AL West is Hot Stove’s hottest division
The Yankees have the trophy, the best lineup anywhere, the most
expensive rotation and, oh, Curtis Granderson, too.
They might be farther away from The Other 29 than when Mark
Teixeira squeezed the season’s final out. At the risk of crowning a
champion after the winter meetings — loved those ’08 Tigers
— the Yankees will be favored to repeat unless Brian Cashman
settles on a left-field platoon of Luis Polonia and Randy Velarde.
But now that Granderson is a Yankee — and Andy Pettitte a
Yankee once more — I wonder whether it’s time for fans to
find a new object of affection/ire/attention for the remainder of
So, I’m devoting this space to my latest fascination: The
American League West.
I would challenge you to find a more captivating division during
the ’09-’10 Hot Stove season. Three AL West teams — the
Angels, Rangers and Mariners — finished the season with 85
wins or more. That hadn’t happened in the division since 2004. And
the A’s were competitive, going 43-39 during July, August and
Collectively, the division had winning records against the AL
East and AL Central. That says something about its overall
As for 2010, I expect the Angels, Rangers and Mariners to each
arrive at spring training with a realistic chance to win the
division. Accordingly, the clubs are engaging in a form of hardball
brinksmanship we thought was only possible along the Eastern
The Mariners swiped All-Star Chone Figgins from the Angels with
a four-year, $36 million contract. And they might not be done yet.
Seattle officials haven’t ruled themselves out of the bidding for
Angels ace John Lackey.
Not to be outdone, Angels owner Arte Moreno said last month that
he intended to pursue free agent Jason Bay, a resident of the
Seattle area. (More recently, general manager Tony Reagins and
manager Mike Scioscia have said Bay is not a priority. Still, there
is no indication that the Angels have pulled out.)
Seattle offered a one-year, incentive-laden contract to
free-agent starter Rich Harden, a British Columbia native who had
interest in pitching close to home. But the Rangers made a more
compelling pitch — one year at $7.5 million, with an option
for 2011 — and Harden signed with them.
There have been other cases, too. The Angels and Mariners were
bidding for Granderson before the Tigers sent him to New York. All
three teams are looking for a situational left-hander, so all three
teams are interested in veteran Darren Oliver. Of course, Oliver
has spent the past three seasons with the Angels.
In one sense, the next move should belong to Reagins. Other than
re-signing Bobby Abreu, the Angels haven’t made any meaningful
moves this offseason. But they deserve the benefit of the doubt
after winning five of the past six division titles and fiercely
challenging the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
The Angels are again pursuing a trade for Toronto ace Roy
Halladay, and their farm system is rich enough for them to complete
a deal. They are reportedly willing to include Erick Aybar, their
everyday shortstop, in the offer.
That could be risky. With the departure of Figgins, the Angels
may be breaking in a prospect, Brandon Wood, at third base. And if
they must part with Aybar in order to acquire Halladay, the top
internal candidate to start at shortstop would be Maicer Izturis.
He is less proven defensively and has a weaker throwing arm than
It would be easiest for the Angels to meet Lackey’s asking price
and not worry about surrendering any talent via trade.
The Mariners, meanwhile, are almost certain to add one or two
starters before the off-season is over. Halladay is possible, but a
free agent is more likely. In addition to Lackey, they have checked
on Ben Sheets, Doug Davis, Jarrod Washburn and Jason Marquis.
So, the Mariners are going to improve their rotation. The only
question is whether they merely get better or get better at the
Angels’ expense, as they did with Figgins.
But let’s not forget about the Rangers. Their general manager,
Jon Daniels, is doing some of the best work in his four-plus years
on the job, at a time when the franchise’s forthcoming sale could
jeopardize the job security of team executives.
Daniels has too much integrity to make moves designed to save
his job rather than improve the team. But his performance at the
winter meetings showed he has a firm grasp of how to shape a roster
and maximize (limited) financial resources.
He traded Kevin Millwood and effectively disbursed the
right-hander’s $12 million salary to three new players: Harden,
reliever Chris Ray and veteran hitter/leader Mike Lowell, who will
officially join the team once a review of medical records is
The still-young A’s will have a difficult time contending at a
time when their rivals are adding muscle in anticipation of a
truculent 2010 season. But Oakland could be a playoff team in 2011,
thanks to a talented young rotation that’s improving by the
By then, the AL West should be the clear pick as the best
top-to-bottom division in the majors. And if you pay close
attention to what’s going on this winter, you may conclude that it