Wednesday, February 14, 2007

MLB Preview #2: AL West

Oakland Athletics

Mark Kotsay CF
Shannon Stewart LF
Milton Bradley RF
Eric Chavez 3B
Mike Piazza DH
Nick Swisher 1B
Bobby Crosby SS
Jason Kendall C
Mark Ellis 2B

Rich Harden
Danny Haren
Esteban Loaiza
Joe Blanton
Joe Kennedy
Brad Halsey
Jason Windsor
Shane Komine
Dan Meyer

The A's replace Frank Thomas in their lineup with Mike Piazza. Piazza put up decent numbers in pitcher-friendly San Diego, so there's no reason he can't repeat in the cavernous expanses of Oakland. The A's also added Shannon Stewart, which gives them some options. The primary option is the start Stewart, move Swisher from LF to 1B, and take .234 hitter Dan Johnson out of the lineup. The A's have a very deep outfield, and they'll need it as Stewart, Kotsay, and Bradley are all injury prone. Beside Swisher, the A's return Bobby Kielty and add Ryan Goleski, acquired from the Indians in the Rule V draft. Speaking of former Indains farmhands, Marco Scutaro will once again be the Oakland utility infielder.
Oakland lost Barry Zito, but their rotation still appears to be in good shape. At the very least, they have some options. And if needed, Billy Beane always knows how to find good young pitching. The bullpen should be in decent shape, too. A healthy Huston Street will once again be the closer, aided by Kiko Calero, Alan Embree, Jay Witasick, and anyone who can't crack the starting rotation.

The Angels

Chone Figgins 3B
Orlando Cabrera SS
Vlad Guerrero RF
Garret Anderson LF/DH
Juan Rivera DH/LF
Shea Hillenbrand/Casey Kotchman 1B
Gary Matthews, Jr. CF
Mike Napoli/Jose Molina C
Howie Kendrick 2B

John Lackey
Bartolo Colon
Ervin Santana
Jered Weaver
Kelvim Escobar
Joe Saunders
Hector Carrasco
Dustin Moseley

The Angels added Shea Hillenbrand and made a big splash by signing Gary Matthews to a huge deal. Hillenbrand has never had a high on base average, but he should add some pop to the middle of the lineup. Matthews led off in Texas, but the Angels may be best suited in keeping their top two hitters from last year in place. As Garret Anderson ages, he will likely share LF and DH duties with Juan Rivera. Hillenbrand is also able to play 3B, so Chone Figgins can move to the outfield when needed. The Angels bench boasts a very deep infield. Erick Aybar and Macier Izturis (yet another Rule V pickup from the Indians, albeit from a few years back) can play the middle infield spots. Robb Quinlan and Dallas McPherson can capably play both first and third (when McPherson is healthy, that is), and Cuban Defector Kendry Morales can also play first base.
The Angels rotation will be strong this year. John Lackey has continued to establish himself as a top-flight starter. Bartolo Colon is still Bartolo Colon, strikeout rates be darned. Jered Weaver is only the reigning AL Rookie of the Year (and MVP 07 cover boy), and big things are expected of "the other Santana" (no relation to Johan). Francisco Rodriguez is back at closer until his arm flies out of his shoulder socket - or until the Yankees lure him away as a successor to Mariano Rivera next season. K-Rod is supported by some very capable veterans, including Darren Oliver, Scot Shields, and Justin Speier. Even with a lineup featuring Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero, it appears that the pitching staff will be the strength of this team.

Texas Rangers

Kenny Lofton/Brad Wilkerson CF
Frank Catalanotto LF
Michael Young SS
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hank Blalock 3B
Jason Botts DH
Nelson Cruz RF
Ian Kinsler 2B
Gerald Laird/Miguel Ojeda C

Kevin Millwood
Vincente Padilla
Brandon McCarthy
John Koronka
Kameron Loe
Robinson Tejada
John Rheinecker
Edinson Volquez
Francisco Cruceta

Once again, Texas' hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of their big three: Young, Teixeira, and Blalock. Lofton and Catalanotto are no longer spring chickens, but they are still very capable at the top of any lineup. Unfortunately, the bottom of the lineup is where things get dicey. Kinsler proved himself last year when healthy. Laird won the starting job last year, and his backup, Ojeda, is solid. But the question marks come in the #6 and #7 spots in the lineup. Who are Jason Botts and Nelson Cruz? (Well, Cruz is a guy who came over in the Carlos Lee deal.) Can Brad Wilkerson recover from an off year to return to his Montreal form? Fortunately (I guess), the Rangers have quite a few outfielders/DH's to choose from, including Cruz, Wilkerson, Marlon Byrd, former Mighty Mighty Earmuff Bandit Victor Diaz, and spring training longshot Sammy Sosa. Conversely, the Rangers are very thin in the infield, unless you consider that Catalanotto started his career as a second baseman for Texas.
The Rangers rotation doesn't have any stars, but it does have a few solid pitchers in Millwood and Padilla - and to some extent Koronka and Loe as well. The uber-talented Brandon McCarthy comes over from the White Sox, and he will get a chance to start for the first time in his young career. Former Indians prospect Francisco Cruceta comes over from Seattle, where he will have a chance to join the big league club. Closer Francisco Cordero was replaced quite capably by Akinori Otsuka after Cordero was traded to Milwaukee. Otsuka may or may not be challenged by Eric Gagne for the closer's role this year.

Seattle Mariners

Ichiro! CF
Jose Lopez 2B
Raul Ibanez LF
Richie Sexson 1B
Adrian Beltre 3B
Jose Guillen RF
Jose Vidro/Ben Broussard DH
Kenji Johjima C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS

Jarrod Washburn
Felix Hernandez
Jeff Weaver
Miguel Batista
Horacio Ramirez
Jake Woods
Cha Seung Baek
Ryan Feierabend
Travis Blackley

With the addition of Jose Guillen, it appears that Ichiro will finally make the move to center field. Ichiro's always had the range to play center, but it was his amazing arm that kept him in right. Jose Lopez hit at the top of the lineup for most of last year; even with the addition of Jose Vidro, I wouldn't be surprised if Lopez stayed up there. Vidro may end up platooning with Ben Broussard. Broussard is a very streaky hitter, but you definitely want him in the lineup when he's hot. Broussard can DH or play first and let Sexson DH. Raul Ibanez has quietly put up very good numbers over the past few years for Seattle; he's one of the most underrated players in the game. Last year, Japanese import Kenji Johjima proved that he was more than capable of handling US baseball, and Yuniesky Betancourt didn't do too badly himself. This is a very solid lineup. The bench features super-sub Willie Bloomquist, 6'4 shortstop/outfielder Mike Morse, and center fielder Jeremy Reed, who can certainly field his position, but can't yet hit well enough to stay in the lineup.
Jarrod Washburn returns for his second season as the Mariners ace. Felix Hernandez had a solid outing last year, going 12-14 with a 4.52 ERA, but he didn't come close to the preseason hype fantasy experts gave him. That's the problem with hype sometimes. The Mariners strengthened their rotation by adding Jeff Weaver, still trying to resurrect his career, and Miguel Batista, who is still pitching well enough to stick around for a 16th MLB season. Horacio Ramirez comes over as yet another successful pitching product of the Braves minor league system, and the highly-touted Travis Blackley will be waiting in the wings for his turn to pitch. JJ Putz had a breakout year in 2006 as Seattle's closer, and he'll return to that role in 2007. Putz will be supported by Chris Reitsma, Arthur Rhodes (returning to his 2003 club), and a bunch of people you've probably never heard of before.