Yesterday, I gave you my preview of the NL West in 2012. Tonight, I bring you the left coast’s American League counterparts. Texas ran away with the division in 2011 and brings back a young team in 2012, but the Angels did some offseason shopping.
Most Improved Team
I don’t know how to give this award to any team but the Angels. The ’11 edition had twin aces in the rotation, but didn’t hit enough to contend. In 2012, they’ll add a third ace in CJ Wilson, who will love pitching away from The Ballpark at Arlington for most of the season, and with Ervin Santana sometimes capable of pitching like an ace, LA of Anaheim will keep runs off the board more often than not. On the offensive end, the Angels made two enormous upgrades. Albert Pujols will get on base 30 percent more often than Mark Trumbo, who may be moved to third base, but should probably be traded while is value is relatively high, as Alberto Callaspo is likely to be equally productive (defense included) at the hot corner. Just as significant is the addition of catcher Chris Iannetta, whose acquisition helped bid adieu to Mike Scioscia darling Jeff Mathis, probably the worst full-time hitter in baseball. Iannetta’s no Mike Napoli, but he’ll add a handful of wins. It will be interesting to see how Pujols fits into Scioscia’s game plan. Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins brought the walk to Orange County a few years ago, but whether Scioscia can employ a slugger without asking him to bunt or hit-and-run remains to be seen. Still, I see this team winning as many as 94 games, and possibly the division, in 2012.
Least Improved Team
Every year, it seems, the Oakland A’s make a few key moves to shred payroll. This year, as they wait to hear whether San Jose or Fremont or Alcatraz will free them from the ghost town that is the Coliseum, they seem committed to trading all usable parts, jettisoning starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, and closer Andrew Bailey for no major-league-ready return. Bartolo Colon and Seth Smith won’t bring back all the wins that left for greener pastures. Last place is a very real possibility in the east bay.
Texas is the well-run organization. Texas has won the division, and the pennant, in back-to-back years. Texas made a move I loved in letting Wilson walk and spending his money on Yu Darvish. They’re younger and more athletic and won’t give up as many outs playing small ball. But I’m not sure they’re the better team in 2012. The Rangers had the run differential of a 100-win team in 2011 and let 8.7 wins (per fangraphs) leave town when Wilson, Darren Oliver, and Endy Chavez signed elsewhere, and I’m not sure they added as many. Their rotation will be deep, with Neftali Feliz joining, perhaps moving Alexi Ogando back to the ‘pen, but Joe Nathan v.2012 and Ogando are a downgrade from Feliz and Oliver, and there’s no guarantee that Darvish replaces Wilson’s 5.9 wins in his first season in the hemisphere. Add inevitable regression from Michael Young and Mike Napoli, and I see a 92-win team that needs a few breaks to win the division.
The Angels won’t win if they let Mike Trout rot in AAA while Vernon Wells hits .230/.280/.350 in the big leagues. They won’t win if Trumbo OBP’s .290 and boots a bunch of balls at third while Callaspo rides the pine. Put if Howie Kendrick and Peter Bourjos are for real, Pujols adjusts quickly to American League pitching, and the 3.5 aces stay healthy, the Angels are the best team in the West.
The only team I haven’t dissected is the Mariners, and I’m not sure they’re worth much ink. The future is bright, with top prospects almost ready to join King Felix, and Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley ready to rake, but there’s no depth to the lineup or the rotation in 2012. Here’s how I see them finishing:
1. California, 94-68
2. Texas, 92-70
3. Somewhere outside of San Francisco, 72-90
4. Seattle, 71-91