Posted by: Nate | February 19, 2008

2008 Baseball Preview: American League West

Predicted Order of Finish:

1.    Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2.    Seattle Mariners
3.    Oakland Athletics
4.    Texas Rangers

Breakdowns:

1.    Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:

With a strong pitching staff containing two guys in the Cy Young discussion last year in John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, backed up by a solid bullpen and an All-Star closer you have to like the Angels – especially coming out of the traditionally weaker AL West. With the offense addition of Torii Hunter in CF Vlad Guerrero should see more pitches to hit and the overall run production should be much better this year, a problem highlighted in the playoffs.

Keys to Success:
In order to make a deeper run in he playoff this year, the Angels are going to have to show an ability to score more runs. Manager Mike Scioscia has a penchant for utilizing the hit and run often, sacrifice bunting and using the speed of his players to generate runs. The problem with this plan in the playoffs is that it is harder to generate offense in this manner against strong pitching and defense, two elements that often characterize playoff teams. The addition of Hunter should have a ripple effect on the lineup and take pressure off Guerrero to carry the offensive load. If Hunter has a strong season and players like Garrett Anderson and Howie Kendrick can have strong seasons, the offensive problems may take care of themselves. The Angels really strike me as a bad playoff match in the first round, as they top line starters and strong bullpen make a short series a formidable task.

The other major factor as I see it is the ability for Kelvim Escobar to return from the shoulder problem he is currently dealing with and be able to pitch as effectively as last year and the bullpen to continue to be solid. He is a major piece of their rotation, and while the addition of Jon Garland helps their overall depth their, losing an ace-caliber starter to injury or ineffectiveness is a big blow.  The Angels bullpen has been one of the strongest in baseball the last few years, but they showed a definitely decline in performance during the season last year, especially down the stretch. K-Rod is a rock at the back end of the bullpen, but they had trouble bridging the gap to him at times last year, with guys like Scot Shields struggling and the losses of key bullpen arms from the past like Brendan Donnelley and JC Romero. They are going to need to improve on their bullpen ERA of over 4.00 from last year to really make the leap to serious contenders.

Major Off-season Moves:
The two biggest moves were the free agent signing of Torii Hunter to a 5-year deal and the trade of SS Orlando Cabrera for pitcher Jon Garland. Those are significant moves that will hopefully serve the team well in producing more offense and solidifying the back end of the rotation behind Lackey, Escobar and Weaver. They didn’t make any other moves of significance, although they do have some interesting prospects in the minors including Nick Adenhart and Brandon Wood, who cold play roles this season if called upon.

2.    Seattle Mariners:
After being in the race for the AL West title and then the AL Wild Card berth for much of the year last year, the Mariners faded down the stretch. With some of their off-season moves they are looking to address one of their biggest problems from last year in their weak rotation and they seem to have done that so far. If their offense can provide solid run support they look to be in the hunt again this season.

Keys to Success:
Obviously they are going to need significant production from their new acquisitions Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva to bolster a rotation that struggled mightily last season, especially at the back end. Bedard is an ace-caliber pitcher and needs to demonstrate that last year was no fluke and he is recovered from his oblique injury of late last season. Silva needs to do what he has done for year, throw a lot of innings to give the bullpen a break and be league average or better in the ERA department. If that happens the bullpen anchored by closer JJ Putz is decent and can be excellent if they get similar production from last year and someone steps up to fill the departed George Sherrill’s role.

Offensively they have a lot of question marks. Richie Sexson looked horrid last year and he is going to need to improve his play offensively a great deal. How he still got almost 500 AB’s despite his .205 average is unreal. Adrian Beltre is also going to have to try and channel some of that breakout 2004 campaign that saw him hit 48 HR’s and sport a .334 average. They’ll need to rebound to make up for the steady production of departed RF Jose Guillen and ensure that the new-look pitching staff gets the run support it needs to be successful.

Major Off-season Moves:
The free agent signing of Carlos Silva to a 4-year deal and the trade that got Erik Bedard from the Orioles were both headline makers and instant improvements to their team. They had to give up hot CF prospect Adam Jones and reliable reliever George Sherrill to get him, but the costs seem to be well worth it for a pitcher of Bedard’s caliber. The only other major move they made on the player front was to fill the RF vacancy be signing Brad Wilkerson to a one year contract. In other personnel moves however, they brought in former Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottelmyre to work with their pitching staff. He is known for having a great amount of success and developing a number of pitchers and so this could mean great things for the Mariners, especially with the development of Felix Hernandez.

3.    Oakland Athletics:
The A’s are clearly in rebuilding mode and have a lot of young/unproven players playing large roles for them this year. They also are going to be counting on the oft-injured Rich Harden to provide a lot of quality innings this season. With all of these question marks, why then am I picking them to finish ahead of the Rangers? I have a sinking suspicion that Billy Beane is not insane and that the young players he got back in the deals he made this off-season are going to turn out to be better than expected this year and that with the way he developed pitchers like Mulder, Zito, Hudson and Haren the rotation probably won’t be as bad as many people suspect.

Key to Success:
Obviously, health is going to be a major factor for the A’s. Their veteran players (Harden, Chavez and Street) will all have to play big roles this season for the team to do this well. All three were injured last year and need to be on the field to provide leadership to the other, younger players. SS Bobby Crosby needs to return to the form of his rookie season where he was healthy and showed a lot of power. He hasn’t played a full season since and they are going to need him to get things back on track as well.

The play of the rookies and new guys is also going to be critical to their success as well. Chris Denofria, Eric Barton and Travis Buck will need to play well and with confidence to provide some offensive support to slugger Jack Cust and Chavez.
With a team as young and experiencing as much turnover as the A’s have so far, luck and team chemistry are going to play a big role in their performance as well. If the team can avoid the injury bug, get solid production from the rookies and those returning from injury and come together as a new–look team they stand to do very well and surprise a lot of people.

Major Off-season Moves:

As I already mentioned, the A’s were major sellers in the off-season, unloading many players. They traded utility infielder Marco Scutaro to the Blue Jays in November, following that up with the blockbuster trade of ace Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks for 6 prospects. On the heels of that big move that sent Nick Swisher to the White Sox for more prospects, effectively getting rid of two of the bigger names in the franchise. Then they sent Mark Kotsay to the Braves for Joey Devine and another prospect. To top that all off, they signed Keith Foulke to a one year contract, coaxing him out of retirement and bringing him back to the team where he experience one of his best seasons in 2003.

4.    Texas Rangers
The Rangers are a team who puzzles me year in and year out. They make some moves that look like they are starting a rebuilding process, and other moves that indicate that they are trying to contend now. Obviously, this contradiction of philosophy isn’t really conducive to having winning seasons, and the Rangers have struggled to find that winning formula in recent years. While there are some bright spots, I just don’t see enough here to pull them out of the AL West basement in an ideal scenario. Of course, if the perennial injured players mentioned above for the A’s get hurt, the door should be wide open for the Rangers to blow past them.

Keys to Success:
This team is only going to go as far as their pitching takes them and I am predicting that they finish in the cellar, so that should be an indication of where I think there starters are at. If they want to make any type of run this season Millwood, Padilla and Jennings need to regain their effectiveness and McCarthy and Gabbard need to show that they can put together a strong season start to finish. I just don’t have a lot of confidence in these guys, especially when their ace had a 5+ ERA last season and their number 2 starter in Padilla has only pitched 200 innings once in the last 4 seasons.
Another key piece for the Rangers will be the performance of their offense. Their pitching staff isn’t as accomplished as some others around the league, but they still could win through sheer offensive output if they had to.

Central to the offense will be the performance of Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley. Young has consistently put together solid offensive seasons and needs to pair with Kinsler to set the table for guys like Hamilton and Bradley. If Hamilton can stay healthy and reproduce numbers similar to his limited role last year, he will be a huge asset to this team. He wasn’t a number one overall pick in the draft for nothing, this kid can hit. Likewise, Milton Bradley is a strong middle of the lineup bat and he needs to prove that he has recovered from his knee injury and can get along with his teammates enough to produce the type of offense he is capable of. One must remember that this is the same Texas team that scored 30 runs in a game against the Orioles last year. Granted it was the lowly O’s, but still they can put runs on the board in a flurry and will need to this year to give their staff adequate support.

Major Off-season Moves:
The Rangers were fairly active in the off-season, although not making too many major headline moves. They traded for Josh Hamilton, Ben Broussard and Chris Shelton, three moves that could pay major dividends in filling the gaping hole left by the departure of Mark Texieria last year. They also signed former closer Eddie Guadardo to a one year deal, providing them a veteran arm in the mix to be their closer next year to fill in for Akinori Otsuka and Eric Gagne. They also added free agent Jason Jennings to try and provide some SP depth and extended their young 2B Ian Kinsler to a 5 year deal, locking up a key piece of their future.

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Responses

  1. […] Goatboy wrote a fantastic post today on “2008 Baseball Preview: American League West”Here’s ONLY a quick extractLos Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2. Seattle Mariners 3. Oakland Athletics 4. Texas Rangers Breakdowns: 1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: With a strong pitching staff containing two guys in the Cy Young discussion last year in John Lackey … […]

  2. […] Goatboy wrote an interesting post today on 2008 Baseball Preview: American League WestHere’s a quick excerptPredicted Order of Finish: 1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2. Seattle Mariners 3. Oakland Athletics 4. Texas Rangers Breakdowns: 1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: With a strong pitching staff containing two guys in the Cy Young … […]

  3. Good summary.

    Did you see the Petite conference? If you needed anything to make Clemens look more guilty there couldn’t have been a better one.

  4. I have stopped actively following that circus, but from what I have heard it certainly seems that the wave of evidence is building against Roger.


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