2011 AL West Preview-Who had the best Offseason?
Before we can look forward to the 2011 American League West season we need to look back at the offseason and see how well each team did to improve their rosters. Of the four teams in the AL West, the Oakland A’s, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, and Texas Rangers, only one team had what I would consider a successful offseason.
The Oakland A’s had the busiest and best offseason of the four AL West franchises. General Manager Billy Beane and the A’s were very aggressive this offseason and they reaped the benefits. Oakland addressed their biggest team weakness, offense, by adding a solid DH in Hideki Matsui, and Josh Willingham and David DeJesus to their outfield. Oakland also added depth to their starting rotation by bringing in Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy to compete for the fifth starter spot. The A’s already strong bullpen got even better with the additions of Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour.
The Texas Rangers offseason got off to a rough start when Cliff Lee decided to pack his bags and return to Philadelphia. Losing Lee leaves Texas without a true ace starter and places more of a burden on C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. The Rangers were able to sign Adrian Beltre but his numbers seem to balance out what they lost by not resigning Vladimir Guerrero.
The Angels offseason was disappointing to say the least. LA lost out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre and wound up making a trade for Vernon Wells. Wells could have a great year for the Angels but I doubt he will be worth the $86 million he is owed over the next four years.
The Seattle Mariners big offseason move was signing Jack Cust. Enough said.
Which AL West Team has the Best Pitching?
As the San Francisco Giants proved last year, pitching wins championships. So, here is my ranking of the starting rotations in the AL West.
1. Oakland Athletics
Not only do the A’s have the best starting rotation in the AL West, they are right up there with the Red Sox for best in the American League. The A’s starters last year led the major leagues in quality starts with 103. Trevor Cahill (2.97 ERA), Gio Gonzalez (3.23 ), and Dallas Braden (3.50), all finished in the top 15 in ERA in the American League last year. Brett Anderson missed some time due to injury last year, but he looked good when he did start posting an ERA of 2.80 in 112.1 innings. I really like Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson as dark horses for the 2011 Cy Young Award. The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs this spring with Rich Harden, Brandon McCarthy, and Josh Outman all in the running. The A’s bullpen with Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow, Brad Ziegler, and new additions Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour should be outstanding this year.
2. Los Angeles Angels
Jered Weaver was one of the top pitchers in all of baseball in 2010. Weaver finished 3rd in the AL in WHIP, 5th in ERA , and led the Major Leagues with 233 strike outs. Dan Haren is an outstanding number 2 compiling six straight seasons of at least 33 starts and 200 innings, with a career ERA of 3.66. Ervin Santana has great stuff and if he can cut down on the walks this year he could put together a great season. The big question mark for this staff is Scott Kazmir. Last season Kazmir looked awful going 9-15 with an ERA of 5.94. If Kazmir can return to his old form he would be the best number 4 starter in the game.
3. Texas Rangers
The Rangers may have lost out on Cliff Lee, but they still have a couple of solid starters in C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. Texas also added Brandon Webb in hopes that he can make a comeback this year and get back to the stuff that won him the Cy Young in 2006. The Rangers bullpen could be great this year with Alexi Ogando (1.30 ERA), Darren O’Day (2.03), and Darren Oliver (2.48) all returning after stellar seasons last year. Closer Neftali Feliz had 40 saves last year as a 22 year old rookie.
4. Seattle Mariners
Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young in 2010 after leading the league with a 2.27 ERA and finishing second in strikeouts with 232. Unfortuantely for Hernandez he had the worst run support in the league at only 3.75 runs per game and finished with a record of 13-12. Doug Fister and Jason Vargas pitched pretty well last year, but they don’t exactly strike fear in the heart of their opponents. David Aardsma has been solid since becoming Seattle’s closer with 38 saves in 2009 and 31 saves last year.
Which AL West Team has the Best Offense?
1. Texas Rangers
The Rangers line up is by far the best in the AL West. When you can trot out a line up that has Elvis Andrus, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler you are going to score some runs. Hamilton was a beast last year leading the AL in hitting with a batting average of .359 to go along with 32 home runs. Texas lead the league last year with a team batting average of .276, and they have the players to continue that success. The Rangers hit for both average and power, and they can also steal some bases with Andrus, Cruz, Kinsler, and Julio Borbon. I see a huge year out of Nelson Cruz in 2011.
2. Oakland A’s
I could be wrong, but I think the A’s have a slight advantage offensively over the Angels this year, so I am ranking them second in the AL West. A key to the A’s success this year will be the health of Coco Crisp and David DeJesus at the top of the lineup. DeJesus was hitting .318 for the Royals through 91 games before getting injured last year. Crisp only played in 75 games last year because of various injuries, but when he was in his .279 average and 32 steals in 35 attempts were huge for the A’s. The additions of Willingham and Matsui give the A’s a little more pop this year, and Daric Barton returns after a year in which he lead the American League in walks (110) and finished 5th in the league in on base percentage (.393).
3. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels ranked 27th in the league in on base percentage last year at .311, and their top performer in that category, Hideki Matsui (.361), is now with Oakland. The newest Angel, Vernon Wells, is coming off a great season with a .273 batting average and 31 home runs. However, for a right handed hitter Wells struggled mightily against left handed pitching hitting only .195 last year. The Angels offense took a huge hit last season when Kendry Morales injured himself during a home run celebration. If Morales can avoid injuries and Wells puts together another big year the Angels could make a run this year.
4. Seattle Mariners
Seattle’s offense was bad last year, and they didn’t do much in the offseason to improve it. The Mariners still have Ichiro Suzuki who will look to hit over .300 for the eleventh season in a row. Outside of Ichiro the Mariners don’t have a great hitter. To put into perspective just how anemic their offense was you can take a look at their RBI leader, Franklin Gutierrez. Gutierrez’s 64 RBI led Seattle but was only good enough to be tied for 110th in the Major Leagues in that category. The addition of Jack Cust gives the Mariners a player with a high on base percentage, but they just don’t have enough bats to put up runs consistently.
2011 AL West Prediction
I think the 2011 AL West is going to be a three horse race between the Angels, Rangers, and A’s. The 2011 version of the Oakland A’s reminds me a lot of the defending champion San Francisco Giants with their outstanding pitching, so I am picking Oakland to win the division. I think the Mariners will be the only team out of contention early on and they may be one of the few sellers around the trading deadline. The race for the AL West title should come down to the wire, and you can expect the division games in September to decide who wins and moves on to the playoffs.
1. A’s 88-74
2. Rangers 86-76
3. Angels 78-84
4. Mariners 60-102