AL West Preseason Outlook

by | Staff Writer

Texas Rangers

2010 record: 90-72
Finish: First place, lost to San Francisco Giants in World Series
Manager: Ron Washington, fifth season

Spring training site: Surprise, Ariz.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 17
First full workout: Feb. 20

Key additions: Adrian Beltre, Yorvit Torrealba, Arthur Rhodes, Brandon Webb, Mike Napoli
Key losses: Cliff Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Frank Francisco, Bengie Molina

Offseason grade: B

Adrian Beltre hit 28 homers with 102 RBI for the Red Sox last season. (US Presswire)  
Adrian Beltre hit 28 homers with 102 RBI for the Red Sox last season. (US Presswire)  
The Rangers were aggressive, attached at some point to seemingly every major player. Obviously they failed to get their No. 1 target, Lee, but they pretty much did all they could there. Beltre isn't a perfect fit with what they already had, but an upgrade offensively and defensively.

2011 outlook: Hopeful they can be more than a one-year phenomenon

Offense: Texas had one of the better offenses in the American League, and there's no reason to think that won't be the case again. They'll be hoping Josh Hamilton stays healthy, Nelson Cruz continues his under-the-radar success and Elvis Andrus delivers on his early promise.

Defense: The Rangers are middle of the road defensively, but Beltre makes them better.

Pitching: With the Rangers having lost Lee and not replacing him with a front-line starter, there will be a lot of pressure on C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hunter at the top of the rotation. The bottom is a concern -- anything Webb can add is a bonus and we'll see what happens with Neftali Feliz getting a shot to start this spring. If Feliz does become a starter, that creates question marks in the bullpen, where the Rangers have a lot resting on 40-plus lefties Darren Oliver and Rhodes.

Intangibles: The Rangers go into the season with an unprecedented level of expectation and attention, plus a pretty good amount of turnover. How will they respond?

Key player: Wilson. Converted to starter, the lefty had a breakthrough season in 2010, winning 15 games. Now he's being asked not only to repeat that, but to anchor the rotation of a defending pennant winner. That's a lot of pressure.

Top prospect: Left-handed pitcher Martin Perez. The Venezuelan is still only 19, and struggled with his command in Double-A, but draws comparisons to Johan Santana. It's a big year in his development.

For the season to be successful: Rangers fans would love to see them get another shot at the Series, but no AL team other than the Yankees has repeated in 18 years, so realistically another playoff appearance would qualify as a success.

Oakland Athletics

2010 record: 81-81
Finish: Second place
Manager: Bob Geren, fifth season

Spring training site: Phoenix
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 16
First full workout: Feb. 21

Key additions: David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui, Grant Balfour, Rich Harden, Brian Fuentes
Key losses: Jack Cust, Travis Buck, Vin Mazzaro

David DeJesus is a .289 career hitter. (Getty Images)  
David DeJesus is a .289 career hitter. (Getty Images)  
Offseason grade: B+

The A's worked within their means and leveraged what they had to improve the offense, and tried to do more -- Adrian Beltre and Lance Berkman didn't want their money. They also made some nice bullpen additions.

2011 outlook: Very promising

Offense: The A's were ahead of only the miserable Mariners in total bases, slugging and homers last season, and DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui should elevate their scoring potential. This is not going to be a slugging team, but if the pitching reaches potential it doesn't have to be.

Defense: Oakland should be one of the better defensive teams in the league, which is a good thing because of the multitude of groundball pitchers.

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Pitching: The A's will sink or swim based upon the health and effectiveness of their pitchers, and you wouldn't think their injuries could be as bad as last season. The good news about those injuries is that it fostered the emergence of some young arms that give Oakland depth. Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden all could be 15-game winners, and the A's hope Harden will rediscover his early-career success now that he's back with his original team. Backing the starters is one of the league's best bullpens, which adds Balfour and Fuentes to All-Star closer Andrew Bailey.

Intangibles: After a season in which they used the disabled list 23 times in 2010, it's all about staying healthy -- the team even fired its long-time head trainer. There are a lot of players with injury concerns, so luck could play a big part.

Key player: DeJesus. He was a major acquisition, and the A's aren't entirely sure what they got -- he was headed for a monster 2010 season before a thumb injury ended his year. If he comes back healthy and on the same track, he could be the difference-maker for Oakland's chances.

Top prospect: Chris Carter, who can play outfield or first base. His first taste of the majors late last season was bad -- as in, .186/.256/.329 bad. But he's only 24, he has great power potential and his time is coming.

For the season to be successful: There's no reason the A's shouldn't be playing with a postseason berth in mind this year.

Los Angeles Angels

2010 record: 80-82
Finish: Third place
Manager: Mike Scioscia, 12th season

Spring training site: Tempe, Ariz.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 14
First full workout: Feb. 19

Key additions: Vernon Wells, Scott Downs, Hisanori Takahashi
Key losses: Hideki Matsui, Brian Fuentes, Mike Napoli, Juan Rivera, Scot Shields

Offseason grade: D

I guess we can't give the Angels an F because ... uh, they didn't burn the ballpark down? They didn't come out of the winter with a terrible team, but they did little to get better other than a head-scratching (at least financially) move for Vernon Wells. Which is a big deal on the heels of statements like the one owner Arte Moreno made to the Los Angeles Times in October: "We know where our weaknesses are, we know where we are thin, we know where we have to go to market. It's going to cost money, but our fans need to know what we're committed to winning." Most expected the Angels to have Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre on the roster right now.

The Angels hope Vernon Wells ignites the offense. (US Presswire)  
The Angels hope Vernon Wells ignites the offense. (US Presswire)  
2011 outlook: Need some luck to contend

Offense: Angels fans are left to hope that the near-universal offensive collapse of last season (example: the Angels went from first in batting with runners in scoring position in 2009 to 28th in 2010, with mostly the same personnel) doesn't repeat itself. They add Wells and get an addition of sorts with the return of Kendry Morales, who broke his leg last May 29.

Defense: Los Angeles was fair to poor defensively a year ago and is now a year older.

Pitching: The rotation is definitely the Angels' strong suit, led by AL strikeout champ Jered Weaver and 17-game winner Ervin Santana. There's a question about who will close with the departure of Fuentes, with Fernando Rodney penciled in but Scioscia is hinting that Downs or Kevin Jepsen could be options.

Intangibles: Like the A's, the Angels were struck by some back luck on the training table and the field last season, and hope to see that reverse itself.

Key player: Outfielder Torii Hunter. Hunter was arguably the only offensive player who met his potential last season. Now he's 35, and it's important to the offense for him to hold off the ravages of age one more year.

Top prospect: Outfielder Mike Trout. Arguably the best offensive prospect in the game, all eyes will be on the 19-year-old as he takes another step up the ladder after a tremendous second minor-league season. It would be a surprise to see him in Los Angeles at all this year, but he has fans excited about the future.

For the season to be successful: Offense, offense, offense. The Angels need to find the bats that disappeared last season. The rotation isn't a problem and Scioscia hopes someone steps up in the closer role. Having won five division titles the past seven years, the team is used to playing in October. Failing to do so would be considered a bummer, unless the club wins 90-plus games and gets beat out for a postseason berth.

Seattle Mariners

2010 record: 61-101
Finish: Fourth place
Manager: Eric Wedge, first season

Spring training site: Peoria, Ariz.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 14
First full workout: Feb. 19

Key additions: Jack Cust, Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo
Key losses: Jose Lopez, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Rob Johnson

Offseason grade: C-

Felix Hernandez led the majors with a 2.27 ERA last season. (US Presswire)  
Felix Hernandez led the majors with a 2.27 ERA last season. (US Presswire)  
General manager Jack Zduriencik was pretty much hamstrung by the salary obligations he took on the previous winter, when everyone declared him the winter's winner. But now the Mariners have far too much payroll invested in a handful of players: Ichiro Suzuki ($17 million), Milton Bradley ($12 million), Felix Hernandez ($10 million) and Chone Figgins ($9 million). When four guys are due $48 million, you go shopping for players like Cust and Olivo instead of difference-makers.

2011 outlook: Not so hot

Offense: The Mariners made history in 2010, but not in a good way, as their 513 runs scored were the fewest by any team since the advent of the DH. Cust was their biggest offensive addition, but he's hardly enough to make the difference. They're going to need some players to bounce up or bounce back in a big way.

Defense: Zduriencik put a premium on defense prior to last season, and they have good fielding that only gets better with the addition of Ryan (and the subtraction of Lopez).

Pitching: Hernandez and some other guys. The reigning Cy Young winner will again be a joy to watch every fifth day, with Jason Vargas the likely No. 2 off a strong 2010. Doug Fister, David Pauley and Luke French have shown varying degrees of promise, and we might even find out whether the Mariners will finally get something out of their investment in Erik Bedard. David Aardsma and Brandon League lead a decent bullpen.

Intangibles: The Seattle clubhouse was by all accounts a pretty poisonous place last season, with the tension of unmet expectations leading to the abrupt retirement of Ken Griffey Jr. and the midseason firing of manager Don Wakamatsu. Hopefully Wedge can help affect a culture change.

Key player: First baseman Justin Smoak. The key player the Mariners got back for Cliff Lee was a huge flop, sent down after batting a nightmarish .159/.169/.270 in his first 16 games as a Mariner. He played a lot better after being called back up in September, and the scouts still say he has the potential to break out, so this could be a make-or-break season for him.

Top prospect: Second baseman Dustin Ackley. The No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft had a solid minor-league season and a good showing in the Arizona Fall League. He probably won't make the opening day roster, but we should see the 23-year-old at some point in 2011.

For the season to be successful: This season is about riding out Bradley's bad contract, making incremental progress and making good decisions on personnel at the big-league level and organizationally. Seattle fans are frustrated and want to see signs things are at least moving in the right direction.

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