Home MLB 2011 MLB Preview: American League West

2011 MLB Preview: American League West

by Matt Smith

MlbHlSqThe American League West may have lost one of the best pitchers in the Majors over the offseason, but there is plenty of talent left in the division.

2010 final standings

1. Texas Rangers (90-72)
2. Oakland Athletics (81-81)
3. Los Angeles Angels (80-82)
4. Seattle Mariners (61-101)

The 2010/11 Offseason

Despite their best efforts, the Texas Rangers were unable to keep starting pitcher Cliff Lee in the AL West when he became a free agent.  Lee was traded by the Philadelphia Phillies to the Seattle Mariners during the 2009/10 offseason, before the M’s traded him on to their division rivals midway through the 2010 season.  Lee decided to complete the circle by heading back to Philadelphia over the offseason, so the Rangers took their money and spent it on another former Mariner: third baseman Adrian Beltre, who played for the Red Sox in 2010.

That was bad news for the Angels.  They lost their number one offseason target when Carl Crawford joined the Red Sox and Beltre was widely considered to be their back-up option before the Rangers swooped in and took him off the market.  The Angels reacted by trading for the Blue Jays’ outfielder Vernon Wells, taking on all but $5m of the $86m due over the remaining four years on his contract.  They’ve acquired a good player in Wells, but it was strange to see them miss out on their primary targets due to refusing to match rival offers, only to take on what was considered an almost unmovable contract. 

The Oakland A’s also had to deal with the disappointment of missing out on a main target when they failed to come to terms on a contract with Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.  However, they went back to work and spent the money in different ways.  Firstly they strengthened the offence by signing former Angel Hideki Matsui as a free agent and trading for outfielders David DeJesus and Josh Willingham.  Then they added to the bullpen by signing free agents Grant Balfour and another former Angel in Brian Fuentes.

In contrast to one year ago, it was a quiet offseason in Seattle.  There was no big trade for a leading pitcher, just a few minor pick-ups such as acquiring former A’s bopper Jack Cust and catcher Miguel Olivo (who was signed as an amateur free agent by the A’s back in 1996).

Returning stars

The Rangers’ offence looks set to put plenty of runs on the board again this year.  Beltre will join reigning Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler in a group that should hit plenty of homers, while Michael Young will serve as an unconventional designated hitter and infield sub.  There was much discussion on whether the reigning AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz would remain as the team’s closer or move into the starting rotation and it was confirmed on Thursday that he will continue as the closer for the time being.  The Rangers couldn’t lose either way with a talent like Feliz.

When it comes to pitching, the Angels can match-up well with most in the Majors.  It’s easy to forget after a disappointing offseason that the Angels acquired a genuine ace in Dan Haren at the end of July last year.  He’ll form part of an impressive rotation alongside Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro, while they should get plenty of support in the outfield with Wells, Torii Hunter and young speedster Peter Bourjos covering plenty of ground.  However, the Angels did receive some bad news recently when they learned that first baseman Kendrys Morales will start the season on the Disabled List as he hasn’t yet regained full fitness since breaking his leg while celebrating a walk-off home run on 29 May last year.

The division’s pitching depth continues in Oakland where starters Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and perfect-game-pitcher Dallas Braden form an exciting group of hurlers.  The question is whether the offence can provide enough run support to push the team on from their .500 finish in 2010.  Matsui and Willingham should add some power and a healthy Coco Crisp will give the team a sparkplug at the top of the lineup.

As for the Mariners, they are rightly proud to field reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez and the great Ichiro Suzuki in right-field.  The rest of the roster are a mixed bag, but that could create some surprisingly positive stories as the season unfolds.  Chone Figgins had a poor first year in Seattle and will be determined to show that 2010 was just an off-year, first baseman Justin Smoak will be out to show why he was the deal-breaker for the M’s when they traded Cliff Lee to the Rangers, and there is plenty of excitement surrounding 22 year old starting pitcher Michael Pineda.


It’s a relatively settled picture in the West.  Mike Scioscia is entering his twelfth year as manager of the Angels, while Bob Geren and Ron Washington both have four years of experience managing the A’s and Rangers respectively.  The newcomer is Eric Wedge and he is not new to managing in the Majors.  He spent seven years as manager of the Cleveland Indians and after one year out of the game returns to the hot seat with the Mariners.


Should be: Rangers

Could be: A’s, Angels

Won’t be: Mariners

The Rangers have the all-round talent to stay ahead of the pack, but both the A’s and Angels could push them all the way.

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