2009 MLB Preview: American League West

Seeing as how tonight is Opening Night, I guess it’s pretty important that I spring through the remaining previews.

Luckily, the AL West only has four teams, and only three of them have experienced any intriguing offseason changes.

We’ll start with last year’s division champs:

angels

The Angels had the best regular season in franchise history a year ago, finishing with a 100-62 record and looking in the eyes of many like the favorites to represent the American League in the World Series.

Then they encountered the Boston Red Sox in October, and it was the same old story.

They’ll look to repeat their success from last season in 2009 — October chorus notwithstanding — but will have to do so without two huge contributors to last year’s team in closer Francisco Rodriguez and first baseman Mark Teixeira, both of whom fled to the Big Apple.

In an effort to replace Teixeira, the Angels signed ex-Yankee Bobby Abreu to a one-year, $5 million deal. He’ll be plugged into left field, replacing Gary Matthews Jr., who’s not exactly pleased with the decision. Teixeira’s departure will also open up the chanbase. Kendry Morales to play every day at first base. We’ll see how that goes.

As far as K-Rod goes, the dropoff between he and new closer Brian Fuentes is insignificant. Major League executives actually played it smart with Rodriguez, who had been talking about getting top-of-the-line starter’s money to close for another team in free agency. Apparently, Rodriguez subscribes to the theory that saves are a meaningful stat. Amazingly, it looked like just about every Major League general manager has stopped buying into that line and instead looked at his peripherals before declining to pay a pitcher in steady decline tens of millions of dollars to pitch one inning at a time and disappear in big games. (Though eventually the Mets, already familiar with this model, caved in and paid him well under what Rodriguez had determined was his market value.)

Fuentes’ numbers a year ago were very similar to K-Rod’s, and he comes as a comparative bargain at two years for $17.5 million, or $20 million less for one fewer year than Rodriguez.

Lost in the hubbub about K-Rod is the fact that, for the first time in his career, Garret Anderson will play for a team other than the Angels this year. The steady hitting left fielder, who saw a lot of time at DH last year, moved on and signed with the Atlanta Braves, where he’ll likely resume manning left field on a daily basis. Jon Garland’s departure was more justifiably met with general indifference following his one season in Anaheim, when he posted a 14-8 record in spite of an ERA around 5.

The pieces remain in place for the Angels to contend for another AL West title, but already, health looks like it could be a factor. John Lackey and Ervin Santana will both begin the year on the disabled list with arm trouble, and it was recently announced that Joe Saunders may have some outside help in his regression to the mean. The opening day starter is currently going through a dead arm period, which is always a promising sign.

KEY ADDS: Bobby Abreu, OF; Brian Fuentes, RP
KEY LOSSES: Mark Teixeira, 1B; Francisco Rodriguez, RP; Jon Garland, SP; Garret Anderson, OF

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP:
1.) Chone Figgins, 3B
2.) Howie Kendrick, 2B
3.) Bobby Abreu, LF
4.) Vladimir Guerrero, RF
5.) Torii Hunter, CF
6.) Juan Rivera, DH
7.) Mike Napoli, C
8.) Kendry Morales, 1B
9.) Erick Aybar, SS

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
1.) John Lackey, RHP (DL)
2.) Ervin Santana, RHP (DL)
3.) Joe Saunders, LHP
4.) Jered Weaver, RHP
5.) Dustin Moseley, RHP
Key Relievers: Jose Arredondo, RHP; Scot Shields, RHP; Darren Oliver, LHP; Justin Speier, RHP
Closer: Brian Fuentes, LHP

rangersWon’t win, can’t pitch, let’s move on, shall we?

(Seriously, what storylines are there for this team? Can Elvis Andrus live up to the hype and be the worst hitting regular in the big leagues? Is Andruw Jones this year’s Josh Hamilton? [And that’s if lard addiction even counts as a sickness.] Which young backstop will emerge as the winner of Survivor: Arlington? Who cares?)

KEY ADDS: Andruw Jones, OF; Anna Benson’s Husband, SP
KEY LOSSES: Gerald Laird, C; Ramon Vazquez, IF; Jamey Wright, RP

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP:
1.) Ian Kinsler, 2B
2.) Michael Young, 3B
3.) Josh Hamilton, CF
4.) Chris Davis, 1B
5.) David Murphy, LF
6.) Hank Blalock, DH
7.) Nelson Cruz, RF
8.) Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
9.) Elvis Andrus, SS

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
1.) Kevin Millwod, RHP
2.) Vicente Padilla, RHP
3.) Kris Benson, RHP
4.) Brandon McCarthy, RHP
5.) Matt Harrison, LHP
Key Relievers: C.J. Wilson, LHP; Joaquin Benoit, RHP, Eddie Guardado, LHP
Closer: Frank Francisco, RHP

oakland

Frankly, I could probably use the “can’t pitch, no chance” argument here, as well. But Billy Beane was kind enough as to go out and vastly improve the offense that was really the weak point of this team a year ago. Of course, to do this, he moved several pitchers. But really, who had ever heard of Greg Smith before last season? Amirite?

Now, I’m doing this from the top of my head, but I believe the cleanup hitter for Oakland when they opened the season in Japan a year ago was a fellow by the name of Daric Barton, their rookie first baseman. This is pretty much all you need to know about last year’s A’s offense.

This year, their opening day first baseman will be, admittedly, the remains of Jason Giambi. He could conceivably be the  #4 hitter. The other option, of course, is Matt Holliday, one of the best hitters in the league.

Choices, choices. Also added to the roster of the Oakland Athletics in the offseason were Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra. Beane exploited the down market to lock these players up on short, inexpensive deals, and it suddenly turned Oakland from a mediocre team to one that could make some noise in the AL West.

Still, it will come down to pitching. And even though the A’s play in a very pitcher-friendly ballpark — the more forgiving venue makes them a more intriguing pick non-Angels in the AL West than the Rangers, in my opinion — the Coliseum can only do so much.

The onus will therefore be on Justin Duchscherer — when healthy — as well as Dana Eveland, Dallas Braden, Sean Gallagher, and rookies Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill to make the production of the new offense stand up. Anderson and Cahill are both highly-touted pitching prospects, but whether they’ll be able to live up to the hype immediately may determine how far this team goes.

The bullpen has also seen a dropoff from 2008 with the losses of Huston Street and Alan Embree and the uncertain injury situation of Joey Devine. Russ Springer and Michael Wuertz have been brought in to alleviate some of the additional pressure that will be put on holdovers Brad Ziegler — now the likely closer — and Santiago Casilla.

KEY ADDS: Matt Holliday, OF; Jason Giambi, 1B; Orlando Cabrera, SS; Nomar Garciaparra, IF; Russ Springer, RP; Michael Wuertz, RP
KEY LOSSES: Huston Street, RP; Greg Smith, SP; Carlos Gonzalez, OF; Emil Brown, OF; Alan Embree, RP; Andrew Brown, RP; Keith Foulke, RP

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP:
1.) Ryan Sweeney, CF
2.) Orlando Cabrera, SS
3.) Jason Giambi, 1B
4.) Matt Holliday, LF
5.) Jack Cust, DH
6.) Eric Chavez, 3B
7.) Kurt Suzuki, C
8.) Mark Ellis, 2B
9.) Travis Buck, RF

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
1.) Dallas Braden, LHP
2.) Sean Gallagher, RHP
3.) Dana Eveland, LHP
4.) Brett Anderson, LHP
5.) Trevor Cahill, RHP
Key Relievers: Santiago Casilla, RHP; Russ Springer, RHP; Michael Wuertz, RHP
Closer: Brad Ziegler, RHP

mariners

This is the other team that made me look like a complete fool when I made my picks for the ’08 season. As you can read here, I’m still not quite over the Tigers royally fucking me over. And don’t get me wrong, I was pretty pissed off about my projected 2008 Wild Card champions embarrassing themselves to the degree that they embarrassed themselves a year ago.

But how can you stay mad at the M’s when they go out and replace their most productive power hitter with The Kid? I’ve always said the greatest intangible of them all is nostalgia. I’d imagine that if Junior, age 39, discovers the fountain of youth at his former home, that it’ll only be a matter of time before the Pete O’Briens and Alvin Davises of the world begin sitting by their phones waiting for a call, with all due respect to new signing Russell Branyan.

J.J. Putz has also been replaced, as Brandon Morrow has decided to make his own rules and will be the team’s new closer. Who are they to argue?

Okay, maybe there’s still some bitterness there.

KEY ADDS: Ken Griffey Jr., OF; David Aardsma, RP; Russell Branyan, 1B; Franklin Gutierrez, OF; Endy Chavez, OF
KEY LOSSES: Raul Ibanez, OF; J.J. Putz, RP; Jeremy Reed, OF; Sean Green, RP; Arthur Rhodes, RP; R.A. Dickey, P

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP:
1.) Endy Chavez, LF
2.) Jose Lopez, 2B
3.) Adrian Beltre, 3B
4.) Russell Branyan, 1B
5.) Ken Griffey Jr., DH
6.) Franklin Gutierrez, CF
7.) Wladimir Balentien, RF
8.) Kenji Johjima, C
9.) Yuniesky Betancourt, SS

I’m guessing I have this thing completely fouled up. Anyway, when Ichiro comes back, Endy probably goes to the bench. Ichiro should probably bat third, but he won’t. What an awful lineup this is without Ichiro. Well, it’s pretty bad with him, too.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
1.) Felix Hernandez, RHP
2.) Erik Bedard, LHP
3.) Carlos Silva, RHP
4.) Jarrod Washburn, LHP
5.) Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP
Key Relievers: David Aardsma, RHP; Mark Lowe, RHP; Miguel Batista, RHP
Closer: Brandon Morrow, RHP

Their strong bullpen has been decimated, but maybe Bedard could help out by actually pitching a reasonable number of innings this year.

Logo photos courtesy of sportslogos.net.

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