For such a small division, a lot of things happened to the AL West over the winter. The Angels went crazy and spent a ridiculous amount of money. The Rangers brought in a Japanese phenom. The A’s got rid of most of their useful players, then shocked the baseball world by breaking the bank for a Cuban could-be star. And the Mariners traded one of baseball’s hottest commodities (a young power pitcher) for the kind of slugger they have sorely lacked for the last several years. Crazy stuff.
We continue our divisional previews with a look at the AL West.
Past Five Champions
2011 – Texas
2010 – Texas
2009 – LA Angels
2008 – LA Angels
2007 – LA Angels
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 95.4
Albert Pujols, Angels
He hasn’t even played a single inning in the division, yet he’s already its best player. That’s what happens when your career average season is .328 / .420 / .617 / 1.037, 40 HR, 121 RBI, and you have finished in the top-10 in MVP voting EVERY season of your career. Yeah, Pujols is pretty good, and the Angels shocked everybody by signing him in the winter. Though they paid an outrageous amount of money to get him, and his contract might be a burden a few years down the road, for now he is still the same player, set to bring a World Series title to the Angels.
Honourable Mention: Ian Kinsler, Rangers; Adrian Beltre, Rangers
Felix Hernandez, Mariners
They don’t call him “King” for nothing. In his past three seasons, Hernandez has put up an ERA of 2.73, a WHIP of 1.14, 671 strikeouts, a K/9 ratio of 8.4 and a K/BB ratio of 3.23. He’s also won a Cy Young award. But even more impressive is the fact that he has managed to win games. He has gone 46-31 over those seasons, and incredibly he went 27-26 over the past two years, despite playing for a Seattle team that put up the least amount runs scored in baseball. Despite having a plethora of impressive arms in the division, nobody can touch Felix.
Honourable Mention: Jered Weaver, Angels; Dan Haren, Angels
Three Storylines For 2012
1. Big Spending Angels
LA was never really close to making the playoffs last year, finishing 10 games back of division rivals Texas. That didn’t sit well with owner Arte Moreno. Beginning in late August of 2011, he opened up his wallet to try and change that. Big time. First, the Angels locked up ace Jered Weaver with a 5-year $85-million contract. Then they really broke the bank, signing Pujols to a 10-year $240-million deal, and starter C.J. Wilson to a 5-year $77.5-million deal. With the Angels already paying big money to Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter, winning is mandatory in order to net a decent return on those investments.
2. Darvish Arrives
After putting up video game-type numbers in his years in Japan, pitching sensation Yu Darvish will make his much anticipated crossover to the majors in 2012 with the Texas Rangers. Texas paid an enormous sum for Darvish ($111.7-milion including posting fee), and the signing comes with an incredible amount of risk. Though he has thrown the ball well thus far in the spring, how will he handle the long grind of a major league baseball season, with lots of travel, and increased pressure, all well playing in the brutal Texas summer heat? The division title mighit depend on it.
3. Yoenis Cespedes
When Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes declared his desire to play in the major leagues by releasing a crazy video of his skills, he was linked to almost every team in baseball. No link seemed stronger than with the Marlins, which made sense considering Miami’s Cuban culture. But somehow, Cespedes ended up in the least likeliest of places – Oakland. After the A’s jettisoned their closer, two of their top young pitchers, and most of their offense from 2011, it looked to be a long, long year. But the signing of Cespedes at least adds some intrigue to the Athletics, and maybe, just maybe, having him play in one of the least pressure-packed markets in baseball might help YC live up to his enormous hype.
The Seattle Mariners offense in 2011 was incredibly bad. They scored a total of 556 runs – the only team in the AL to not eclipse the 600 run mark. That equates to 3.43 runs scored per game. It doesn’t matter how good your pitching staff is – you can’t win with that level of production. One of the main reasons why Seattle was so bad was lack of power. The Mariners were the only team in the AL that did not produce a 20-HR hitter. Every other team had at least one player who slugged 20 bombs. Seattle’s top power threat was C Miguel Olivo who hit 19. A lot of pressure will be on the shoulders of youngsters Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, and Jesus Montero to make sure that dubious stat doesn’t happen again.
Who Should Win
Will they? Find out in my season prediction column