Thursday, February 02, 2006

MLB Preview 2: AL West

The Angels

Chone Figgins 3B
Orlando Cabrera SS
Vlad Guerrero RF
Garret Anderson LF
Juan Rivera DH
Darin Erstad CF
Casey Kotchman 1B
Jose Molina C
Adam Kennedy 2B

Bartolo Colon
John Lackey
Ervin Santana
Kelvim Escobar
Hector Carrasco
Esteban Yan
Kevin Gregg
Chris Bootcheck
Joe Saunders

Not much change at the top of this lineup. The shakeup comes comes at the bottom. Adam Kennedy continues to be an overly qualified #9 hitter. Darin Erstad, a great top-of-the-lineup guy, will have to anchor the bottom four, including new starters Kotchman and Molina. Jose steps in for his brother Bengie. Bengie wasn't a superstar hitter, but he was decent for a catcher. This team is deep in the infield, with Dallas McPherson and Rob Quinlan backing up at first, third, and DH, and former Rule V guy Macier Izturis backing up Kennedy and Cabrera. Otherwise, it's a bunch of no-names on the bench. Of course, since Figgins and Rivera are both more than adequate in the outfield, maybe it won't be that much of a problem.
The rotation takes a big hit with the loss of Jarrod Washburn. Ervin Santana will have to avoid a sophomore slump for this group of starters and this team to do well. The bullpen is one of the best in baseball with Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields, and new addition JC Romero setting up Frankie Rodriguez. Shields and Romero could easily close on some teams. But, if the starters can't hold up their end of the bargain, look for some sore arms in the pen later this season.

Oakland Athletics

Mark Kotsay CF
Jason Kendall C
Milton Bradley RF
Eric Chavez 3B
Frank Thomas/Jay Payton DH
Bobby Crosby SS
Dan Johnson 1B
Nick Swisher LF
Mark Ellis 2B

Barry Zito
Rich Harden
Danny Haren
Esteban Loaiza
Joe Blanton
Kirk Saarloos
Joe Kennedy
Juan Cruz
Justin Duchscherer

You know what the problem with this lineup is? Two many #2 hitters. Kotsay, Kendall, Bradley, Crosby, and Ellis could all easily fill that role. I'd love to move Ellis to leadoff and drop Kotsay to second, but Kendall hit all of 0 home runs last year, so one wonders if he really belongs later in the lineup. (Hey, I take the same approach to hitting as he does, so I'm not knocking it or anything.) This lineup is Super-Moneyball, but they'll need Chavez to return his 2004 form. Thomas, Johnson, and/or Swisher will also have to step up for this to be a good year. The offense does have decent depth, at least. Infielder Marco Scutaro has plenty of experience after filling in for an injured Mark Ellis. Payton, Bobby Kielty, and Charles Thomas (no, not that Charles Thomas) all have experience starting in the outfield.
Loaiza was added to a stable of young arms in the rotation. He's not an overly impressive starter. But, his experience as a staff ace will help him mentor a young staff. Plus, as an innings eater (217 IP last year), he can take pressure of a bullpen that is also relatively young. Huston Street lived up to the hype when he was thrust into the closer role last year. He's supported by a bullpen that I'll call "Team Upside" - young talent gleaned from other organizations: Kiko Calero, Juan Cruz, Chad Gaudin, Dan Meyer, and Kirk Saarloos to name a few.

Texas Rangers

Dave Dellucci LF
Brad Wilkerson CF
Michael Young SS
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hank Blalock 3B
Kevin Mench RF
Phil Nevin DH
Rod Barajas C
Ian Kinsler/Mark DeRosa 2B

Kevin Millwood
Adam Eaton
Vincente Padilla
Kameron Loe
Juan Dominguez
Joaquin Benoit
RA Dickey
John Wasdin
CJ Wilson
Edison Volquez

Gone is Alfonso Soriano, but it doesn't look like Texas will miss him all that much. Wilkerson is an upgrade in center. He hit only .248 last year, but did manage a .351 OBP. I'm tentatively sticking him second, assuming his numbers will improve this year in the Texas heat. That moves Young to third. The kid can flat out hit, so I think he'll be up to the task. Speaking of poor averages versus good on-base percentages (as I did somewhere up there), Dellucci will look to continue his surprising success from last year while making the move from DH to a full time outfielder. If he does flounder, I assume Wilkerson becomes the backup plan at leadoff. Anything Nevin does this year is a plus. The same goes for rookie second baseman Ian Kinsler. Kinsler did have 20+ HR and 90+ RBI in AAA last year, so he has the potential to be a good one. The backup plan for Kinsler is DeRosa, a capable utility infielder during his time in Atlanta. Gary Matthews and Laynce Nix, both former starters, highlight the Texas bench.
As of late, Texas hasn't been known for its pitching. So, they just went out and got new pitchers. Millwood was perhaps the best starter on the market. Eaton is a solid talent who until recently was playing in Jake Peavy's shadow in San Diego. Padilla was a cult hero in Philadelphia (the Padilla Flotilla rowed through the bleachers of Citizen's Bank Park) who earned his keep. Loe, Dominguez, and a slew of decent young talent round out the rotation. Closer Francisco Cordero and new acquisition Akinori Otsuka highlight a thin bullpen.

Seattle Mariners

Ichiro! RF
Raul Ibanez/Matt Lawton LF
Carl Everett DH
Richie Sexson 1B
Adrian Beltre 3B
Jeremy Reed CF
Kenji Johjima C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Jose Lopez 2B

Jamie Moyer
Jarrod Washburn
Joel Pineiro
Felix Hernandez
Gil Meche
Travis Blackley
Clint Nageotte
Jesse Foppert

Slowly but surely - very slowly, but very surely - Seattle is starting to fill its holes. Ichiro, Sexson, and Beltre are set. Ibanez did surprisingly well with 20 HR and 89 RBI in 2005. Like Dellucci, he makes the move from DH to starting outfielder, so it will be interesting to see how he fares. Reed, brilliant defensively, comes back for a second season. Betancourt will be playing in his first full season. Betancourt and Lopez, like Reed, are said to be good defensively. Johjima is coming over from Japan for the first time. Now, there's normally some drop off between Japanese numbers and MLB numbers. Considering Johjima hit .330 with 30+ HR in each of his past two seasons, I'm sure no one will mind a small step down from those numbers. Everett, of course, is the DH. Matt Lawton, after his 10-day suspension to start the season, will be the key piece coming off the bench. He can DH and play all three outfield position at a starter's level, plus he can competently hit anywhere in the lineup except cleanup. Also on the bench is Mike Morse, a good young hitter who will also be tried in the outfield this season.
Washburn is obviously the key addition to the rotation. But Jamie Moyer keeps doing it well at the top of the rotation. Pineiro had his worst year yet as a full-time starter, going 7-11 with a 5.62 ERA. He's gotten progressively worse in the past three seasons. Meche is still looking to fully bounce back from injury problems a few years back. He was 10-8, but with a 5.08 ERA. Hernandez did very well in limited time last season; he'll look to avoid a sophomore slump. (Oh, and be sure to wish Felix a happy 20th birthday on April 8. Yeah, you read that right. And Dave, I know you're wondering: he was born in Venezuela. You're right, he probably is about 26.) Everyday Eddie Guardado closes behind what is basically a bullpen of no-names.