Offseason grades for the AL West
The American League West experienced a power shift in 2010, as the Texas Rangers made the playoffs for the first time in 11 years and the Los Angeles Angels finished below .500 after winning five division titles in a span of six seasons.
Could it happen again in 2011? Oakland is a trendy dark horse pick in the division, the Angels' offseason was widely panned and Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has a lot of work to do resolving this nettlesome Michael Young situation on the road from Arlington to Surprise.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners still can't hit.
How did the division's four teams fare during the offseason? Here are our AL West report cards for the winter:
The A's spent a lot of time wondering "why won't anybody take our money?'' after Lance Berkman spurned them to sign with St. Louis and Adrian Beltre passed on a five-year offer from Oakland to sign with Texas. In addition, the A's failed to reach agreement with their other prime target, right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. He elected to return to Japan.
As the winter rolled on, general manager Billy Beane and assistant GM David Forst found ways to upgrade an offense that ranked 11th in the league with 663 runs. After picking up DeJesus from Kansas City in a trade, the A's snagged Willingham in a deal with Washington and signed Matsui to be their DH.
Matsui, 36, isn't quite the force he used to be. But he still hit 21 homers and logged a .361 on-base percentage last year, and he has an .815 OPS in 136 plate appearances at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. When Vladimir Guerrero gets one year and $8 million with Baltimore, the artist formerly known as Godzilla is a reasonable sign at $4.25 million.
The A's signed Fuentes for two years and $10.5 million and landed Balfour for two years and $8.1 million. Those deals seem reasonable in light of the three-year contracts signed by setup men Rafael Soriano, Matt Guerrier, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Downs and Jesse Crain this winter. The veteran relievers fortify an already strong bullpen and help ensure that Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Oakland's young starters won't have to endure the anguish of watching their leads frittered away in the late innings.
The A's also took low-cost flyers on Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy, who'll compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. If their injury histories mean anything, they'll present a challenge for the training staff.
The Rangers did everything they could to retain Lee, only to lose out to Philadelphia in the end. Texas has the raw materials to pitch well in 2011, but C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis need to bounce back after logging more than 450 innings combined last year, and Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter and the kids will have to embrace the expectations raised by the team's deep run in 2010. The Rangers' bullpen logged an American League-high 503 2/3 innings last season, and manager Ron Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux need to coax longer outings from the rotation.
Beltre is a fine two-way player and an upgrade over Young at third base, but a guaranteed five years and $80 million were a bit extravagant after Boston and Oakland dropped out of the running and Beltre's other options were scarce. Webb also did well in landing a guaranteed $3 million deal plus $5 million in incentives after pitching a total of four innings over the past two seasons. Can the Rangers count on him for 25 or more starts this season?
Rhodes will help in the bullpen. But his workload needs to be monitored judiciously now that he's 41, and the lineups are a little tougher than what he faced in Cincinnati the past two years. Napoli, who has a .931 career OPS against lefties, will help an offense that ranked seventh in the AL in OPS against left-handers in 2010.
The Rangers' overall grade takes a hit because of the sloppy handling of the Young situation. Alienating the team pillar and clubhouse leader to the extent that he feels it necessary to pronounce himself "manipulated and misled'' in early February is not a great way to end the offseason. If the Rangers can trade Young without having to eat most of the $48 million still owed him, this grade could rise. But it's so late in the winter and the negative vibes are so pronounced, Daniels is backed into a corner. He has almost zero leverage now.
It's always dangerous to overlook the Angels as a contender in the AL West. Kendry Morales' return from a broken leg will help immensely. Any rotation with Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana at the top and Joel Pineiro in the fourth spot is going to keep the team in most games. And just because Wells is overpaid at $86 million over the next four years, that doesn't mean he's not a serviceable player.
But when the national media keeps saying that Wells, Alfonso Soriano and Barry Zito have the most "untradeable'' contracts in baseball and Angels GM Tony Reagins takes almost the entire thing off Toronto's hands, then yeah, that qualifies as a misstep. (And at the risk of dwelling on the negative, Wells has a .607 OPS in 39 career games in Anaheim and hit .201 against lefty pitching the last two seasons.)
There's more. It was apparent from the outset that Carl Crawford was an ideal fit in Anaheim and the Angels' No. 1 target, but they still allowed Boston to swoop in and spirit him away. Owner Arte Moreno left the impression that his lingering animosity toward Scott Boras kept the team from jumping in on Beltre and/or Rafael Soriano. And while Downs and Takahashi will help in the bullpen, the Angels didn't skimp on either pitcher.
It's also hard to fathom how the Angels enter this season with Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood on the third base depth chart after the team's third basemen (mainly Wood) ranked last in the majors with a .573 OPS. If there's a position crying out for a makeover in Anaheim, that's it.
Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik is Exhibit A of the hazards of placing too much faith in an offseason report card. Last winter, he was universally hailed for his wizardry in assembling a team with the pitching and defense to make a splash in the AL West. Then reporters began showing up at the Mariners' spring camp in Arizona and concluded that the Seattle lineup was a wasteland. Those suspicions were confirmed over the next six months, as the team ranked last in the majors with 513 runs.
The Mariners approached the offseason with a modest agenda. But even with the bar of expectations set low, their moves were uninspiring. They invested $7.5 million in a two-year deal for Olivo, who brings energy, some home run pop and a career .283 on-base percentage to the lineup. That's the lowest of any active player with at least 3,000 plate appearances. And Cust, the new DH, homered once every 26.8 at bats last season, compared to a homer every 14.6 ABs in 2008.
There would be some reason for hope if the Mariners had a farm system with the depth of Kansas City or even Cleveland. But other than second baseman Dustin Ackley and pitcher Michael Pineda, it's tough to find much help on the immediate horizon.
Reliever David Aardsma, one of Seattle's best trade chips, underwent hip surgery in January. That didn't help Zduriencik's efforts to show some creativity and add another useful piece or two.