AL West: Rangers could be a few moves from overtaking the Angels
Unlike the Angels, Texas doesn't need to retain any of its pending free agents
The A's will likely continue to let the kids develop
No amount of offseason tinkering is going to make Seattle a good team
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:
Los Angeles Angels
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.
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