An offseason look around the AL West

Not only did the 2004 version of the Seattle Mariners finish fourth in the four-team American League West division, 29 games behind division winner Anaheim, they also finished 26 games back of the third place Texas Rangers. This is a perfect illustration of the amount of work the Mariners have this off-season.

The rest of the teams in the American League West are not going to simply take the winter off and allow the M's to play catch up. While the Anaheim Angels are looking to retool and defend their division title in 2005, Oakland and Texas look to close the small gap in the standings that left them watching the post-season with the rest of us.

As the M's approach their most critical off-season in recent memory, here's what their AL West foes are doing this winter:

Anaheim Angels
2004 record: 92-70 (AL West Champs)
Manager: Mike Scioscia

Free Agents: Troy Glaus, Troy Percival, Aaron Sele, Shane Halter, Andres Galarraga

The 2004 division champs have already parted ways with slugging third baseman Troy Glaus, who has been injured for the better part of the last two seasons, to make way for top minor league prospect Dallas McPherson. The Angels have also decided to let their closer Troy Percival walk this off-season and move top setup man Francisco Rodriguez into the closer role after Percival rejected an offer to return as K-Rod's setup man. However, the Angels are flush with young arms in the bullpen and it would seem unlikely they would look to add to an already solid bullpen. In addition, GM Bill Stoneman seemingly has to move disgruntled outfielder Jose Guillen after he was suspended near the end of the regular season and all of the playoffs.

The Angels off-season plan includes moving Garret Anderson from center field to the less-physically-demanding left field. The logical choice would be to replace Anderson with 2002 Gold Glove center fielder Darin Erstad, who manned first base this past season. However, Erstad just won another Gold Glove for his play at first base in 2004 and the Angels plan to leave him there. The Angels shaved a significant chunk off their payroll with Glaus, Percival and Sele leaving, not to mention the fact that Kevin Appier's contract also comes off the books. The big question will be whether there is there enough money for the Angels to make a run at the most coveted free agent on the market in Carlos Beltran? There is also talk of the Angels looking to upgrade at shortstop, with Nomar Garciaparra, Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera all possibilities. The Angels may also want to add a No. 1 starter and could take another run at Arizona's Randy Johnson or free agent Pedro Martinez.

Oakland A's
2004 record: 91-71 (2nd place)
Manager: Ken Macha

Free Agents: Jermaine Dye, Chris Hammond, Mark McLemore, Jim Mecir, Damian Miller

The 2003 American League West champion Oakland A's came up one game short in their pursuit of their third-consecutive AL West division title this past season. One of the first moves this off-season from A's General Manager Billy Beane was to rightly decline Jermaine Dye's $14 million option for 2005. Although the A's don't have any significant free agents of their own to re-sign, they do have some decisions to make. On the top of their priority list is deciding whether to keep their rotation intact knowing that Tim Hudson will hit free agency after the 2005 season?

With Dye's option declined, the A's will need to find some right-handed power to balance out the left-handed power supplied by Eric Chavez, Erubiel Durazo and Scott Hatteberg. One option is to bring Dye back at a reduced price, but it seems likely the A's will look elsewhere. The other main priority will be to continue to rebuild the bullpen, a job that was started last season with the acquisition of closer Octavio Dotel. The A's, unlike the other three AL West teams, operate under a very tight budget, so look for them to continue to try and shed some salary by looking to move Arthur Rhodes, a free agent bust as a closer last season, and perhaps starter Mark Redman.

Texas Rangers
2004 record: 89-73 (3rd place)
Manager: Buck Showalter

Free Agents: Manny Alexander, Doug Brocail, David Dellucci, Andy Fox, Brad Fullmer, Rusty Greer, Brian Jordan, Jeff Nelson, Herbert Perry, Jay Powell, John Wasdin, Eric Young, Jeff Zimmerman

What a turnaround for Buck Showalter's Texas Rangers in 2004, finishing just three games back of division champ Anaheim and improving by 18 wins over 2003, all after trading their best player Alex Rodriguez. What remained was perhaps the best young offense in the American League, powered by rising stars Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano and Michael Young. Soriano and Teixeira both won the Silver Slugger award for 2004 for their respective positions. Offense isn't the issue in Arlington, but pitching, as usual, is.

The Rangers found their closer in young, hard-throwing right hander Francisco Cordero, who had a team record 49 saves. Kenny Rogers won 19 games but this is a team that clearly needs a top-of-the-rotation starter and may be looking to trade some offense (possibly Soriano) to get it. In addition, young first baseman Adrian Gonzalez looks ready to play everyday at the major league level after hitting for a .304 average with 12 home runs and 88 RBI in 123 games at AAA Oklahoma City. For the right starting pitcher, the Rangers could consider dealing either Gonzalez or Teixiera. Gonzalez wouldn't get nearly as much in return, but would allow the Rangers to give up less, acquire a middle-tier starting pitcher, and keep Teixiera in the lineup.

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