Posts Tagged ‘Ichiro’

In what has become an annual event in the CHEAP SEATS, the first entry of this year’s Top 100 players in baseball will be released this week. This season the location will be different, as it will debut in my column at The Sports Fan Journal, but there will still be links to each here. Other than that, everything will be the same: 100 players in total (obviously), released in five sections until the top 10 is revealed in an extended version in the final entry.

Last year, there wasn’t much mention of the players that missed, or why. While I’ll discuss the methodology of how I come to my selections in the first entry tomorrow, I can discuss why some of both the toughest omissions and subtractions from last year’s list were made.

First of all, there are at any time, 750 players on Major League rosters, so not being counted in the upper 7.5% of players isn’t exactly a defeat in the status of guy. If anything it speaks to how much talent there is spread around the game that explaining why a guy in the 7.6-8.0% range doesn’t make the proverbial cut. But a cutoff is a cutoff, and somebody has to miss. To speak to that ever evolving element of the fluctuating MLB/CSP elite, there are 26 players that won’t return from last season’s group. That is due to a variety of reasons, which…..is where we will move on to showcasing the “almost makes for this year”….

Crawford will have a chance to rejoin the game's elite this year in the midst of the stack Dodgers' lineup

Crawford will have a chance to rejoin the game’s elite this year in the midst of the stack Dodgers’ lineup

Group 1— Injury Issues: There are players that were either severely limited by injuries last season or will have their season limited this year due to them.

Alex Rodriguez (33): Between a downtown in his play, hip injuries, new steroid scandals and more postseason failures, A-Rod has hit an all-time low in his career. A reoccurrence of his hip injury, and recent surgery, has put his career into question.

Chris Carpenter (35): The Cardinals right-hander was limited to only five starts out of him last year due to a nerve injury in his shoulder that necessitated a rib being removed for him to be able to continue rehab. After the injury flared back up this spring, Carpenter’s career is likely over.

Carl Crawford (44): He opted for Tommy John surgery to heal his ailing elbow in August, but also still hadn’t completely turned around from a bad 2011, where his hit only hit .255.

Brian Wilson (45): He didn’t throw a pitch in 2012, as he also underwent Tommy John surgery. Questions regarding where his rehab is at have kept interest in him low on the open market this winter.

Lance Berkman (54): After his huge 2011, a series of leg and knee injuries limited him to only 32 games a year later.

Neftali Feliz (58): The switch from closer to starter wasn’t kind for Feliz, who was effective in seven starts, but his elbow wasn’t up to the workload. He will return as a reliever in the late part of 2013.

Joakim Soria (89): His second Tommy John procedure of his career shelved him for 2012, and saw his contract option not be picked up in Kansas City. He signed with the Texas Rangers, but will not be able to return until June.

Ichiro will make the longest slide from last year's list at #25, to off it entirely a year later.

Ichiro will make the longest slide from last year’s list at #25, to off it entirely a year later.

Group 2—Declines: The career arch of some players has taken a swing since the beginning of last season. This group won’t make a repeat appearance due to the either their downsides of their career setting in, or an extremely large swing from where they entered last year to 2013.

Ichiro (25): 2011 was a low mark in his career, but 2012 went even lower in Seattle, hitting only .261 at the time of his trade to the Yankees. He had a brief revival in pinstripes, but he’s clearly on his downside.

Michael Young (34): His hit total swung down by 44 from from 2012, and his lowered by 61 points. Now in his new home in Philadelphia, he’ll have to switch back to third base after two years as a majority DH.

Eric Hosmer (50): The sophomore slump hit hard, to the tone of a .232 average and 13 home runs.

Kevin Youkilis (60): A career-low batting average of .235 average hit Youk, who also failed to reach at least 125 games for third straight year.

Jose Valverde (66): He followed up a statistically perfect year as a closer, with a season that spiral out of control to the point of a 25.31 postseason ERA.

 Ubaldo Jimenez (67): His first season in Cleveland was a forgettable one: he led the AL in losses with 17 and his ERA sat at 5.40.

Dan Uggla (75): His traditionally poor glove work couldn’t be offset by his bat any longer. He hit only .220 and his home run total swung down to 19 from 36.

Heath Bell (91): His season imploded from the start. Throughout three demotions from the closer position in Miami, he blew eight saves and finished with ERA greater than 5.00.

Josh Beckett (96): A loser of 11 games in Boston before being dealt to the Dodgers, and finished with an ERA of 4.65.

Group 3—Come up short: Part of the game is that there’s always a guy on your heels, ready for his opportunity to breakthrough. It doesn’t always mean that one player had a bad effort, because none of the players in the group did. But either they didn’t have quite the same impact on 2012 as they did on 2011, or they were simply victims of other players moving into the elite.

Jeremy Hellickson (95): The 2011 Rookie of the Year still posted a top 10 ERA, but his wins (10) and innings (177) regressed.

Shane Victorino (68): He swiped a career high 39 bases, but his range in the field and his batting average lowered as well.

Alex Avila (72): He came down from the Silver Slugger-winning season in 2011, and was limited to 116 games due to injury.

Carlos Santana (73): His average picked up to .252, but his power numbers dropped across the board (27 doubles to 27, 27 homers to 18).

Mike Napoli (76):  Power numbers stayed strong, but his average dipped down to .227 and only nine doubles.

John Axford (79): A year after winning the Rolaids Reliever of the Year honor, his era rose nearly three runs, and he lost the closer job early in the season, but regained it later.

Jonny Venters (81): High usage over his first two seasons caught up with him last year, and he eventually landed on the disabled list. But had a strong second half (1.71 ERA) that shows promise for 2013.

Hunter Pence (83): His average fell from .314 in 2011 to .253 in 2012, including batting only .219 after a deadline trade to the San Francisco Giants.

Nick Markakis (97): Two stints on the DL kept him out for much of the Orioles run last year, but he still hit .298 and drove in 54.

Tyler Clippard (98): He had a solid year (32 saves), but perhaps was a bit over exposed due to injuries in the Nationals bullpen.

 

How’s it going to play out this year? Find out starting tomorrow, and talk it early and often with me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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The Josh Hamilton deal sent the shock waves through an entire league, and the core of franchises in both Texas and California. However, while that took the big headlines, the reactions throughout the AL also made a big ripple. No deal after the fact said more than the Tigers’ urgency in resigning Anibal Sanchez, who could have become a target for the Angels as well. His return to the Detroit rotation gives them a benefit that LA, or very few other clubs, can boast this winter.

While the Tigers set up the future, handling the now continued in the AL East, with both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox continuing to rapidly rebuild their cores. With the Toronto Blue Jays continuing to be the kings of the winter, and the Rays making changes to their core, the division mainstays have to stay active as well. Will any of their hired guns make a difference, and hold off the upstarts? We’ll see, but should they fall, it surely won’t be for lack of trying.

The Tigers may have made the best long-term signing of any AL team by re-enlisting Sanchez.

The Tigers may have made the best long-term signing of any AL team by re-enlisting Anibal Sanchez in the rotation.

Here’s the updated impact of the recent signings in the MLB, and who came out on top…as well as who reached too far.

 

2. Josh Hamilton—Outfield, Signed w/ the Los Angeles Angels: 5 yrs/$125 million

I broke the impact of this, both now and later, down in-depth at The Sports Fan Journal.

5. Anibal Sanchez—Pitcher, Resigned w/ Detroit Tigers: 5 yrs/$80 million

The Tigers ended up holding on to their big trade deadline acquisition from this summer, albeit after a competition for his services in the last second. After outbidding the Chicago Cubs by about $5 million, the Tigers landed a promising young arm who’s sub-.500 career record belies his real abilities. With a mid-90’s fastball and a power slider, Sanchez makes the Tigers rotation perhaps the most complete offering in the American League. He has the roof to grow into either a very high level #3 or legit #2 starter.

16. Kevin Youkilis—Third Baseman, Signed w/ New York Yankees: 1 yr/$12 million

The Yankees rent-a-team efforts continued with another one year deal. However, this signing may be their smartest addition of the winter yet, due to the security and versatility that Youk brings. With A-Rod out until at least June due to hip surgery, he become their everyday third baseman who can either stay there or move to DH when A-Rod returns. They paid more to land him, but it really was a must sign.

17. Stephen Drew—Shortstop, Signed w/ Boston Red Sox: 1 yr/$9.5 million

The Red Sox also paid more for Drew, who rode his status as the only true starting shortstop on the market well, however the same value is not here. Drew is an offense first SS, that hasn’t managed to hit over .270 in three years. This was an overpay for a guy that will hit in the bottom of the lineup, and probably a bit of a reaction to other moves happening in the AL East, which is a tendency the Red Sox have done well to remove themselves from, until now.

20. Ryan Dempster—Pitcher, Signed w/ Boston Red Sox: 2 yrs/$26 million

The Sox did however hit value in landing Dempster. Not only did they get a modest $13 million per season rate for the highly sought after veteran, they also got him to end his pursuit of a 3-year deal, which would have made this a bad move for the 35 year old. But now they have landed a solid top of the rotation arm that will keep their rotation competitive.

35. Ichiro—Right Fielder, Resigned w/ New York Yankees: 2 yrs/$13 million

There was a ton of positioning on both sides, but the Yankees ended up making a smart, and team friendly, commitment to Ichiro. It does leave the club with a definite lack of power in the corner outfield spots, but Ichiro reacted well to Yankee Stadium, hitting .322 in two months in pinstripes. If he can keep close to that for even a year of the deal, it’s a strong value for around $6 million per.

66. Ty Wigginton—First Baseman, Signed w/ St. Louis Cardinals: 2 yrs/$5 million

The Cardinals landed the versatile Wigginton to provide a right handed bat off the bench with some pop, one of the few things they needed. They came in the winter looking to plug bench holes, and this was their solid effort to do so on offense.

 

For more on the signing season around the MLB, and the impact after the fact in real time, follow me on Twitter

Take a look back at 2010. Now take a look at 2011. In the American League West, you may get confused as to what year you’re looking at, as no matter which version you glance over, it all begins and ends in one place: Arlington. The Texas Rangers have reigned over the American League over the last two years, due to a relentless lineup and timely pitching. They have won the division by no less than nine games in each season, and pushed to within one out of the franchise’s first World Series. It’s been a good run.

2011 Final Standings

  1. Texas Rangers (96-66)
  2. Los Angeles Angels (86-76)
  3. Oakland A’s (74-88)
  4. Seattle Mariners (67-95)

But when you’re on top, somebody’s always shooting for you. And this winter, the Rangers’ top rivals in the West reloaded like no team has before. The Angels went out, paid the price and landed the biggest gun in baseball’s arsenal this winter and switched the whole game up overnight. The Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners both made more strategic, yet impactful changes to their makeup as well.

But is any of it enough to dethrone the AL’s premier team? Let’s take a look at every inch of the West in CSP’s 2012 AL West preview….

All Division Team

Catcher: Mike Napoli – Rangers

First Base: Albert Pujols – Angels

Second Base: Ian Kinsler – Rangers

Third Base: Adrian Beltre – Rangers

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus – Rangers

Left Field: Coco Crisp – Athletics

Center Field: Josh Hamilton – Rangers

Right Field: Ichiro – Mariners

Designated Hitter: Michael Young – Rangers

Hamilton will follow up a roller coaster year with a contract push summer in 2012, as well as a third consecutive World Series.

Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez – Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Jared Weaver – Angels

Starting Pitcher: Dan Haren – Angels

Starting Pitcher: CJ Wilson – Angels

Bullpen Righty: Mike Adams – Rangers

Bullpen Lefty: Scott Downs – Angels

Closer: Brandon League – Mariners

Top 10 Players

  1. Albert Pujols, Angels
  2. Josh Hamilton, Rangers
  3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  4. Jared Weaver, Angels
  5. Ichiro, Mariners
  1. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
  2. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
  3. Dan Haren, Angels
  4. Michael Young, Rangers
  5. Elvis Andrus, Rangers

Ichiro's hits and average slid last summer, but he still notched 40 steals along the way.

Lineup

  1. Rangers
  2. Angels
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners

The Rangers were top 3 in the AL in average, home runs, runs scored and total bases, and could be better without adding a single piece. If Mike Napoli keeps up the pace he raked at over the second half of the year, and a contract year Josh Hamilton, with a bit of chip on his shoulder as well, hits as he is capable of, the nightmare in Arlington will continue. The Angels however, didn’t do much but what they did was major. Pujols’ addition will turn the Angels solid overall attack into potentially one of the most fearsome in the game. The A’s will lean heavily on untested new additions Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez, once he returns from his 50 game PED suspension.

Rotation

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners

The Angels’ top three of Weaver, Haren and Ervin Santana were already tough enough, but their lifting of CJ Wilson from their division rival Rangers makes them a headache nearly all week now. The Rangers countered by adding Japanese ace Yu Darvish, but the 10 game differences between the two clubs last summer will be tested by the 16-game winner Wilson switching caps.

Weaver set the April wins record to start last season, and ended it runner up in the Cy Young race.

1-2 Punch

  1. Angels (Weaver & Haren)
  2. Mariners (Hernandez & Vargas)
  3. Rangers (Lewis & Holland)
  4. A’s (McCarthy & Colon)

As mentioned above, the Angels’ staff is headed by one of the most potent duos in either league. Weaver and Haren combined for 34 wins, a 2.79 ERA and 390 strikeouts a year ago, with Weaver finishing second in the Cy Young vote. Don’t sleep on the Mariners duo however, with the dominant King Felix at the top, followed by Jason Vargas, who racked up three shutouts a year ago.

Bullpen

  1. Rangers
  2. Angels
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners

The Texas pen is so good that it will lose its All-Star closer, Neftali Feliz, to its rotation and barely skips a beat. With Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Alexi Ugando and Koji Uehara are waiting later on, teams’ better burn their starters beyond recognition. The Angels have a very balanced pen, Downs, LaTroy Hawkins and Jordan Walden at the end. Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes head up a transitional Oakland staff with some strong young arms, and Brandon League will anchor a Mariner pen that will deliver him plenty of save chances yet again.

Tablesetters

  1. Rangers (Kinsler/Andrus)
  2. Mariners (Figgins/Ackley)
  3. A’s (Weeks/Pennington)
  4. Angels (Aybar/Abreu)

There’s arguably no more dynamic leadoff combination than Kinsler and Andrus, both possessing 30 steal potential and will continually put themselves on in front of the hell that is the middle of the Texas lineup. Ackley was highly productive after a late season promotion to Seattle, as was Jemile Weeks, who hit .300 and stole over 20 bags as a rook in ’10.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Rangers (Hamilton/Young/Beltre)
  2. Angels (Pujols/Hunter/Kendrick)
  3. Mariners (Ichiro/Carp/Montero)
  4. A’s (Crisp/Smith/Reddick)

Young had a career highs with a .338 average and 106 RBI last season, his first as a full-time DH.

It may be wiser to pray than pitch to the middle of the Rangers order. Hamilton is a career .308 hitter, with off the charts power. Beltre cracked 30 homers and 30 doubles a year ago, and in the middle is Young, who’s coming off a .338, batting title runner up season. Pujols single handedly will boost the output of Torii Hunter back to his vintage levels, while in Seattle a whole new Ichiro could be unleashed on the league, as he moves to the third spot from being one of the greatest leadoff hitters ever.

Bench

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. Mariners
  4. A’s

The Angels have depth, and it’s even spilled over into issue. They have the “problem” of finding spots for Bobby Abreu, Mike Trumbo, Kendry Morales, Ryan Langerhans and Maicer Izturis. There will be a revolving look for them all year. David Murphy and Yorvit Torrealeba are starter quality players on many other teams, and will get their fair share in Texas as well.

Defense

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. Mariners
  4. A’s

Pujols bat gets the headlines, but his glove saves many games as well. Coupled with another Gold Glove winner in Erick Aybar, a 9-time winner in Torii Hunter and a shoe in for a few in the future, Peter Bourjos, the Angels should be tough to sneak one past. Texas puts a Gold Glove winner on the field in Beltre, and two others that could easily win one any season as well in Andrus and Kinsler, one of the best double play duos in the league. Seattle runs out shutdown outfield combo of Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro as well.

Speed

  1. Mariners
  2. Rangers
  3. A’s
  4. Angels

Ichiro stole 40 bases again, and Chone Figgins (if he can remember how to get on base again) is also a huge speed threat. Add in Ackley and Gutierrez, and the Mariners can move both on the bases and in the field. The Rangers were 4th in the AL in team steals a year ago, and Coco Crisp led the AL in swipes with 49.

Manager

  1. Mike Scioscia, Angels
  2. Ron Washington, Rangers
  3. Bob Melvin, Mariners
  4. Eric Wedge, Mariners

Mike Scioscia is one of the great tacticians in the game, and now has an abundance of talent again at his hand. His presence was crucial in bringing both Pujols and Wilson to LA. Ron Washington has taken the Rangers to back-to-back World Series, and only two historic performances prevented him from being a two-time champ as well.

Rookies/Prospects To Watch

  1. Yu Darvish (Pitcher, Rangers)
  2. Jesus Montero (DH, Mariners)
  3. Yoenis Cespedes (A’s from Cuba)
  4. Mike Trout (OF, Angels)*
  5. Jarrod Parker (RHP, A’s)

Darvish is the biggest thing to come from Japan since Dice-K, but is in his mid-20’s and throws in the mid-90’s as well. He’ll hold a major role on the Texas staff from day one. Montero, acquired from the Yankees this winter, has the most raw power of any rookie in the game. Cuban sensation Cespedes’ signing in Oakland was a surprise, and he will be counted on in a big way in Oakland. Trout will start in the minors, but is either #1 or #2 on nearly all Top 100 boards of prospects for good reason that will show before the summer is over.

The much rumored Cespedes will make his debut in a surprising place in Oakland and will have some immediate expectations as well.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
  2. Brandon McCarthy, A’s
  3. Dustin Ackley, Mariners
  4. Derek Holland, Rangers
  5. Josh Reddick, A’s

Feliz has dominated the ninth since coming up in late 2009, and is now taking his intimidating stuff to the beginning of games. If he can build up the durability and repertoire to have a similar impact in the rotation, he will be among the AL’s best starters with a few years. McCarthy quietly had one of the best season’s of any pitcher in the game a year ago, and Reddick was the major piece that came back from Boston in exchange for Oakland’s All-Star closer Andrew Bailey, and for good reason.

Impact Additions

  1. Albert Pujols (Angels from Cardinals)
  2. CJ Wilson (Angels from Rangers)
  3. Joe Nathan (Rangers from Twins)
  4. Seth Smith (A’s from Rockies)
  5. Bartolo Colon (A’s from Yankees)

The Angels' huge winter spending spree landed them both the game's premier player in Pujols and their top opponents best arm in Wilson.

Pujols is the biggest signing for any team since both times A-Rod switched jerseys, and the Angels paid the price to land the game’s premier player. Paired with Wilson, they immediately changed the forecast in LA and make them the team to watch in a city long owned by the Dodgers. If Nathan can rediscover his pre-surgery form from Minnesota, the Rangers Feliz-less bullpen could be even better than before.

Finances

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. Mariners
  4. A’s

The well would seem dry after their $300 million winter, but the Angels still have cash on deck to make another move down there stretch if needed. This could prove to be the difference between them and a Rangers team that is holding back money to resign Hamilton, Young and Napoli soon.

PREDICTIONS

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners

The script will finally flip back in 2012 to the way it was from 2007-2009, with the Angels climbing back to the top of the mountain. The Rangers will still be a force to be reckoned with, and won’t go down easy, but the addition of Pujols will make everyone around him in the lineup better, and the Angels weren’t pushovers before AP. On the hill, Wilson adds yet another matchup advantage to a rotation that already put the pressure down Texas a year ago. However, it’s a tale of two halves still, as the Mariners still are top heavy as it gets after Ichiro & Felix, and the A’s lineup is over reliant on a mixture of youth and not quite up to speed with LA/Texas-level veteran talents.

Due to this extreme first class/second class divide in the division, both Texas and LA could benefit the most from the expanded Wild Card spot. While the idea that it could let an extra AL East team in the mix is popular, the truth is that both of the superior teams in the West will have a lot of shots to feed on the bottom of the division. The Rangers boost two legit MVP candidates and as always, their pitching should find a way to be better than advertised. Down in LA, they have added the game’s best player and constructed a potential three All-Star rotation. When coupled with one of the game’s great strategists in Scioscia, the Angels will finish the push they started as a lesser team at the end of last summer and take the division for themselves, while the Rangers will still return to October via a Wild Card bid.

Come back next time for a look in nation’s heartland at the AL Central, where the defending champs have added some firepower via a familiar name. Yet still, they are far from out of the sites of one of the best gatherings of young talent in baseball. Until then follow me on Twitter, at @CheapSeatFan.

Of the three American League divisions a year ago, the West was the most surprising across the board. It’s final result ranged from the team that had won their division’s three-peat winner falling from the penthouse to below .500, a team with less stars than any other club boasting the league’s best pitching staff, a last place team with a Cy Young winner and finally the ultimate dark house World Series representative. There was a lot to turn your head at looking at the West all season, and anything could happen again this year; however breaking through from the bottom to the top may be a more difficult road.

2010 Final Standings

1. Texas Rangers (90-72)
2. Oakland Athletics (81-81)
3. Los Angeles Angels (80-82)
4. Seattle Mariners (61-101)

Despite a month on the DL, Hamilton's impact was unmatched in-route to his first MVP.

The West is annually one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, due to the fact that each team has more than one x-factor that produces a matchup problem in one way or another. The Rangers are the defending AL champs, and have a devastating lineup that boasts the 2010 MVP and AL batting champion, Josh Hamilton. In Oakland, they boast the game’s best overall young rotation, which doesn’t have just one ace, but has no weaknesses on any day of the week, and is now supported by one of baseball’s best bullpen groups as well. The Angels have a lot of experience and a manager in Mike Scioscia that has won the division five times in the last eight years, but has a team that is on the rebound still after a disappointing summer and winter. In Seattle, they are coming off of the worst season of any AL team, and were the biggest disappointments in all of baseball a year ago. They still feature two of the greatest talents in the game, but will this club realize the potential in ’11 that it missed out on big time in ’10? The Rangers are strong still, and return nearly all of the club that knocked the Yankees from the top of the AL, but their division mates have the ability to take a clear shot at them and the road back to the top is never as easy as conquering the mountain the first time.

ALL DIVISION TEAM

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki-Oakland A’s

First Base: Kendrys Morales-Los Angeles Angels

Second Base: Ian Kinsler-Texas Rangers

Third Base: Adrian Beltre-Texas Rangers

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus-Texas Rangers

Left Field: Vernon Wells-Los Angeles Angels

Center Field: Josh Hamilton-Texas Rangers

Right Field: Ichiro-Seattle Mariners

Designated Hitter: Hideki Matsui-Oakland Athletics

Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez-Seattle Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Jared Weaver-Los Angeles Angels

Starting Pitcher: Brett Anderson-Oakland Athletics

Starting Pitcher: Dan Haren-Los Angeles Angels

King Felix led the AL in ERA (2.27) on the way to a hard earned Cy Young Award.

Bullpen Righty: Grant Balfour-Oakland Athletics

Bullpen Lefty: Arthur Rhodes-Texas Rangers

Closer: Andrew Bailey-Oakland Athletics

BEST PLAYERS

1. Ichiro-Mariners
2. Felix Hernandez-Mariners
3. Josh Hamilton-Rangers
4. Adrian Beltre-Rangers
5. Nelson Cruz-Rangers
6. Andrew Bailey-Athletics
7. Torii Hunter-Angels
8. Jared Weaver-Angels
9. Kendrys Morales-Angels
10. Neftali Feliz-Rangers

Feliz set the Major League rookie record for saves with 40 last season.

The rollercoaster of the Mariners starts here, as they lost 100 games a year ago with two guys that are top 10 players in baseball no matter how you slice it. Ichiro has gathered in Gold Gloves and 200 hits per season for the last 10 years, and King Felix was so dominant that his 13-12 record last year was still good enough to land him the Cy Young Award. Perhaps the most talented overall player in the American League, Josh Hamilton, comes in at third. Andrew Bailey and Neftali Feliz are the two of the most talented young closers in the game, each being the last two AL Rookies of the Year, although injury (Bailey) and a move to the rotation (Feliz) could be removing them from their 9th inning impact roles.

LINEUP

1. Rangers
2. Athletics
3. Angels
4. Mariners

The Rangers have a military-level assault in their everyday lineup. Hamilton gives them one of the top 10 bats in baseball, and Adrian Beltre brings yet another extra base hit bat that can make a big impact. Nelson Cruz and Hamilton are two of the premier power bats in all of the Show. Oakland made several impact moves that turned their lineup into a hybrid power/speed/on-base mixture that will be one of the most pesky and consistent attacks in the league.

ROTATION

1. Athletics
2. Angels
3. Rangers
4. Mariners

Oakland’s rotation doesn’t grab the headlines, but they were the best group in the AL a year ago, and could be even better this year. Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden (who tossed a perfect game), Gio Gonzalez led all of baseball in quality starts, and not one of them has seen their 30th birthday yet. It’s the type of presence that the Giants were building for years, and we saw how that paid off last year. The Angels need consistency from the bottom of its group (Joel Piniero and Scott Kazmir), to matchup with the A’s. Even without Cliff Lee, Rangers still have a formidable, deep mix that had them atop the division long before he arrived last summer.

Brian Anderson and Trevor Cahill head up the most consistent rotation in the Bigs.

1-2 PUNCH

1. Angels (Weaver & Haren)
2. Athletics (Anderson & Cahill)
3. Mariners (Hernandez & Fister)
4. Rangers (Wilson & Lewis)

Here’s how good Felix is, he makes the Mariners 1-2 the third best in the division just on the fact that neither C.J. Wilson or Colby Lewis (who combined for 27 wins a year ago) would beat him head up across a 10 game span for the league champions consistently. The Angels duo holding down this spot over Anderson & Cahill is based on if Dan Haren regains the form that made him an All-Star for three straight seasons in Arizona before last year. I’m betting that he does.

BULLPEN

1. Athletics
2. Rangers
3. Mariners
4. Angels

The A’s group could be the best in the game, but only if Andrew Bailey doesn’t spend any more time visiting Dr. James Andrews this year. The additions of Grant Balfour, Rich Harden and Brian Fuentes to a group that already features Brad Ziegler, Michael Wuertz and Craig Breslow makes this the best overall staff in baseball. The Rangers bring 2010 All-Star Arthur Rhodes to a really good pen that holds down the Rangers on the nights where their lineup doesn’t give the Undertaker treatment to their opponents early.

3-4-5 HITTERS

1. Rangers (Hamilton/Beltre/Cruz)
2. Angels (Hunter/Morales/Well)
3. Athletics (DeJesus/Willingham/Matsui)
4. Mariners (Bradley/Cust/Gutierrez)

The heart of the Texas order gives opposing pitchers headaches just reading it. Hamilton missed a month almost, but still hit 32 homers and led the AL with a .359 average. Cruz missed over 50 games and still finished with 22 home runs. The addition of Beltre, and his 49 doubles and 189 hits will be a potent bridge between these two. For the Angels, having Morales completely rehabbed from a freak knee injury means everything in LA. He’ll miss Opening Day, but having him healthy for the next five months means everything.

TABLESETTERS

1. Mariners
2. Rangers
3. Athletics
4. Angels

Ichiro extended his record for consecutive 200 hit seasons to 10 last year.

The Mariners feature the fastest combo in the game at the top of their lineup in Ichiro and Chone Figgins. Figgins’ numbers dropped off in his Seattle debut, but Ichiro is an automatic batting champ contender and hits leader. Ian Kinsler found a breakeven point between his .319 2008 and .252 2009 averages last season when he hit .286, but his extra base hits continued to drop. If he finds his power bat again behind the speedy Elvis Andrus, they’ll be as much trouble at the top of the order as they are in the middle.

BENCH

1. Rangers
2. Athletics
3. Angels
4. Mariners

With 26 Mike Napoli homers now joining their bench, along with the versatile David Murphy, the Rangers are deep even if one of them joins the lineup if a Michael Young trade happens. The A’s new acquisitions push former everyday guys Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney to the bench, but they’ll provide great depth and late inning options for the new look Athletics.

DEFENSE

1. Rangers
2. Athletics
3. Mariners
4. Angels

By acquiring the Gold Glover Beltre, the Rangers erase their biggest weakness of Michael Young as an everyday 3B, and form the best right side infield combination in baseball with him and Andrus. The A’s have no real weakness anywhere on the field, and the Mariners have two Gold Glovers in their outfield in Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro, along with an infield stabilizing addition in Brendan Ryan.

SPEED

1. Mariners
2. Athletics
3. Rangers
4. Angels

Once again, Seattle gets the nod as the best overall small ball team in the division. They don’t have much power at all, but with Figgins, Ichiro, Gutierrez and youngster Dustin Ackley in the mix, they can produce runs inside the foul lines. Figgins has stolen 40 bases three of the last four years, and Ichiro has swiped 40 two of the last three summers himself. Chad Pennington and Crisp both have 30 stolen base potential in Oakland.

MANAGER

1. Angels
2. Rangers
3. Athletics
4. Mariners

Mike Scioscia’s roster was crippled by injuries and inconsistencies last year, but he still managed to keep them at an 80 win level. If all else fails, his skill as a strategist is enough to improve the fortunes of the Angels this season. Ron Washington was a great motivator for the Rangers getting over the playoff hump last season, and proved Nolan Ryan’s faith in keeping him at the helm after a controversial start last season.

ROOKIES/*PROSPECTS TO WATCH

1. Michael Pineda (Pitcher, Mariners)
2. Dustin Ackley (Second Base, Mariners)
3. Tanner Scheppers (Pitcher, Rangers)
4. Jordan Walden (Pitcher, Angels)
5. *Mike Trout (Outfielder, Angels)

Pineda throws in the mid-90’s and has three out pitches he can unleash at any point, giving the Mariner’s pitching rotation a scary potential boost at some point this summer. Ackley will be a favorite for Rookie of the Year honors if he gets enough at-bats. Trout is worth noting because while he probably won’t get any, big league action this year, he is considered the top prospect in baseball by many, and is definitely seen as a can’t miss, franchise player in the Angels’ future.

The Angels are being patient with Trout, who hit .341 in his first full season in the minors.

FINANCES

1. Angels
2. Mariners
3. Rangers
4. Athletics

The Angels missed out on every big free agent they pursued this past winter and assumed Vernon Wells’ massive contract, in addition to having to resign their ace in Weaver this summer, but they still have deep pockets to make a play for any expensive trading piece on the market (unless they pool it all for a Pujols a run this winter, a very likely scenario).

IMPACT ADDITIONS

1. Adrian Beltre (Rangers from Red Sox)
2. David DeJesus (Athletics from Royals)
3. Brian Fuentes (Athletics from Twins)
4. Grant Balfour (Athletics from Rays)
5. Vernon Wells (Angels from Blue Jays)

Beltre turned down seemingly every team in baseball this winter in route to Arlington, including big offers from the Angels and Athletics. He will be a crucial boost to the overall talent of the Rangers, and could be a legit push towards an improved World Series showing. No team in baseball made more changes to their roster than the A’s and they better every part of their team with smart trades and quality free agent signings.

PREDICTION

1. RANGERS
2. OAKLAND
3. ANGELS
4. MARINERS

At face value, this is an exact repeat of last year’s edition of the division, which is a rarity for it. However, while I do feel that the Rangers will take the crown again, it won’t be by a nine game difference like last year. The A’s will push the Rangers well into September, and they won’t be alone. The Angels will be improved this season and will be on the heels of both. Oakland and LA both will be prime teams to spring an upset at the top of the division, but the A’s will be one of the toughest matchups in the entire league with their multi-tiered attack at the plate and unmatched pitching staff. The Mariners won’t lose 100 games again, but they didn’t make enough moves to crack the top 3 in this division, and a youth movement could be underway there. However, feeding off their already tough, and now improved lineup, along with their young and improving rotation, in the end the Rangers have too much high end talent to not repeat atop the West and make a push towards another AL championship.