Sorry it's been a while, but your humble commissioner had a pretty busy work week. I know, I know... work is for suckers, but even suckers have bills to pay, right?
Today's post is my much anticipated American League West fantasy preview. This shouldn't take too long, as there are only 4 teams in the AL West, and one of them is really really terrible (can you guess who? does your person have a beard?). The AL West seems to have a new "It" team every year. For a while, the Oakland A's would lose to the Red Sox or Yankees every year in the playoffs. Then, it was the angels who would routinely get swept by the Red Sox (except for 2009 when the Yankees finally beat them). Now the division darling is Texas. The Rangers have really built themselves a nice little squad over there in Arlington, making it all the way to the World Series in 2010. So who is going to take the baton this year and run with it all the way to ultimate playoff disappointment? Let's find out!
1. Anaheim Angels
It was actually really hard to decide who will win this division, mostly because none of the teams struck me as being that much better than their division rivals. It never really came together for the Angels in 2010. Even a trade for the great Dan Haren couldn't help them escape their bad start. It just never clicked for them. I have to pick them this season simply because I think they are headed for 85-90 wins and, sadly, that will be enough to win the AL West.
Offensively, the Angels have a bit of a different look this season, although many of the core hitters in their lineup are back (and a year older, of course). Mike Napoli, Hideki Matsui and Juan Rivera are gone (two of them to division rivals), but Vernon Wells and his awful contract are in. The Wells trade may have saved the Toronto Blue Jays for year to come, but i do believe it will also help the Angels (at least in 2011). Vern did put up 30+ home runs last season, after all. His arrival shifts Torrii Hunter to right field, and allows for speedster Peter Borjous to take command in center. Not playing center field will help both Hunter and Wells stay healthier. These moves also take Bobby Abreu out of the outfield and into the DH role, which will make the Angels an infinitely better defensive team, and also keep Bobby healthier (he might be too old for it to make a difference). Jeff Mathis will replace Mike Napoli behind the dish (despite not being able to hit), but watch out for rookie Hank Conger. He'll be ready soon, and he can hit. Oh, by the way, they should have Kendry Morales healthy for the entire season, unless he breaks his hand high-fiving Howie Kendrick. The rest of the infield is nothing to write home about, so I won't even write about it here.
Pitching wise, the Angels are put together pretty well. Just having a full season of Dan Haren will help them win more games in 2011 than they did in 2010. They only had him for 14 starts last season. Jered Weaver is an ace. Even though he only had 13 wins last year, Weaver had a 3.01 ERA and averaged more than a strike out per inning. With some better luck in 2011, he could have the stuff to win 18-20 games. Does everyone know who led the angels in wins with 17 in 2010? Johan "Ervin" Santana (Look it up, that's his name). The fake Johan actually won more games than the real Johan Santana last season, and there's no reason to believe he won't put up similar numbers in 2011. Joel Pineiro battled some injuries in 2010, but was pretty solid when healthy. Scott Kazmir is only 27 years old, but his career is on the ropes. Can he punch his way back into contention, or will he be completely knocked out in 2011? It's tough to say but... yes, It was still really stupid of the Mets to trade him for Victor (not even Carlos!) Zambrano in 2004. The bullpen doesn't really have a closer, or anyone else that will make or break their season.
My prediction? 89 Wins and a division title... somehow.
Fantasy Notables: Kendry Morales, Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu (tough to tell if he had a bad year, or is done at age 37.) Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana
Fantasy Sleeper: Hammerin' Hank Conger. Jeff Mathis cannot hit. Hank Conger can. It's only a matter of time before Hank gets a shot at the big league catching job.
Fantasy Poison: If he closes, stay away from Fernando Rodney. Once he loses the job, you can feel free to pick up whoever replaces him.
2. Texas Rangers
The rangers accomplished some wonderful things in 2010. They defeated the mighty Yankees in the ALCS and came within a few games of winning the World Series. Unfortunately for them, they didn't keep Cliff Lee. In my book, this puts a damper on their playoff hopes for 2011. I think they will be in heated contention with the Angels and A's (more about them later) throughout the season but, lacking an ace, they will eventually fall short.
Offensively, the Rangers are stacked. Their lineup was already pretty intimidating last season, and they have added Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli for 2011. They have the reigning AL MVP (Josh Hamilton, in case you haven't heard) in left and 30/30 candidate (when healthy) Nelson Cruz in right. The infield is also pretty intimidating, with newly acquired Beltre at third and Ian Kinsler looking to bounce back from an injury plagued 2010 at second base. Michael Young, the epitome of a team player, shifts to DH. There, he'll be able to focus on what he truly does best, which is hitting. Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon will provide speed and defense at the either end of the lineup as well. Even if they never decide on who is going to start at 1B (Mitch Moreland or Chris Davis), they'll still be very formidable at the plate.
Pitching is where things get a little hazy for the Rangers. C.J Wilson might be the real deal, but the fact remains that just 2 years ago he was a failed closer and middle reliever. Was 2010 a fluke? I don't think so, but one never really knows. Colby Lewis came nowhere just like C.J. Wilson did last year, except his nowhere was in Japan. Did he really re-invent himself in the far East? or was 2010 a fluke for him? (That fluke helped carry my fantasy team, btw). Brandon Webb, who hasn't thrown a pitch since 2008, is set to try to take the 3rd spot in the rotation. He hasn't looked that great this spring, but he could bounce back. The addition of Cliff Lee wasn't the only injection of life the Rangers rotation received in 2010. Tommy Hunter came back from injury and went 13-4 to end the season, which helped lead them to the division title. The 5th spot will be given to either Feldman or Young southpaw Derek Holland, or maybe even reigning AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz (yeah he wants to start). If Feliz is not in the bullpen, it will suffer greatly. Their core of solid middle relievers may not be able to fill that 9th inning void.
My prediction? 88 Wins, just missing the playoffs.
Fantasy Notables: Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young (he's still got it), C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, Neftali Feliz (where depends on if he starts or closes)
Fantasy Sleeper: Derek Holland. For years, we've been hearing about Derek Holland and his pitching ability. He's a lefty, he throws in the mid 90s (sometimes touching high 90s), and he can't miss. In 2011, he'll get his chance to shine, or fall on his face.
Fantasy Poison: Elvis Andrus. It happens every year. People see 30 SB from the short stop position and go crazy to draft the player. Unfortunately you also need to deal with the rest of Andrus' numbers, and they are not pretty and never will be.
3. Oakland Athletics
The Oakland A's could win this division (and a lot more) for the next 5 years if they had anyone on their ball club who knew how to hit a round ball with a round bat. Their pitching staff carried them to 81 wins a year ago, and I believe it can carry them to more in 2011. It just won't be enough to carry them past the Rangers and the Angels.
Where to start with this "offense"? I can hardly even use the word without throwing up in my own mouth. They signed Hideki Matsui to take over the DH role. Don't get me wrong on this one, I love Hideki. He single-handedly won game 6 of the 2009 World Series for my beloved Yankees. He is not, however, the answer for this team. They hit .256 with 109 home runs the entire 2010 season. Maybe in 2011, they'll hit 110. Huzah! Even worse, they got rid of Jack Cust (New Jersey native and local cult hero)! Where is the offense going to come from? They also added Josh Willingham, who is a solid hitter, but he should never be a team's most intimidating hitter. As much as my buddy Steve loves him, he's simply not good enough.
The saving grace for the Oakland A's is their tremendous, young pitching staff. How can I put this in terms everyone will understand? Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game last season, and I think he's their 4th best starter. Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson had ERAs under 3.00 last season. While Anderson missed a some time due to injury, that's still pretty impressive. Young Gio Gonzalez won 15 games and put up an ERA barely over 3 himself. These 4 pitchers don't just have potential to make the Athletics contenders in 2011. At an average age of 24 and a half, these guys could make the A's Contenders for years to come. The already solid A's bullpen will also receive a big boost this year from the acquisitions of both Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. Andrew Bailey returns to the closer's role that made him Rookie of the Year in 2009. His 1.70 ERA the last 2 seasons says more about his effectiveness than I can.
My Prediction? 86 wins, unless they do something about that offense...
Fantasy Notables: Kurt Suzuki (only if you're desperate for catching) Hideki Matsui (not draftable, but he might help somewhere along the way), Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.
Fantasy Sleepers: Chris Carter. Despite a horrible debut last August and September, Carter has the 30 home run power the A's lineup desperately needs. If he can put it all together, look out AL West.
Fantasy Poison: Where to start? I guess i just nominate the rest of the A's offense. Although, Daric Barton did walk 110 times last year. Yay?
4. Seattle Mariners
Last year, only the Pittsburgh Pirates finished with a worse record than the Mariners, and it wasn't by much. In December of 2009, they traded for Cliff Lee. This gave them Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez at the top of their rotation to start the season. That alone should have kept them in contention. It didn't. On July 9th, the season all but lost, the Mariners traded Lee to the Texas Rangers for Justin "Smoak and Mirrors" (more on him in a minute). Much like the Lee trade, the rest of the Mariners' season was a waste. There's no reason to expect any improvement for 2011. In fact, could they be even worse?
The offense is highlighted by Ichiro, who leads off and hits over .300 but somehow can't score over 100 runs. Chone Figgins, like Ichiro, becomes almost useless in fantasy baseball when he doesn't hit .320. Unfortunately for the Mariners, he hit .259 last year. Looking to inject a little power into their lineup, the M's signed Miguel Olivo and Jack Cust this off season... I did say "a little," didn't I? Justin Smoak will be given the 1B job from the get go because management needs him to produce (spring numbers are not encouraging). If he doesn't, they will be buried for years to come for the Cliff Lee trade. At some point in 2011, the Mariners will call up Dustin Ackley to take over 2B, mostly to give the fans something to talk about other than last place. At least the M's defense will be pretty great this year...
What else can be said about the Mariners' pitching staff other than Felix Hernandez is at the top? No, really. Can you name anyone else? Jason Vargas Lucas French and Doug Fist will also be in the rotation. Erik Bedard will be attempting yet another comeback from injury too, so they have that going for them. Top prospect Michael Pineda might get the call sometime in 2011, but he probably should develop in the minors some more. Unless Felix Hernandez pitches 3 times a week, The Mariners are in a lot of trouble. Closer David Aardsma will start the season, leaving Brandon League to pick up saves whenever the Mariners manage to beat someone. Pretty Grim.
My prediction? 62 wins, and a lot of fans jumping from the Space Needle.
Fantasy Notables: Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Olivo (will provide a good source of homers at the C position), Felix Hernandez.
Fantasy Sleeper: If Chone Figgins can get his batting average back over .300, he could provide help in 4 categories (AVG, OPS, R, SB)
Fantasy Poison: Erik Bedard. Remember when he struck out 221 hitters in 2007? Well he's struck out 162 in the 3 years since... combined. Everyone loves a comeback, except for Erik Bedard. He prefers being injured.
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