Tuesday, March 6, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: AL West

Sorry for the long gap in between previews, I've had a lot going on and I finally was able to acquire some time to sit down to do another installment of the MLB preview series. Same goes for the podcast, we will be getting that started up again soon. Thank you for your patience and thank you to those who have read the first two installments of this six part series. Without any more waiting, here is the preview on the American League West.

It was a busy and eventful offseason for the Los Angeles Angels. They made a lot of moves and signed lots of key players that they lacked last year which prevented them from making it to the post season. None were bigger then the free agent signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. December 8th was an exceptional day for the Angels this offseason. They signed Albert Pujols to a 10 year, 254 million dollar deal. Later that day, they acquired C.J. Wilson from free agency for a 5 year, 77.5 million dollar deal. Earlier in the day they acquired free agent relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins and signed him to a 1 year deal.

Albert Pujols addresses Angels fans in his introductory press conference.

The Angels proved that there is a such thing when agents bounce around the term "mystery team" when talking about free agency, With those 3 major signings, it left the Angels in no position to acquire any other big names to big contracts, but they did however sign some very decent players to minor league deals. They signed infielder Jorge Cantu and relief pitcher Jason Isringhausen to minor league deals and will likely make the main roster. They also traded for catcher Chris Iannetta and lefty pitcher Brad Mills. Finally, they extended Howie Kendricks for 4 years and will be the Angels' second baseman until 2015.

The Angels made all the right improvements this offseason to potentially give the Rangers a run for their money as far as defending the AL West Championship is concerned. The depth the Angels have offensively is spectacular. They have a great, young, effective starting rotation in Wilson, Weaver, Haren, and Santana. There bullpen looks to be the only part on the team in question. Hawkins and Walden are good, but they will need way more then that for late inning help. Lets look at their opening day line-up:

1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, 2B
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Torii Hunter, RF
5. Mark Trumbo, DH
6. Vernon Wells, LF
7. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
8. Chris Iannetta, C
9. Peter Bourjos, CF

Final Thoughts: To stay above the Rangers this year, the Angels pitching staff has to do much better through the whole season and fall off at the end like in 2011. I'm not sure with their weak bullpen that they can stay afloat over the Rangers. Also, Albert Pujols cannot have a slow start as he did with the Cardinals last season. His transition will be the big deciding factor in the success of the Angels.

The Texas Rangers have a lot to prove in 2012. They were mere outs away from capturing their first World Series championship in franchise history. However, they fell short of that task. The Rangers were one of the rumored teams to be contenders for Prince Fielder in the offseason. That was true up until they won a 51 million dollar bid on Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. They would later sign Darvish to a 6 year, 60 million dollar contract. This turned out to be a great acquisition for Texas, as they lost C.J. Wilson to free agency to divisional rival L.A. Angels. The Rangers are hoping that Yu Darvish lives past the previous attempts of successful Japanese stars coming to the MLB.

Ron Washington (left) and Jon Daniels (right) welcome Yu Darvish (center) to Texas with his jersey.

Darvish obviously took a lot if not all of the money the Rangers had to work with this offseason. The Rangers made some improvements in their bullpen, with the signings of closer Joe Nathan, relief pitcher Sean Green, and relief pitcher Mitch Stetter. Offensively, the signed first baseman Brad Hawpe and outfielder Conor Jackson. The biggest signing of that group is clearly Joe Nathan, who will be replacing Neftali Feliz as the teams full time closer. Feliz is heading to the starting rotation to join Harrison, Darvish, Lewis, and Holland. The bullpen of Texas is still very deep, though. Here's a look at the Rangers' opening day line-up:

1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Elvis Andrus, SS
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Michael Young, DH
5. Adrian Beltre, 3B
6. Nelson Cruz, RF
7. Mike Napoli, C
8. David Murphy, LF
9. Mitch Moreland, 1B

Final Thoughts: Notice anything about that team? Minus Mitch Moreland, it's the same opening day roster as they had last year against the Red Sox. Offensively, this team is an absolute dream team power house. The battle between the Angels and Rangers for the AL West crown will be an absolute dog fight, and I can't wait to sit back and watch.

The Seattle Mariners were one of the quiet teams this offseason. Minus a trade here and a signing there, the Mariners made no big offseason transactions. The biggest story to come out of Mariners camp this offseason was the talk of where Ichiro would fall in the batting order. Here is a excerpt from ESPN on Ichiro:
"Manager Eric Wedge made the announcement that Ichiro will bat 3rd in the batting order this season. Ichiro said he has a new, wider batting stance that he worked on all winter, but that he won't change his approach at the plate, except when runners are on base. Even with a lineup that should show signs of improvement this season, the Mariners will likely have to manufacture a number of runs and it's likely that Suzuki will continue to receive a steady green light on the basepaths. Wedge said that Chone Figgins will take over the lead-off spot." Courtesy of ESPN.com  
Ichiro will bat 3rd in lineup for Mariners in 2012.
The Mariners sent pitcher Michael Pineda to the Yankees in exchange for prospect catcher Jesus Montero. Montero will little swap starts with Miguel Olivo at catcher as well as serve some time as the DH as he possesses a great bat. The Mariners inked the veteran arm of Kevin Millwood to a minor league deal, as well as signing Oliver Perez. And lets not forget of the tragic death of left fielder Greg Halman that the Mariners family had to endure this past November as well. They also lost a few players to free agency. Adam Kennedy went to the Dodgers and Wily Mo Pena went to play in Japan. With all of these losses, lets look at their opening day roster:

1. Chone Figgins, 3B
2. Dustin Ackley, 2B
3. Ichiro, RF
4. Jesus Montero, DH
5. Justin Smoak, 1B
6. Miguel Olivo, C
7. Mike Carp, LF
8. Brendon Ryan, SS
9. Mike Saunders, CF

Final Thoughts: I don't think anyone expects the Mariners to compete at all this year in this division. I think it is in their best interest to work with their minor league players and prospects as much as possible to start the rebuilding process in Seattle. Ichiro is nearing the end of his career, which is sad because just 10 years ago he was reigning Rookie of the Year and American League MVP.

There is a lot to say about the Oakland Athletics. There's the bad, there's the good. There's the "What the ^&*$% are you people thinking?" All in all, this has been a business as usual yet effective and improving  offseason for the Athletics. They did trade away all of their good starting pitching yet again, resuming their role as MLB's farm system. They sent Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Collin Cowgill and two other players. They traded Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox for Josh Reddick in a five player deal. And, finally, they sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for Brad Peacock and two others in a six player deal. They also lost Josh Willingham to the Twins and David DeJesus to the Cubs due to free agency.

Yoenis takes batting practice for the first time with A's.
As far as acquisition go, none was more surprising and important then the A's landing Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (above). They inked him to a 4 year deal worth about 36 million dollars and he will be one of the leaders and stars of this team. The A's also re-signed outfielder Coco Crisp to a 2 year deal. In addition to Crisp, they also signed pitcher Bartolo Colon and outfielder Jonny Gomes to 1 year deals. They landed outfielder Seth Smith in a trade with the Rockies. And, with a head scratching move, the A's signed outfielder Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal. Manny has to serve a 50 game suspension before he can return to the field. Finally, third baseman Scott Sizemore is out for the season with a torn ACL. Here's what the A's will throw together for opening day:

1. Jemile Weeks, 2B
2. Coco Crisp, LF
3. Yoenis Cespedes, CF
4. Seth Smith, DH
5. Josh Reddick, RF
6. Kurt Suzuki, C
7. Daric Barton/Brandon Allen, 1B
8. Josh Donaldson/Eric Sogard, 3B
9. Cliff Pennington, SS

Final Thoughts: I have no idea what Oakland has planned for third base. They just lost Scott a few weeks back so I'm sure they are still figuring it out. Also, first base is up in the air due to health issues but Brandon Allen is having a monster spring so far so if he continues to put up numbers he will start opening day. Offensively, this team looks okay on paper. Starting pitching, however, will haunt this team from April to August. Don't look for a Moneyball season out of this A's team.

Predicted Final Standings

1. Texas Rangers (101-61) (Divisional Champs)
2. Los Angeles Angels (97-65) (Wild Card)
3. Seattle Mariners (70-92)
4. Oakland Athletics (66-96)

And with that, we are halfway done. Which means Opening day is that much closer. As a matter a fact, a month from today, March 6th. Next week, I will be jumping over to the National League and will be looking over the NL East division in the same structure as this blog. I hope everyone enjoys reading this. Please leave your thoughts on here or on the Twitter feed (@WISportsBlog) if you agree, disagree, or want to make a point. I look forward to reading your comments.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota (@WSB_Andrew)

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