UCB Project: American League West

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network-wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I’m going to skip that this week as I head around baseball. I’ve already done the AL East and Central, tonight is the AL West.

Last season, despite the Angels’ best attempts to close the gap with their acquisition of Dan Haren, the Texas Rangers were uncatchable. Then, on the arm of Cliff Lee and the bat of Josh Hamilton, the Rangers became the first team since the 2002 Anaheim Angels to make the playoffs while coming out of the American League West.

4. Seattle Mariners (66-96)
It will be little improvement for the Mariners this season. Last year the team’s offense was horrible and they didn’t really make any moves in the offseason to directly address that issue. Their best offensive improvement was the addition of Jack Cust as their designated hitter, but even Cust is coming off a lack luster year. Their defense improved with the addition of former Cardinals’ short stop Brendan Ryan, who was just named the starting short stop this week.

For the Mariners to exceed expectations, they are going to need performance from their starting pitching behind Felix Hernandez, though there are even rumors that the Yankees are making a big play to trade for Hernandez. Erik Bedard will need some return to form behind Hernandez and on the offensive side of the ball, Chone Figgins is going to need to return to the player that the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him to a big deal.

3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (78-84)
Ultimately the Angels will regress this season. They moved a couple pieces of their 2010 offense and didn’t bring in much to replace them. They did make a trade for the overpaid Vernon Wells. With Wells, and Torii Hunter expected to play corner outfield this season, it could make for a pretty solid defensive outfield. That should help the team’s pitching staff.

That pitching staff is pretty young with Jered Weaver sitting at the top. Each of their starting pitchers is capable of being an ace in the rotation. Their bullpen added Scott Downs, who I heavily wanted the Cardinals to pursue as their primary left handed reliever.

The team should be better off with Kendrys Morales back with the team after his freak injury last season, but I still don’t think they will be able to battle for the division.

2. Oakland Athletics (85-77)
The Athletics boasted the best team ERA in the American League last season by quite a margin. However, they were poor on offense with Kevin Kouzmanoff leading the team with just 16 home runs. However, the A’s addressed that issue in the offseason, bringing in three hitters: Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus, and Josh Willingham. They should help bring some offense to a pitching heavy team and make them one of the best teams in the American League.

Their question will be whether or not their young pitching continues to improve in 2011 or will they regress as the league catches up to them. Personally, I hope not as rotation leader Trevor Cahill is on my fantasy team and with the loss of Wainwright (who I also had), I need all the help I can get.

1. Texas Rangers (86-76)
Yes, that’s right. Only one game apart. That’s mainly because I think it’s a toss up between the two teams. The Athletics’ pitching against the Rangers’ offense. While pitching may win you championships, it’s hitting that gets you there. While the team let Vladimir Guerrero go, they did bring in Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre to help play offense. Also, Yorvit Torrealba is taking the place of Bengie Molina who took his two postseason shares and seems to be riding off into the sunset.

Unfortunately for the Rangers they were in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this offseason, despite the solid additions. Cliff Lee elected to go play for Philadelphia after helping get the Rangers to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Replacing him will be difficult. The team signed Brandon Webb, the former Arizona Diamondbacks ace who has spent more time on the disabled list than pitching the last two years. If he can get close to back to form, it will be a big boon for the Rangers who need someone to step up to fill those shoes.

The other reason is for the handling of Michael Young. Young has been the career Texas Ranger and changed position for everyone through the years. He played second while Alex Rodriguez player short stop. He took over short stop when Rodriguez left. Then he played third after the arrival of Elvis Andrus to the major leagues. With the addition of Beltre he was moving to first base, but the addition of Napoli changed that too. He is looking to be the team’s DH and spot starter in the infield. It was a role he wasn’t happy with and he requested a trade. No trade has been made, probably because Young’s salary is prohibitive.

The team will need to sort these out, otherwise they have a solid club that I still like, even without Lee in the rotation. Who will step up in the rotation to help fill the empty shoes and how will Young respond to still playing in Texas in a role he doesn’t want?