Team: Los Angeles de Los Angeles de Anaheim
Prediction: 84-78, 1st place
Why they’ll be better: Their starting pitching depth overcomes the losses of Kelvim Escobar for the season and however long John Lackey ends up missing. Howie Kendrick has the capability to win a batting title, and while the Torii Hunter signing will backfire come 2010 and later, it is an upgrade for now. Their bullpen, led by K-Rod is still very good, if a little top-heavy.
Why they’ll be worse: The injuries to their best two pitchers will hurt if Joe Saunders, Dustin Moseley and Ervin Santana don’t perform. Their middle infield of Kendrick and Maicer Izturis/Erick Aybar could easily make too many outs at the plate and not enough in the field. Other than Vlad Guerrero, the Angels have a lot of guys who make a lot of outs.
Key Player(s): 1B Casey Kotchman – The team went out and gave a ton of money to Hunter to give Vlad some help, but he’s past his prime and I’d be surprised to see him have an All-Star caliber year. Kotchman is a terrific pure hitter but hasn’t developed the power he was expected too – the Angels need him to develop into a true middle-of-the-order threat, otherwise they’ll struggle to score runs.
Outlook: The Angels will struggle to win the 90 games most pundits have them eclipsing, but in a very weak AL West, mid-80s will be enough to get to the playoffs, where anything can happen. However, with their top prospects losing some shine and the core getting old, this may be the start of a down cycle.
Team: Oakland Athletics
Prediction: 79-83, 2nd place
Why they’ll be better: If Billy Beane decides to hang on to Joe Blanton and if Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer each throw 150 or more innings, this will actually be a above average pitching staff. The bullpen, headed by Huston Street is solid, despite what we’ve seen so far, and they could win a lot of close games. Potential stars Daric Barton and Travis Buck could break out to lead an otherwise anemic offense.
Why they’ll be worse: The offense is pretty terrible. Jack Cust won’t hit above .230 again. Barton, Buck and Carlos Gonzalez are probably at least a year away. Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby are still prominently involved, and let’s not kid ourselves, Harden’s over/under for innings is about 50.
Key Player(s): 1B Barton – If the A’s are going to contend in the next 3 years, it will be in large part because Barton develops into a superstar hitter. He has great bat control and plate discipline and should hit above .300 and on-base around .400, but if he can develop enough power to hit 20-25 HRs annually, he’ll be good enough to at least be the 2nd best player on a playoff team. Hopefully Gonzalez lives up to his billing, though I’ve never liked him much.
Outlook: The A’s are still feeling the repercussions of hitching their star to the wrong 3 wagons – those of Chavez, Crosby and Harden who were expected to be the core of a contending team right now. Their failures last year led to the worst season in the last 8 for the Billy Beane-led crew, and convinced Beane to deal ace Dan Haren in the off-season. Let’s take a trip into the way-back machine — if the A’s don’t’ choose Chavez, an utter disaster, and instead choose Tim Hudson to throw money at, they could have a rotation of Hudson, Haren, Harden, Blanton and Gaudin, certainly a playoff-caliber one, even with a shitty offense. As it stands, though, the A’s don’t have enough firepower to win a lot of games and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Team: Seattle Mariners
Prediction: 78-84, 3rd place
Why they’ll be better: Potential aces Erik Bedard and King Felix Hernandez could both pitch 200 innings for the first time in their career, giving Seattle a dominant 1-2 punch to go with a decent back end of the rotation. Their offense could continue to get hit-lucky for another year….not sure which is more unlikely.
Why they’ll be worse: The Mariners’ lineup is out-tastic, with only Ichiro a good bet to be an above-average hitter. They don’t walk nearly enough and a lot of their guys’ values, like Jose Vidro, Yuniesky Betancourt and Kenji Johjima are tied to their batting averages, a notoriously volatile stat. Put it this way – they won’t hit .287 as a team again. Their bullpen, besides the now-injured J.J. Putz is thin and filled with inconsistent arms.
Key Player(s): 1B Richie Sexson – Last year, Sexson hit .205/.295/.399, a truly horrendous season. While every indicator shows that he’s done after a slow decline, he did hit 39 HR in 2005 and 34 in 2006. If he hits like he did last year, the Mariners are in trouble, but if magically returns to 2005 form, it will offset some of the declines from other parts of the lineup.
Outlook: A lot of people have the Mariners contending based upon their performance last year and the addition of Bedard. The thing is, they weren’t an 88-win team last year – they may have won that many games, but they were actually outscored despite getting fluke years from a lot of guys. This didn’t stop management from thinking they’re a contender, as they dealt a potential superstar in Adam Jones for Bedard and continue to fuck up Brandon Morrow’s development by making him a set-up man. This is a team with disappointment written all over them, but because the division is so weak, they will probably contend again and give management incentive to mortgage the future again next season.
Team: Texas Rangers
Prediction: 73-89, 4th place
Why they’ll be better: New acquistions Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton could play full seasons (unlikely) and Hank Blalock could build upon his successful return late last season. The pitching could be slightly better than awful if Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Jason Jennings improve upon their awful 2007s.
Why they’ll be worse: Their bullpen other than C.J. Wilson and Joaquin Benoit is ass-tastic and their staff is very likely to be one of the bottom 3 in the league. The offense is missing an impact bat and has a lot of injury risks to go along with below-average players.
Key Player(s): OF Josh Hamilton – One of the best stories of last season, Hamilton returned from drug problems (Heroin! Crack!) to successfully jump from A-ball to the majors. The former #1 overall pick has all the talent in the world and at 27, could be entering his peak years as a franchise-type player.
Outlook: The Rangers have made some terrible moves the past few years, from giving away Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young for Adam Eaton, trading for Carlos Lee for no reason, dealing Alfonso Soriano for a bag of balls and other assorted garbage, giving Michael Young WAY WAY too much money, and most recently dealing Mark Teixeira for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and other prospects, a deal most people liked at the time, but I didn’t – I thought they could have done better. We’ll see how it turns out, but the fact remains the Rangers have been bad for a long stretch now, and don’t figure to be any better this year. They have very little pitching in the pipeline and are saddled with Millwood and Padilla’s big contracts. I don’t see much hope in the near future for this squad.