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Spring Training Preview: AL West

Posted: Monday February 18, 2008 1:22PM; Updated: Monday February 18, 2008 5:04PM
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By Joe Sheehan, Baseball Prospectus

With Oakland in full-on rebuilding mode and the Mariners hoping to somehow replicate their 88 wins from last season, it looks like this will be the Angels' division to lose once again.

Los Angeles Angels

Jon Garland
Jon Garland comes over from the White Sox to bolster a stacked Angels pitching staff.
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Where: Tempe, Arizona (Cactus League)

2007 record: 94-68 (1st, AL West)

New guys: Jon Garland, Torii Hunter

Gone guys: Orlando Cabrera, Hector Carrasco, Bartolo Colon, Shea Hillenbrand

Wow, he's still here? Juan Rivera saw his potential playing time evaporate when the Angels signed Hunter. He remains on the 40-man roster, buried on the depth chart and hoping for a trade.

Winter grade: B-. The Hunter contract is a lot of money for a player in decline. The Cabrera-for-Garland trade is about as even a swap as you'll see; Garland will benefit from playing in front of a better defense in a better pitchers' park. The Angels didn't solve the too-many-bats problem in the OF/DH spots, and may end up hurting themselves by playing contracts ahead of better hitters.

NRI (Non-Roster Invite) to watch: With the Halos having this much depth, it's not likely that anyone can make the team as a surprise. Top prospect Nick Adenhart allowed just seven homers in 153 innings at Double-A last year, and is talented enough to have the kind of camp that pushes him in front of Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana for the fifth-starter job.

Job battle to track: Shortstop is chaotic in the absence of Cabrera. Erick Aybar is the prospect, a speedy slap hitter with good defensive tools whose batting average will be his entire offense. Maicer Izturis is the reliable choice, a good fifth infielder who has yet to be asked to take a regular role, and who might be stretched defensively as the everyday shortstop. He'd add some much-needed OBP (.365 and .349 the last two seasons) to the lineup. Prospect Brandon Wood, moved off of shortstop a couple of years ago, is the long shot.

One move to make: Gary Matthews Jr. complicates the roster in the wake of the Hunter signing, and the need to get him playing time will keep Reggie Willits -- a critical cog in the 2007 offense -- and Kendry Morales -- finally coming into his own at the plate -- out of the lineup. Trading Matthews, eating salary, and bringing back any kind of prospects would make life easier for Mike Scioscia.

The thing to keep in mind about the Angels is just how easy a path they have at the moment. Neither the A's nor the Rangers are a threat in the division, and while the Mariners won 88 games last season, they weren't quite that good a team. Even with Erik Bedard, added at a high cost, they don't match up well with the Angels. The Halos may just be the sixth- or even seventh-best team in the league, but they have as good a chance to reach the postseason as any team other than the Red Sox. They can spend a lot of time, in spring training and in the season, focused on three weeks of baseball in the fall.

Oakland Athletics

Where: Phoenix, Arizona (Cactus League)

2007 record: 76-86 (3rd, AL West)

New guys: Joey Devine, Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney

Gone guys: Dan Haren, Mark Kotsay, Mike Piazza, Marco Scutaro, Shannon Stewart, Nick Swisher

Wow, he's still here? Joe Blanton was expected to be on the next plane out following Haren's, but Billy Beane has yet to move the big right-hander.

Winter grade: C. Beane executed the plan to a point, making it clear that the A's are playing for the new park. However, he's still left with the Eric Chavez contract, with Bobby Crosby's deal, and with Blanton. The job is not yet finished.

NRI to watch: Opportunity abounds in this camp. Keep an eye on outfielder Aaron Cunningham, part of the Haren package. Despite being bounced around by a mid-season trade from the White Sox to the Diamondbacks, he performed well in three leagues, and finished the year with 51 walks and 57 extra-base hits to go with a .308 BA. It's not an exaggeration to suggest that he's the best outfielder in the organization right now.

Job battle to track: Bad teams generally have plenty of playing time to be won, and the A's enter camp with question marks in two outfield spots, and arguably at both first base and catcher as well. The best fight, however, could be in the rotation, where new A's Gio Gonzalez and Eveland will put pressure on holdover Lenny DiNardo and relief-to-starter project Justin Duchscherer.

One move to make: Paying Chavez $37 million through 2010 is a waste of money for a team that's trying to spend as little as possible at the moment. The A's have to leverage his first hot streak to get out from under the deal, even if it means taking a small value hit in exchange.

This is the first A's camp in nearly a decade that brings together a team without championship aspirations. That's a hard sell for Oakland fans, who never got a taste of postseason success while the team was good, and now face the prospect of watching bad teams in a lousy ballpark for a few years. There's the potential for excitement here, as Cunningham, Daric Barton and Carlos Gonzalez could form the core of a contender eventually. For now, though, the remnants of the failed Harden/Crosby A's will drift through a tough couple of years.

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