Winding down the previews here. Today it’s the AL West. For a preview of the other divisions, check out the links below.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Key additions: SP Joel Piniero; DH Hideki Matsui; RP Fernando Rodney
Key losses: SP John Lackey; OF / DH Vlad Guerrero; 3B Chone Figgins
The Angels continue to be the class of this division. I keep waiting for them to dip into the free agent market for an impact bat, but for now they’ll piece together an offense with their holdovers from last season. Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter are the key cogs in the machine, but youngsters Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood will hope to provide supplemental support to a unit that ranked second in the majors in runs scored last season. The rotation will miss the presence of John Lackey, but as it stands, the Halos trot out five quality arms in Ervin Santana, Scott Kazmir, Joel Piniero, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders. The bullpen should be improved with Tigers import Fernando Rodney; he’ll set up closer Brian Fuentes, but he also provides insurance in the event that Fuentes comes apart like he did toward the end of last year. Overall, I think the Angels will field another competitive team and, even though they’ve come back to the pack a little, I expect them to contend for yet another division title.
Key additions: SP Cliff Lee; 3B Chone Figgins; OF / DH Milton Bradley; 1B Casey Kotchman; RP Brandon League
Key losses: 3B Adrian Beltre; 1B Russell Branyan; RP Brandon Morrow
I don’t think any team improved themselves any more over the offseason than the Mariners. The addition of Figgins simultaneously weakened the division rival Angels while adding another formidable asset at the top of the Seattle lineup. Pairing Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez together gives them one of the best 1-2 punches in all of baseball. And RP Brandon League is a stud closer in-waiting. Sure, the offense still lacks some punch (Milton Bradley, the freshly minted cleanup hitter, had a slugging percentage of .397 last season, making him slightly less fearsome than Cardinals shortstop Brendan Ryan who slugged .400). But along with the Red Sox, I expect the Mariners to be one of the best fielding clubs in the league. I don’t know if they’ll have enough firepower to supplant the Angels, but it should be a fun chase nonetheless.
Key additions: SP Rich Harden; DH Vlad Guerrero; RP Chris Ray
Key losses: 3B Hank Blalock; OF Marlon Byrd; SP Kevin Millwood
The fate of the 2010 Rangers will come down to the health of a couple of key players. Ian Kinsler, the Rangers All-Star second baseman, deals with constant injuries; it appears he’ll start the season on the disabled list. Josh Hamilton, whose redemption story captivated MLB in 2008, had a hard time staying on the field in 2009. New DH Vlad Guerrero has hardly been the bastion of physical health the past few years. And staff ace Rich Harden — whose career ERA is a sparkling 3.39 — has never pitched 200 innings and has only surpassed 140 innings once in his career. If healthy, the Rangers are an intriguing team with a great offense and a young, developing pitching staff. But you’d be foolish to count on full seasons from Hamilton, Kinsler, Guerrero, and Harden. Instead, expect plenty of DL visits and a rather pedestrian finish in 2010.
Key additions: SP Ben Sheets; OF Coco Crisp; 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
Key losses: 2B Adam Kennedy; IF Bobby Crosby
The A’s are similar to the Mariners (good defense, an offense that will struggle to put up a lot of crooked numbers) with one notable exception: they don’t have two stud starters like Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez. Ben Sheets could be a nice trading chip if he stays healthy until midseason, but he’s a huge question mark after sitting out all of the ’09 campaign. Brett Anderson is a young pitcher with lots of upside, but the rest of the staff needs more time to develop. Offensively, the A’s need young players like Ryan Sweeney and Daric Barton to take huge strides in their maturation. Sweeney, a strapping, sweet-swinging outfielder, needs to turn more of those doubles (31 last season) into home runs (only 12 in 948 career big league at-bats) in order to become a viable middle-of-the-order threat. The A’s also need healthy seasons from Justin Duchscherer, Coco Crisp, and Mark Ellis. But if the young players develop quickly, this A’s team could make some hay in what looks to be a winnable division.