2009 AL West Preview: Wins Beneath Wings

. Friday, April 3, 2009
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The Angels have boat-raced the competition the last couple of years. With Oakland’s acquisitions and another year of seasoning for Texas’ young hitters, expect September to mean something. Even the rudderless Mariners, who many picked as a sleeper to upset the L.A.-by-O.C. Halos last season, should be able to right the ship this go round. Hard not to improve on finishing as the second-worst team in baseball.

1. Los Angeles Angels
Figures: 100-62, first place, lost to Boston in ALDS (3-1).
2008 headline: Boston, don’t lose that number
2009 motto: Cheaper and less efficient

Key additions: OF Bobby Abreu, P Brian Fuentes.
Key losses: 1B Mark Teixeira (to NYY), P Francisco Rodriguez (to NYM), OF Garret Anderson (to ATL), Jon Garland (to ARI).

Lineup: B
Nobody puts baby in a corner. The Angels tried it with Mark Teixeira and the Yankees threw him a $180 million lifeline. Now they get Bobby Abreu as a Match-Game-esque consolation prize. Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter need to relocate the pop that their bats have been missing last year. Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales will add some, but not enough. Chone Figgins needs to get his average back near .300 or he’ll turn into Dave Roberts. The million dollar question: when is Howie Kendrick ever going to produce consistently at the big leagues? Injuries have kept hitting prodigy from playing in more than 92 games in each of his three seasons. And a .300 singles hitter with marginal speed isn’t what I call producing.
Rotation: B-
John Lackey is a big game pitcher when healthy, but right now, he isn't. Ervin Santana figured out how to pitch on the road and finally had the type of year one L.A. baseball writer always thought he would. From there, things get hazy. Joe Saunders (great last name) was an all star, but young control pitchers always need a larger body of work to prove that they’re the real deal. Just ask Zach Duke. It only took Jered Weaver a season to show everyone that he’s just as over-hyped, over-payed and predicatable as his older brother. 28-year-old Dustin Moseley was supposed to rise through the ranks with Santana. Ineffectiveness (career 5.52 ERA in 153.1) slowed that. Being the team’s No. 5 on opening day is his last shot with the Angels.
Bullpen: B+
Brian Fuentes is going to go a long way to proving that Francisco Rodriguez’s saves record wasn’t a great individual accomplishment. He should get 50 if he stays healthy. The real reason why L.A. never entertained the idea of giving Rodriguez a big-money long-term deal was setup man Jose Arredondo, who went 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA and 55 Ks as a rookie. When 33-year-old rubber-armed Scot Shields retires in 10 years, he’ll go down as one of the most underrated relievers in baseball history. Darren Oliver and Justin Speier are veterans who give this bullpen a ton of depth.


  • Angels fans know all about Brandon Wood, who two years ago was compared to and often thought more highly of than Milwaukee's Ryan Braun. This is the year the heralded 3B/SS combo get a lengthy run with the big boys.
  • Athletes do a ton of terrible commercials for local businesses, but manager Mike Scioscia doesn't want them to have all the fun/hatemail. Maybe Angels fans would be more inclined to buy plasma screen from Howard's if they could watch their Halos actually beat Boston in the playoffs.
2. Oakland Athletics
Figures: 75-86, third place
2008 headline: Who's on first? Jack Hannahan?
2009 motto: Who are you and what have you done with Billy Beane?!

Key additions: OF Matt Holliday, 1B/DH Jason Giambi, SS Orlando Cabrera, IF Nomar Garciaparra, P Edgar Gonzalez, P Michael Wuertz, OF Ben Copeland.
Key losses: P Huston Street (to COL), P Dan Meyer (to FLA), OF Carlos Gonzalez (to COL), OF Matt Murton (to COL), P Greg Smith (to COL), P Alan Embree (to COL).

Lineup: B-
No one thought the A's would be movers-and-shakers this offseason, but their batting order is worlds better because of it. These may not look on the surface like moves general manager Billy Beane would make, but they were all for Billy Beane-like players. Matt Holliday is a stud whose protection will make Jason Giambi's homecoming even sweeter. Orlando Cabrera can pick it at shortstop and takes and is one of the best at working the count. Nomar Garciaparra came cheap and is a great utility option at this stage of his career. Last year, no one outside the Bay Area could name a single A's position player and now most can name one coming off the bench. 
Rotation: D+
This group is as green as the field on which they play. But unlike the franchise they share that field with, this group has upside. The problem: that upside may still be a year away. Staff ace and all-star Justin Duchscherer had elbow surgery on Tuesday and something tells me that 6 weeks is a rather optimistic return date. That means Dana Eveland (35 starts) is Oakland's most experienced pitcher. 
Bullpen: B-
A pretty underrated group sits down the left-field line. Brad Ziegler had that amazing start to his career and he might lose his job to the next great A's reliever, Joey Devine.  But this unit isn't all about youth. Russ Springer, Michael Wuertz and Santiago Casilla all have logged some serious major league miles, enough to let the youngster mature with minimal pressure.

  • Do you know where you'll be on July 31? How about April 1, 2010? Neither does Matt Holliday and that's a problem.
  • If there is a god, he/she/it doesn't like Eric Chavez. The former all-star and Gold Glover played just 23 games last season. It's getting to the point that A's fans don't even remember he's on the roster. 
3. Texas Rangers
Figures: 79-83, second place
2008 headline: Scored more than Wilt Chamberlain
2009 motto: We're still not worried about pitching

Key additions: P Kris Benson, OF/DH Andruw Jones, OF Greg Golson.
Key losses: OF Milton Bradley (to CHC), C Gerald Laird (to DET), Jamey Wright (retired), Kameron Lowe (retired) Ramon Vazquez (to PIT).

Lineup: B+
They may not have the star power of the Yankees squad, but this group can flat-out mash. 904 runs scored in '08. Josh Hamilton was the fell-good story to end all feel-good stories, but let's not forget that he's only 27-years old. Ian Kinsler is as good as Chase Utley right now and might have more pop than the Phillies star when it's all said and done. Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis are next in a long line of productive young hitters. After a deplorable season with the Dodgers, Andruw Jones is not only playing to prove he belongs in the majors, but to prove that he still is a valuable power hitter. The rage alone should help him shed 10 pounds.
Rotation: F
This is about as laughable as it gets. Vicente Padilla is the ace of this staff. Vicente. Padilla. Behind him are Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman, two guys who've put together back-to-back seasons of 5.00 ERAs or worse. The recently-signed Kris Benson brings only one thing this to this team and it's not a good curveball. Brandon McCarthy was the best pitcher in the Rangers system after his acquisition from the White Sox in 2006. Sounds like arguing over who is the tallest midget if you ask me.
Bullpen: D+
Make no mistake, Frank Francisco didn't inherit the closer role by default. His numbers were twice as good as C.J. Wilson's. Yet somehow, Wilson's 6.02 ERA was good enough to keep him as the setup man. Guess there isn't a whole lot of faith in youngsters Josh Rupe and Warner Madrigal. That's it. No more time wasted on Rangers "pitchers."

  • There's a slight chance this team this team again leads the league in hits and hits allowed. That's history folks. 
  • Hank Blalock can't crack this team's starting lineup and Phil Hughes can't make the Yankees rotation. MAKE A TRADE ALREADY.
4. Seattle Mariners
Figures: 61-101, fourth place
2008 headline: Playind Bedard-ed
2009 motto: Welcome back, Kid

Key additions: OF Ken Griffey Jr., OF Endy Chavez, 1B Russell Branyan, OF Franklin  Gutierrez, IF Chris Burke.
Key losses: OF Raul Ibanez (to PHI), P J.J. Putz (to NYM), OF Willie Bloomquist (to KC).

Lineup: C
The thing looks good on paper, but is littered with land mines. Ken Griffey Jr. coming home will be the best story in baseball this year if he stays healthy. History has shown that that is a huge "if." Teammate Mike Sweeney might be one of five guys in the league who is more frail than The Kid. Jose Lopez, Adrian Beltre and Russell Branyan are serviceable pieces, but they can't make up for the loss of the team's most consistently productive hitter, Raul Ibanez. The good news, Ichiro will have the best season of his career in '09. You heard  it here first.
Rotation: C+
Mariners fans finally get to see what having two front-line starters at the top looks like. Felix Hernandez is become more dominant with each season and Erik Bedard's fastball is getting back to where it was before surgery. Unfortunately, those two will have to combine for at least 30 wins because the rest of the staff isn't going to be able to carry its weight. Carlos Silva has his worst season as a pro in '08 because he lost his sharpness and if that's gone, so's his career. Jarrod Washburn is slowly but surely getting worse with each calendar year.
Bullpen: C-
Brandon Morrow is one of the two best young arms in baseball. Seattle's problem is they really need him in two different spots. They want him to be a starter down the road, but to do it this year means sending him down to the minors, not getting him back until June and handing the ball to Mark Lowe (5.37 ERA) in the meantime. 

  • Center fielder Jeremy Reed, at one point the top player in Seattle's farm system was dealt to the Mets in the offseason and probably won't make the big league club. I know this type of thing happens a lot, but I always find it sad. 
  • This club had better be happy about winning 75 games and still being fourth in the division because that's as good as it's going to get.