Breaking down each team in the AL West heading into the offseason. Teams are listed in order of 2009 finish. Check out the other division previews here:
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PENDING FREE AGENTS: SP John Lackey, 3B/UT Chone Figgins, DH Vladimir Guerrero, RP Darren Oliver, SP Shane Loux, 1B/3B Robb Quinlan, RP Kelvim Escobar.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: None.
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: 3B/SS Brandon Wood, 3B Freddy Sandoval, RP Rich Thompson, LF Chris Pettit.
BUILDING FOR: That elusive pennant.
BIGGEST HOLES: Bullpen, DH.
TARGETS: Lackey, DH Hideki Matsui, DH Jim Thome, RP Billy Wagner, RP Mike Gonzalez, RP Kiko Calero, RP Chan Ho Park, RP Takashi Saito, Oliver.
BREAKDOWN: The Angels entered the offseason facing free agency from five major contributors to their AL West-winning team: Lackey, Figgins, Guerrero, Oliver and RF Bobby Abreu. Abreu re-signed almost instantly, agreeing to a two-year deal worth $19 million, thus setting the price for comparable players such as Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Matsui and Guerrero while robbing the teams chasing Matt Holliday and Jason Bay of a solid and affordable Plan B. Of the remaining four free agent Angels, Lackey is the one the team should make the greatest effort to keep. Figgins can be replaced by Wood or Sandoval and is likely to be overvalued on the open market, Oliver is 39 and can be easily replaced by the available free agents, and Guerrero is aging rapidly and coming off his least productive full season in the majors, one in which he stayed healthy for just 100 games. Lackey has proven a bit fragile himself over the past two years, failing to make 30 starts in either season, and isn't quite the true ace his reputation suggests, but he's still a front-of-the-rotation starter who only just turned 31 and has a 3.12 ERA in 14 postseason appearances (12 of them starts). Beyond keeping their ace, the Angels need to reinforce the bullpen and find a bat for the DH spot. Scot Shields will return from knee surgery to help out in the 'pen, but he'll merely replace Oliver, leaving the Halos in need of a lefty behind Brian Fuentes. Lefties Wagner and Gonzalez might prefer to go elsewhere to close, but with few teams looking for closers, Fuentes' grip on his job seems shaky enough to lure one of them to Anaheim.
PENDING FREE AGENTS: CF Marlon Byrd, 1B/3B Hank Blalock, OF Andruw Jones, RP Eddie Guardado, C Ivan Rodriguez, SS Omar Vizquel, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Jason Grilli.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: None.
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: SP Neftali Feliz, 1B Justin Smoak.
BUILDING FOR: A division title.
BIGGEST HOLES: DH, front of rotation, middle relief.
TARGETS: SP John Lackey, SP Ben Sheets, SP Rich Harden, DH Hideki Matsui, DH Jim Thome, DH Jermaine Dye, DH Vladimir Guerrero, RP Kiko Calero.
BREAKDOWN: Flush with young talent, the Rangers are poised to make a serious run at the Angels, who are simply trying to keep their team together. In contrast, the Rangers don't need to retain any of their pending free agents. Julio Borbon can take over for Byrd in center. Chris Davis is a younger, better version of Blalock, and Smoak is rocketing toward the majors where he will give the Rangers an even better option at first base, pushing Davis to DH. In the meantime, the Rangers still have Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz in the outfield corners and can DH David Murphy, who was more productive than Jones this past season. The Rangers also have three highly touted catching prospects in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez, and none of the departing relievers was among the team's best in 2009. Yet, while the Rangers don't have to spend a dime to hold the line, that also means they have the opportunity to take another step forward by adding a bat, a frontline starter, and perhaps some bullpen reinforcements. None of their catching prospects has hit in the majors yet, which makes a one-year deal for Bengie Molina an attractive option (that, or a cheaper deal for Gregg Zaun), and it wouldn't take much to upgrade on the league-average production Murphy would provide at DH. A short deal for a veteran bat such as Dye, Thome, Matsui or Guerrero could boost the offense at DH without blocking Smoak's progress. On the mound, Feliz just might be the ace they've long been waiting for, and he's joined by a collection of solid young arms that have already gotten their feet wet in the majors, but Feliz is just 21 and will need to be stretched out over a couple of seasons, while the other arms, led by Derek Holland, are likely to experience some growing pains. A big bid on Lackey or an incentive-based deal for Sheets or Harden could give them an ace in the meantime. Any of a number of relievers could help in the bullpen. Then again, Frank Francisco, C.J. Wilson and Darren O'Day formed a fantastic Big Three last year, and the rest of the 'pen could simply absorb the overspill from the rotation, which makes the bullpen the Rangers' lowest priority this offseason.
PENDING FREE AGENTS: 3B Adrian Beltre, SP Erik Bedard, 1B/3B Russell Branyan, DH Ken Griffey Jr., DH/PH Mike Sweeney, RP Miguel Batista, OF Endy Chavez, C Kenji Johjima (returned to Japan).
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: SS Jack Wilson ($8.4/0.6 club).
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: 1B Mike Carp, OF Michael Saunders, 3B Matt Tuiasosopo, C Adam Moore, RP Robert Manuel.
BUILDING FOR: Nothing.
BIGGEST HOLES: DH, rotation, middle relief.
BREAKDOWN: The Mariners have had winning records in two of the last three seasons, but both times they were outscored by their opponents over the course of the season. Seattle's Pythagorean records over the last three seasons have been 79-83, 67-95 and 75-87. The M's haven't scored more runs than they've allowed since 2003. This year they allowed the fewest runs in the American League, but still failed to outscore their opponents because they also scored the fewest runs in the AL. This is not a good team, it's not getting better, and no amount of offseason tinkering is going to make it a good team. For that reason, the M's should just take the first four prospects listed above, slot them into the lineup in place of Branyan, Chavez, Beltre and Johjima and see what happens. If Griffey wants to come back for another season in Seattle, they could use a DH. If not, they could get similar production out of Triple-A first baseman Bryan LaHair. Minus Jarrod Washburn and Bedard, the rotation is in need of some reinforcement, some of which may have just arrived in the form of a waiver claim on the Diamondbacks' Yusmeiro Petit. The M's hope that Brandon Morrow can contribute as well now that he's (hopefully) done being jerked between the rotation and the bullpen. King Felix, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Morrow, and Petit could form the bulk of a reasonably effective rotation for a second-division club with a good defense playing in a pitchers' park. Assuming the Mariners can work out an extension for Jack Wilson (not that doing so is a terribly good idea, but Seattle needs a shortstop and they gave up players to get Wilson), the M's might as well stand pat this winter. They have nothing to gain by doing otherwise.
PENDING FREE AGENTS: SP Justin Duchscherer, IF Adam Kennedy, IF Nomar Garciaparra, IF Bobby Crosby, SP Brett Tomko, RP Dan Giese, RHP Edgar Gonzalez.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: None.
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: OF Aaron Cunningham, RP Brad Kilby, SP Clay Mortensen, 3B Brett Wallace, 1B Tommy Everidge, 1B Chris Carter.
BUILDING FOR: Trying to consolidate their trade booty into a winning team.
BIGGEST HOLES: Third base.
TARGETS: 3B Troy Glaus, SS/3B Miguel Tejada.
BREAKDOWN: The A's have a strong bullpen and a talented assortment of young starting pitchers, but their offense is a mess. There's help on the way in the form of Wallace (acquired from the Cardinals for Matt Holliday), Carter and Cunningham (both acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren deal), but right now there's just not much there. Eric Chavez is still around, earning $12 million on the final year of his contract, but there's little hope of him actually contributing at third base, which leaves a huge hole there until Wallace's arrival. An incentive-laden deal for Glaus could fill the gap, or for old-times sake, the A's could bring back Tejada on a short-term deal and put him at the hot corner. Then again, there's a possibility that Wallace will have to move across the diamond, adding to the logjam at first base with Carter, Daric Barton and Everidge. Billy Beane has depth from which to deal there, but he might want to figure out whether or not he needs a third baseman for the long haul before he does so. In the meantime, the A's will likely continue to let the kids develop in anticipation of making a more significant move toward contention after a few more pieces fall into place.