Flowers are sprouting, birds are chirping...and pitchers and catchers are reporting. Spring is here again and after a decidedly depressing winter for baseball (unless you're Scott Boras) it is once again time to get on with the games. I humbly submit to any readers and both of my fans a weekly preview of each division with fearless predictions and plenty of bilious rantings. This week's offering---
The AL West
Anaheim Angels Last Year 92-70, first in the division
Offseason moves of note: Added Steve Finley, Orlando Cabrera, and God help me Esteban Yan. Sent Jose Guillen packing. Finley is a monster in the postseason, and Guillen is a cancer on a clubhouse. Cabrera is overrated though--he was fortunate to be a free agent this year. Yan can only be considered a "reclamation project" by anyone with the sense of a six year old. Overall a decent winter.
Here's the good stuff: There are still a lot of guys left over from the championship team with great attitudes and above-average skills. As much as people complain about it not justifying keeping a man it seems to have worked out pretty well in the recent past. The starting pitching has a lot of capable arms. What's not to love about having two guys with the same mother playing catcher?
Here's the bad stuff: If this team suffers many injuries it's all over. Rookies are going to be playing key roles at the infield corners. The bullpen looks a little shallow, as does the bench. With an injury-prone lineup like this one it's hard to believe there isn't anything behind the starters. Especially the way this team spends money.
Here's what to watch for: Vladimir Guerrero somehow fails to electrify the league on the west coast. Maybe pitchers on the west coast don't fear a guy so much just because he looks like a voodoo priest. We may also finally reach the year Steve Finley feels his age.
Here's what chaps my backside: This team can not seem to decide on a name. Give the fans a break. Don't get people excited and then tell them they're supposed to root for the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles California Disneyworld Earth.
Fearless Prediction: 89-73, second in division
Oakland Athletics Last year 91-71, second in division
Offseason moves of note: Added Octavio Dotel, Erubiel Durazo, Dan Haren, Kiko Calero, and Jason Kendall. All will fit well in the Oakland system with the exception of Kendall who is a touch on the overpaid side I think. Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson are gone--how that can be good I'm not sure. Haren and Calero were bright spots for the Cardinals last year with strong futures ahead.
Here's the good stuff: The team is as deep as ever. It's a strong collection of guys who know how to win ballgames without getting their heads stuck in the clouds. Billy Beane is a mastermind when it comes to assembling a team and the A's will be in contention again.
Here's the bad stuff: Starting pitching is suddenly a big question mark for this team. There is a lot of potential there but not too many arms that have proven themselves over the course of full seasons. There isn't any MVP-type player on this team which hurts exposure and in turn revenue.
Here's what to watch for: All of the young, unproven pitching. Certainly there will be some dazzling moments, but only one meltdown could knock this team back in the standings.
Here's what chaps my backside: Rumors are starting to swirl that the team may move if they don't get a new park. It sticks it to the fans and that doesn't sit well with me. You can't really blame the team though--the current park is in a rotten neighborhood and they have to share it with Raider Nation.
Fearless Prediction: 90-72, squeaking past Anaheim for first in the division.
Texas Rangers Last year 89-72, third in division
Offseason moves of note: Brought in Richard Hidalgo and retained Alfonso Soriano. Good moves, but also bringing in Pedro Astacio, Gary Matthews Jr, and Sandy Alomar makes me question if this might not have been the best winter. Sure, all of em are solid performers if it's 1998. "Going Young" is not a part of the current vernacular in Arlington apparently.
Here's the good stuff: Soriano is a freakin baller, end of story. This team is going to score plenty of runs. Recent gossip has Chan Ho Park finally getting released. No word if Tampa Bay is interested.
Here's the bad stuff: There is absolutely no depth in the infield. The depth chart suggests a platoon situation and I somehow doubt any spring acquisitions or call-ups will plug enough holes to make this team a serious contender. Pitching is not exactly a solid bet.
Here's what to watch for: Right now this team is carrying 18 pitchers on its roster. That doesn't suggest much confidence, but we'll see who sticks until opening day. The pack of aging veterans makes this team look even sketchier.
Here's what chaps my backside: Kenny Rogers has been threatening to retire if he doesn't get a juicy new contract. Speaking of juice, Jose Canseco is a recent alumnus, you can bet management is praying he doesn't wear a Rangers jersey when he starts shooting from the belltower.
Fearless prediction: After a decent start, the team sputters again before returning to mediocrity. 78-84, third in the division.
Seattle Mariners Last year 62-99, fourth and last in division
Offseason moves of note: Acquired hired guns Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, along with general nutjob Pokey Reese. Reese will be in charge of downtown parades while Sexson will supplement the Kingdome ventilation system by whiffing every third AB.
Here's the good stuff: Seattle appears very close to fielding an entire baseball team this year. They are likely to win a few more games than last year and Ichiro sells a hell of a lot of tickets. I feel bad for the guy breaking the hit record and nobody cares outside of Washington.
Here's the bad stuff: This team still stinks. Outfield depth is nonexistant--prospects are listed as number two guys all around. The only team in the division with that distinction, I might add. The pitching staff looks to get hammered again this year with maybe one guy getting more than 15 wins. There are some closet-case greedheads and petulant whiners hanging around the clubhouse.
Here's what to watch for: Adrian Beltre had a breakout year last time around. If he sticks someone in the Seattle front office looks like a genius....but if he bonks then you'll look boneheaded enough to trade A-Rod, Griffey, and The Unit for table scraps. Oh wait...
Here's what chaps my backside: The Seattle sporting press is still going on about the Griffey trade. How can you live in the past when you have no past of note?
Fearless prediction: 65-97, stuck in the cellar, thus earning an even harsher smack from me next year. Throw your fans a bone once in a while.
NEXT WEEK: The AL Central
Teams you always kind of pull for because you know they have no chance.