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Digging Up the AL West

When I was younger, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. Just completely enamored with them. Their magnificent sizes (really small to really tall), creepy scales, weaponry tails and tongue-twisting names captivated me. It seemed like I knew everything there was to know about roughly 90 percent of all pre-historic creatures, land and sea. In reality, the percentage was probably a lot closer to three percent.

What fascinated me the most though, was the process of digging up bones. I wanted nothing more than to be a paleontologist or an archeologist. That’s right. I wanted to be a Ross Geller. Over the years that aspiration began to fade, as I figured out how much schooling the job would require and how little I would likely actually dig-up.

Still the dream of discovery and exploration emerges from time to time. So let’s take that theme and run with it, taking an exploratory journey beneath the surface of the AL West.

The objective? Discovering our 2010 AL WEST winner.

This is going to happen. I feel good about it.

STEP 1: RESEARCHING OUR DIG SITE

In a nutshell, here’s what we historically know about each of our four teams:

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Good hitting. Great pitching. Coaching staff which knows how to win. Perennial division champs. Pick against them at your own peril.

Texas Rangers: Great hitting. No Pitching. Underrated manager (Ron Washington) but not much else. Big time summer home-park-advantage in boiling Texas humidity, which other clubs aren’t used to playing in.

Oakland A’s: Young on both sides of the ball. Frugal. Not afraid to make a mid-season move, though of late, that move has typically been a dump. Above average pitching. As close to zero hitting as you can get. Egotistical general manager (Billy Beane).

Seattle Mariners: Cornucopia of overpaid players. Bad pitching. Lackluster offense once you get past their leadoff hitter.

STEP 2: GATHERING THE NEW TOOLS

Teams spent the off-season bolstering their arsenal. Knowing who-did-what will be a key element in finding our potential winner.

Angels: The Halos didn’t really gain any noticeable new parts. (I can’t bear counting Fernando Rodney as a meaningful addition.) But they sure lost a few. We’ll get to that later.

Vladimir Guerrero: It only SEEMS like his bones are fossilizing.

Rangers: Added Angels long-time great, Vladimir Guerrero (who may seem old enough to be fossilized, but I have received assurance that he is not), but how much does he have left in the tank? Texas also added oft-injured starting pitcher, Rich Harden. Young hurlers Neftali Feliz and Derrek Holland also seems primed to see significant playing time.

A’s: Their biggest addition? Ben Sheets. Which could be huge, only the gamble can’t be denied, as Sheets hasn’t pitched in a regular season game since 2008. Rookie outfielder Michael Taylor could make a difference, but counting on a rookie isn’t exactly the best of plans. Outside of those two, the A’s brought in former San Diego Padres third baseman, Kevin Kouzmanoff. Eric Chavez, consider yourself replaced.

Should we consider Coco Crisp an addition? Yeah. I guess by nature of the definition, we have to do that.

Rats.

Mariners: Former Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee anyone? And how about infielder Chone Figgins? Think those two might help? Count first baseman Casey Kotchman and outfielders Eric Byrnes and Milton Bradley, among the new faces as well. The M’s find themselves with a formidable bunch of new toys.

Solid additions by Seattle.

Of all the clubs out west, the Mariners definitely added the most difference makers to their team.

STEP 3: DUSTING THE OUTER LAYERS

Changing the identity of your club doesn’t just mean adding new pieces. To do so, a team must often scrape off layers which can be spared without affecting the product as a whole.

So which teams lost players they could afford to without harming productivity and which ones lost too much?

Let’s investigate…

Angels: Lost ace John Lackey. Uh-oh, not a good start. Lead-off hitter Chone Figgins? Also gone. Solid starting pitcher/ newly minted reliever Kelvim Escobar? Now calling New York his home.

L.A. also bid farewell to resident hero, Bad Vlad, but the jury is out on whether that move was addition by subtraction. Vlad just isn’t as good as he once was. The question is more importantly: is he still good enough that the Angels will miss him?

Time will tell.

Rangers: Kevin Millwood is no more. Shouldn’t matter too much, as he was a lifetime of letdown. Milli Vanilli was the only major loss Texas felt, if he can even be called a major loss.

I’m not sure. So let’s go with, no.

A’s: Well they technically lost Eric Chavez, since they finally manned up and replaced him at third. They also lost former, “Oh, hey, look! They actually gave me the Rookie of the Year for hitting .250! SCORE!!!” shortstop Bobby Crosby. Again though, not sure how that’s a bad thing.

The A’s managed to keep everyone intact who mattered. But is it a good thing when that core finished third last year?

Crap.

Mariners: Russell “actually more productive than Martin” Branyan, is now in Cleveland. But, he was a major flash-in-the-pan type. Third baseman Adrian Beltre is in Beantown, playing for clam chowder. In his stead is Figgins. Sometimes DH Mike Sweeney, is technically still in town – as he accepted a minor league deal this winter – but there’s virtually no chance he makes the club out of camp. Count him good as gone. Fourth outfielder Endy Chavez has also moved onto greener pastures. Or at least, someone else’s pasture.

Oh and I nearly forgot. Worst Catcher Ever Kenji Johjima decided to take his cup and go home. Japan is ticked. They thought they had rid themselves of Johjima years ago! They can’t shake the guy!

STEP 4: “TERRANCE, COME LOOK… WHAT IS THAT? I THINK I’VE FOUND SOMETHING!”

You want to make it to October in today’s game? Outside of simply signing new players and letting a few spare parts fly south for the winter, you’d better strike it rich with a some un-tilled soil. Break out your best fertilizer and hope for the best.

Ok Brandon Wood, it's your time. Will you take a page from the Goonies' book? Find the gold Brandon, find the gold.

Angels: Brandon Wood: “Don’t you realize? The next time you see sky, it’ll be over another town. The next time you take a swing, it’ll be in some other batter’s box. Your coaches want the best of stuff for you. But right now, they got to do what’s right for them. Because it’s their time. THEIR TIME! UP THERE! Down here, it’s your time. It’s your time, DOWN HERE. That’s all over the second you ride up Tony’s bucket.”

All that said… seriously, Brandon Wood, it really is your time. Sink. Or. Swim.

I’m not so optimistic of your chances.

Rangers: It’s Neftali or bust in Texas. Though soon, they may be mining Justin Smoak shaped diamonds.

A’s: Pick a pitcher, any pitcher. But I’d go with Brett Anderson. The lefty’s got game. Oakland really is pinning just as much 2010 hope on Trevor Cahill, first baseman Chris Carter and even potentially, outfielder Michael Taylor though. The youth movement is ON.

Mariners: The great thing about this M’s team is they aren’t pinning too much on any one undeveloped youngster. I guess at Arenas-point (gun-point) I’d say Franklin Gutierrez, but really, he’s just a role player. If he strikes it rich, FREAKING GREAT. If not, it won’t matter. But he’s a pretty good, young luxury to have. Decent upside, where the M’s don’t even need it.

Noticing a theme here yet?

You know, other than my weird digging-dino-bones one.

At least I didn’t go with my other youth fad, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Though I guess I can’t completely pass that one off as a “fad” since I was given a “Turtley Awesome!” t-shirt several weeks ago and it immediately cracked the rotation. Top-5 BABY! Heck it’s a solid No. 2 starter. Completely dependable.

Also, I purchased the Ninja Turtles arcade style video game for XBOX 360 for about 350 points. That’s like $2.50. Worth every penny.

Splinter would be proud.

STEP 5: WE HAVE THE BONES, NOW WHAT DO THEY MAKE?

Angels: They’ve been there before. They seemingly always find a way to end up in first when it matters. October. But did they lose too many pieces this year? Can Kendry Morales, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Brandon Wood and company actually win this year? Can Scott Kazmir regain his form? Even if he can, will it matter? Bet you didn’t know his career ERA is 3.83 in six years. Not as much promise as you might think.

Their upside is first, but their cellar is, well, actually the cellar.

Rangers: If Ian Kinsler hits for a better average, Josh Hamilton stays on the field, Rich Harden stays off the DL and actually produces this go-around, Neftali Feliz and Derrek Holland pitch beyond their years and sunshine shoots out of Nolan Ryan’s nostrils; yeah, maybe Texas puts it all together.

But I seriously doubt it.

A’s: Definitely moving in the right direction. Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill could both be great, THIS year. Ben Sheets is a $10-million wildcard, and the offense still needs a lot of help.

You can’t feel comfortable picking these guys this year, but perhaps with Kurt Suzuki’s dreamy looks, they can over-achieve their way into second place.

Mariners: Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee are both legitimate No. 1 starters. Eric Bedard, armed with a one-year deal and hopefully back by June, finally won’t be leaned on for big-time innings (which he’s never been able to give). He can throw his 100 pitches through five innings all he wants and with Hernandez and Lee eating up big innings, the pen won’t be taxed. Bedard (assuming he ends the year healthy) fits this Mariners team better than any he’s every played for.

Figgins, Ichiro and Gutierrez should give the M’s all the offense they need. No they won’t hit home runs, but with their pitching, in the AL West, they won’t have to. The Milton Bradley/Eric Byrnes left field combo shouldn’t be terrible either. No, it’s not 2002 anymore, but this duo won’t have to hit like it is to help the club.

What say you Seattle? Is the 2010 division title within your grasp?

STEP 6: THE MASTERPIECE IS COMPLETE

Since L.A. took a giant leap backwards and Seattle and Oakland both are taken steps forward, this could be a wacky year out west. But someone has to win it.

Here’s how things will pan out.

Worst to first.

It’s GO-TIME.

4.) Texas Rangers

3.) Oakland A’s

2.) L.A. Angels

1.) Seattle Mariners

Did you read that right Seattle fans?

Wipe the sleep from your eyes, I JUST PICKED YOU.

Crazier things have happened, but this is a big day for you. Enjoy yourselves. And enjoy the season. Barring major injuries, it’s going to be a great one.

I can guarantee you that it means several more trips to Safeco than I usually take. It’s going to be a fun season to be a Mariners fan. And for the Pacific Northwest, it’s ABOUT TIME.

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