Yahoo! Sports is taking an early look at each division in the days leading up to when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Today, the American League West (in alphabetical order).
First impression: They're down the closer (Francisco Rodriguez) who saved 62 games. They're down the middle-of-the-rotation starter (Jon Garland) who won 14 games and pitched nearly 200 innings. Vladimir Guerrero is drifting into his mid-30s, just put up his lowest OPS in more than a decade and runs more and more like he's on balsa knees. Gary Matthews Jr. is coming off knee surgery. Garret Anderson, steady enough for 15 years, is floating around in free agency. Middle infielders Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick, the future of the franchise, combined for just four hits (in 35 at-bats) in a division series in which big moments seemed to find one of them every time. They really had to sign Mark Teixeira – he was their best player. In a batting order that leaned toward the hyper-aggressive at-bat, Teixeira slowed the game. The Angels remain the class of the division, but they won't win 100 games and they're still October vulnerable.
Competition: They're at least five deep in the running for a fifth starter, behind John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver. The candidates: Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart, Shane Loux, Nick Green and Anthony Ortega. Moseley has the most big-league experience, Adenhart the stuff scouts love.
Hot seat: Since their '02 championship, the Angels have once finished in the AL's top four in runs scored and three times finished 10th or worse. Owner Arte Moreno backed out of the Teixeira bidding (when, like Red Sox owner John Henry, he found it to be not winnable) and never even considered Manny Ramirez. All of which puts a lot of pressure on hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, particularly if Guerrero continues his decline.
Next: Kendry Morales moves to first base, where Teixeira was supposed to be, and where Casey Kotchman was becoming a cornerstone until Teixeira became available. The switch-hitting Morales hasn't quite gotten the hang of big-league pitching, but he has raked in four minor-league seasons. The clock is ticking on Brandon Wood, a terrific athlete who turns 24 in March but when last seen still couldn't tell the difference between a fastball and slider. He gets the first shot at third base while Chone Figgins returns to the outfield. If not Wood, then probably Maicer Izturis.
First impression: No AL team scored fewer runs than the A's, who also weren't much when it came to on-base percentage, home runs or anything else that involved putting runners on base and threatening home plate. Considered another way, manager Bob Geren's squad, which averaged barely four runs a game, would have needed 64 more games to score as many runs as the Rangers. So, the mid-market A's fixed that. Or, at least, some of that. Amid scuttlebutt owner Lew Wolff's requesting a winner, GM Billy Beane traded for Matt Holliday, still has the highest offer out to Rafael Furcal (who apparently took two offers – Braves and Dodgers – instead) and signed prodigal slugger Jason Giambi. Depending on how things look in July, Holliday may be around for only four months. The pitching staff would have to grow up in a hurry. And they probably haven't made up 24½ games on the Angels. But, hey, it's interesting.
Competition: In more of a sorting than a competition, Geren has four guys – Giambi, Daric Barton, Jack Cust and Travis Buck – for three spots. In his best-case scenario, Barton hits from the first day of camp and takes hold of first base, Giambi is the DH and Cust plays right. If Barton looks like he's not going to hit again, then he'll be out, Giambi will take first, Cust will DH and Buck gets right. If it's head-to-head stuff you like, Gio Gonzalez, Josh Outman and, maybe, Vin Mazzaro vie for the final place in the rotation. Gonzalez is the favorite.
Hot seat: Shortstop Bobby Crosby watched as management went hard after Furcal and lingered in the Orlando Cabrera arena. Once an organizational golden boy, Crosby went untouched through waivers and now reports for a job the club apparently doesn't believe he can do. Or, at least, not very well. Healthy at last, Crosby, now 29, hardly hit at all last season, looking much like the guy who played hurt the previous seasons. He spent the winter working out with Holliday and Mark McGwire in Southern California, so we'll see where that leads, if anywhere.
Next: Don't be so sure about Brad Ziegler at closer, effective as he was last season. Some in the organization believe 25-year-old Joey Devine is even better suited for the ninth inning. The righty with the funky arm slot, big fastball and disappearing slider, Devine's 0.59 ERA was the best ever for a pitcher with at least 40 innings pitched. You'd figure he'd kill right-handers with that low three-quarter delivery, and he did (.120 batting average, 0 home runs). But he got lefties as well (.197, 0 home runs). Either way, the A's look set in the last couple innings for a while.
First impression: Having survived (barely) The Season That Nearly Brought Down an Organization, the Mariners start over (again) with a new GM (who probably – and sadly – got taken on his first big trade), a new manager and the same sorry starting rotation. The Mariners dragged 61 wins and a lot of turmoil out of a $120 million payroll, and for the moment don't have much start-over flexibility, thanks in part to the fact they traded two of their better arms – J.J. Putz and Sean Green – for what looks like a lot of spare parts. They'll do well to get out from under a couple large contracts, starting with Jarrod Washburn's and Adrian Beltre's, perhaps even before the season starts. If the Mariners' luck turns, Washburn would keep the ball in the park, Beltre would hit with runners in scoring position and Erik Bedard would stay on the mound, and maybe Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik will get something for all three before they hit free agency.
Competition: As you might expect, not a lot of guys can walk into camp assuming they have jobs. Not after 101 losses. Not after getting two managers fired last season and now having a new one – Don Wakamatsu – for this one. So, they'll be vying for at-bats at first base, catcher and left field, innings in the rotation and the closer job in the bullpen. Other than that, they're set. The bigger names will be taking ground balls at first, where Russell Branyan, Mike Sweeney, Chris Shelton and Mike Morse will try to squeeze into Richie Sexson's shoes.
Hot seat: Jarrod Washburn is too good of a pitcher to keep having these ugly seasons, but he had another in 2008, when he lost 14 of 19 decisions and only had a couple good months. It's not as though the Mariners have any better options, but they will have some choices to make after Felix Hernandez, Bedard and Brandon Morrow.
Next: So, a funny thing happened to Jeff Clement on his way to baseball stardom: The previous regime handed the other catcher – Kenji Johjima – a three-year, $24 million contract that doesn't even kick in until this season. He was the third overall pick four years ago. And when you're going on 26, it's hard to be "next" anymore. But we'll give him one more run at it and figure one of these springs he'll beat out Johjima or hit well enough to be the regular DH.
First impression: Another year, another season spent as the worst pitching staff in the game, in which Rangers starters pitched fewer innings than any in the game and in which their bullpen had the worst ERA in the game, an especially unfortunate development when it pitched so many more innings than everyone else. It's a tough ballpark, sure. But come on, can it be this tough? Well, Nolan Ryan apparently has a plan for the pitchers, and that's to work 'em harder. The alternative: Draft 'em better, sign 'em smarter. Even with all that hitting, the Rangers again will only go as far as their pitching staff allows, and the news wasn't getting any better in January, when Eric Hurley and Joaquin Benoit were both lost to rotator cuff surgery weeks before spring training. That said, maybe Brandon McCarthy and Kason Gabbard go more than the 80 innings they went last season and everybody keeps the ball down and throws strikes, and ol' Nolan has 'em all fit and trim. It's their only hope.
Competition: If 20-year-old Elvis Andrus isn't ready to play a big-league shortstop and defend himself at the plate, then 41-year-old (soon to be 42) Omar Vizquel gladly will take the job. Joaquin Arias is more likely to step in if Andrus needs another few hundred minor-league plate appearances, and considering Vizquel doesn't hit much anymore, that's the more likely outcome. Vizquel has some fight in him yet.
Hot seat: Help is on the way. Baseball America ranks the Rangers' farm system as the best in the game, and the prospects supposedly are massing on the outskirts of Arlington. None too soon for GM Jon Daniels, who is taking heat for everything from the trades of Adrian Gonzalez and John Danks to the reportedly clumsy manner in which he moved Michael Young off shortstop. His relationship with Ryan, the team president, seems solid, however, and it appears he'll be around to see the prospects mature.
Next: The Rangers are hoping the time is now for the fruits of the Teixeira trade, made two deadlines ago. Remember catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Andrus, pitchers Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz? They could all play a part in 2009.