-term contract. In the short term, if healthy he will provide some offense that was non-existent from the 1B position last year. This team is still suffering from some of the contracts GM Bill Bavasi gave out last year. The M’s overpaid for Ibanez, who is at least moderately productive, Scott Spiezio, who has no position left, and Shigetoshi Hasagawa. All three are still with the team, and are virtually untradeable. Past Pineiro and Madritsch the team is really hurting on the mound. Jamie Moyer was pounded last year, and at 42, might not bounce back. Gil Meche was up and down last year. If he pitches like he did after the All-Star break, he’ll be a solid starter. If he pitches like he did to open the season, he’ll be in Tacoma or on waivers. The bullpen is in shambles, as closer Eddie Guardado hasn’t lived up to his “Everyday Eddie” nickname since becoming a Mariner. It might be up to second-year man JJ Putz to close.

The Bottom Line
The Mariners are better than last year. In hindsight, last year’s collapse isn’t shocking at all. This team was old, and made some truly awful moves. This year will be more about individual questions for the Mariners. How will Beltre and Sexson do? What does Ichiro do for an encore? When will uberprospect Felix Hernandez make his debut?

4. Oakland Athletics
The Good
General Manager Billy Beane is rolling the dice. After several years of close-but-not-quite, Beane is tearing down his team and rebuilding it. Two of the Big Three have been traded away. Tim Hudson went to the Braves and Mark Mulder the Cardinals. In return, Beane received some excellent prospects, some ready now, some won’t be for several years. The pitching staff will be rebuilt around Rich Harden and Barry Zito. Three youngsters, Moneyball draft alumnus Joe Blanton, Dan Meyer from the Hudson deal and Dan Haren, picked up in the Mulder trade should round out the rotation. The bullpen is young too, with closer Octavio Dotel joined by Juan Cruz and rookie Huston Street. Two years ago Beane made the decision to build around Eric Chavez instead of Miguel Tejada. Chavez, Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby and 1B Scott Hatteberg are the linchpins of the infield. Jason Kendall, picked up from Pittsburgh, will catch. With Kendall and CF Mark Kotsay, a team that didn’t have any leadoff hitters for years now has two. Top prospect Nick Swisher takes over in RF for the departed Jermaine Dye.

The Bad
This team has very young pitching, with rookies all over the place. They are talented, but they will take some lumps. Other than Chavez and Crosby, the infield is questionable. Scott Hatteberg, a Billy Beane favorite, returns at 1B, but could be pushed by Dan Johnson, the PCL MVP. Second base is a bit of a mess, with former Brewer Keith Ginter, last year’s fill- in Marco Scutaro and Mark Ellis, who’s coming off injury. For a team once built around Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and company, the A’s don’t have a lot of power. Crosby and Swisher could be good for more than 20, and Chavez should hit around 30, but beyond that they don’t have much.

The Bottom Line
This is a rebuilding year for the A’s, and everyone affiliated with the team knows it. They figure on running in place for a year or two, then contending again behind what could be a terrific rotation in about 2007.

Posted by Frinklin at March 23, 2005 11:04 PM

A's last? I can't imagine that. Even with the young rotation, you can't tell me you wouldn't take the A's pitching over the Rangers and M's any day.

And also you forgot about Durazo, who was the A's best hitter last year and is good for quite a bit of power.

Posted by: Richard at March 24, 2005 08:18 AM
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