American League West—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I examined the AL East here and the AL Central here.

Now let’s look at the AL West

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are heading for the playoffs again and are a legitimate threat to win the World Series. The one question they have is in the same area that cost them the World Series last year, the closer. Historically, Joe Nathan is good during the regular season and struggles during the playoffs, especially against the Yankees.

The roster has playoff experience; the hitters can mash; Josh Hamilton will want to have a big post-season to increase his paycheck as a free agent; their starting pitchers aren’t expecting to be pulled because of an arbitrary pitch count and have the strikeout capability to get out of trouble and pitch confidently with a great defense behind them.

Whether they win the World Series or not, the upcoming off-season could be one of transition for the Rangers. In addition to Hamilton being a free agent, so are Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, and Ryan Dempster. This can be seen as a negative, but it’s also a positive. They have flexibility to do a great many things, the nerve to follow through on them, and the farm system to make it possible.

There’s been talk that they might be willing to trade Elvis Andrus to make room for Jurickson Profar, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll entertain trade offers for Ian Kinsler, play Profar at second base, and try to get Michael Young’s contract off the books in the deal. They’ve had interest in Ike Davis in the past and the Mets are going to be willing to make drastic moves.

They won’t break the bank for Adams and they have starting pitching to let Dempster go. They’ll set a price for Napoli and if another team surpasses it, will let him leave. I think he ultimately stays.

That leaves Hamilton.

The Rangers are not going to give him $200 million. I wouldn’t expect them to want to give him $140 million, nor would they like to commit to him for 6-8 years. The question becomes: Will there be a team that’s willing to pay Hamilton anything close to his asking price?

I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t. The teams with the money—the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Cubs—either don’t need Hamilton at that price or wouldn’t risk putting him in their towns with his history of substance abuse problems.

The Tigers have been mentioned, but I don’t see that either.

What then?

He won’t get 8 years, but I can see the Rangers going to 5 with an easily reachable set of options if he’s clean off the field and healthy on it to make it a 7-8 year deal. The Rangers have other choices such as B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino or by making a trade. Hamilton doesn’t.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s accumulated a lot of young talent last off-season as they cleared out Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey—that was known. But no one could’ve predicted that their young pitching would come so far so fast; that Yoenis Cespedes would be the impact bat he’s been; that Josh Reddick would become a 30 homer man; or that they’d be on the cusp of making the playoffs.

The financial and ballpark problems that made it necessary for the A’s to restart their rebuild and make those trades are still present. They need a new ballpark and don’t have a lot of money to spend to bring in players; in spite of their good play, they’re still only 12th in the American League in attendance. With that young pitching and the concession when they hired Bob Melvin to replace the overmatched Bob Geren that not just anyone can manage a big league team and be successful, they have the talent to be at least respectable and possibly very good for years to come.

Stephen Drew and Brandon McCarthy are free agents at the end of the season, but both have a good chance to stay with the A’s.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

They have a chance to salvage 2012 and make it to the Wild Card play in game. With a veteran team loaded with starting pitching and power bats, once they’re in the playoffs they’re a threat.

That doesn’t gloss over the management issues that aren’t going to go away.

Mike Scioscia is not the right manager for a team loaded with power hitting stars. He wants to hit and run, play defense, and rely on his pitching. The front office has a new, stat-based, “my manager will take orders” GM Jerry Dipoto, and an owner Arte Moreno who may be tired of making the playoffs just about every year and losing in large part because of his manager’s stubbornness in doing things his way in spite of talent and reality.

Scioscia is signed through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave or they want to fire him, that’s what will happen. It’s not easy to function when one’s power is essentially taken away and that’s what happened with Scioscia. There’s been talk that he’d be a possible candidate to take over for Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox, but since the Red Sox are going back to their own stat-based roots and have publicly said that Bill James will take a larger role in putting their team together, Scioscia would be in the same situation in Boston that he’s in with the Angels. Forget it.

I have a hard time seeing Scioscia managing the Angels next season no matter what happens this season.

On the field, they owe Vernon Wells $42 million through 2014; Torii Hunter’s contract is expiring; they have a team option on Dan Haren; and Zack Greinke is a free agent.

The Angels will look markedly different in 2013, probably with a new manager who’s more in tune with strategies that fit the roster and what the front office wants.

Seattle Mariners

Getting rid of Ichiro Suzuki was a major step in a positive direction. But years and years of losing is finally taking a toll on their attendance figures. The Mariners fanbase is loyal and ten years ago, they had the highest attendance in the Major Leagues. Now they’re tenth. Until they start winning, that’s not going to improve.

They’re loaded with young pitching and led by a true megastar Felix Hernandez. They have some talented bats like Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, but are plain woeful offensively. Once they have some hitters to go along with that pitching, they’ll be a viable threat, but this ineptitude at the plate is going back a decade just like their attendance decline.

Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez are owed a combined $15.5 million in 2013, but if they take a bad contract and some money (Jason Bay?) maybe they can clear those players and try something different. Apart from that, they have money to spend and prospects to trade to pursue bats such as Justin Upton and B.J. Upton; Mike Morse; Justin Morneau; or possibly try to trade for Jacoby Ellsbury.

Unless they find some people who can produce offensively, the results are not going to change.

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American League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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You’ll see all the “rumors” floating around, published in newspapers and discussed on blogs, websites and shows. Most of them are fabrications, blown out of proportion or strategically placed factoids by owners, GMs, player agents, players, media members and anyone else with a stake in getting a story out there.

Starting with the American League East, here’s a realistic analysis of what teams should do at the upcoming trading deadline and which players might be available.

New York Yankees

Of course the Yankees are buyers, but what they’re buying and are willing to sell is still unknown. GM Brian Cashman has said he’s not going after any big name starting pitchers. Is that because they don’t want to trade prospects or because their prospects have lost luster throughout baseball?

The Yankees have crafted a case study in diminishing the value of their lauded minor leaguers. They managed to sell their one big asset—Jesus Montero—for a lemon in Michael Pineda and a bent “key” Jose Campos. (Still no updates on the condition of Campos’s elbow, by the way. Have they buried him somewhere?)

Manny Banuelos is also injured and Dellin Betances was demoted from Triple A to Double A because he couldn’t throw strikes.

Teams would take both, but not as the centerpiece for a notable veteran player. As part of a package? Absolutely.

They’d be foolish not to at least check in on Cole Hamels. They’re a more likely suitor for Ryan Dempster. I’d steer clear of Jason Vargas and Wandy Rodriguez (not good ideas for Yankee Stadium); Matt Garza is intriguing buy costly.

They need bullpen help with Grant Balfour, Rafael Betancourt, Brandon League and Joe Thatcher targets to consider.

If I were Cashman, I’d call Diamondbacks’ GM Kevin Towers (a former Cashman assistant) and tell him to hold off on trading Justin Upton in-season because the Yankees will want him over the winter to replace Nick Swisher.

Baltimore Orioles

They should stand pat making only negligible and cheap additions.

While it’s a great story that the Orioles are 45-40 and the doubters of some of the moves made by Dan Duquette have been proven wrong (Jason Hammel has been one of the great, under-the-radar pickups this season), they have to weigh the chances of a playoff spot vs surrendering too much to get mid-season help.

Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy are off the table in trades.

If they can get a starter and an outfielder simply by taking on salary and not giving up much to get them, they should do it. Carlos Quentin for the outfield and Joe Blanton to eat innings. Apart from that, they shouldn’t go crazy for a longshot.

Tampa Bay Rays

It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen for the Rays this year. They’re banking their hopes on Evan Longoria’s return—whenever that’s going to be. The starting pitching that was supposed to be an embarrassment of riches that the rest of baseball envied has fizzled. I expected B.J. Upton to have a massive statistical season in his contract year, but he’s continued being B.J. Upton: aggravating, inconsistent, lazy with flashes of brilliance.

Comebacks such as the one they pulled off last September don’t happen very often.

They should stand pat and listen to offers for Upton.

Boston Red Sox

Fan demand might force them to do something drastic and it’s not going to sell if Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino pull the old Theo Epstein trick of being in on ginormous deals that never come to pass. The media and radio talk shows are going to want something significant done.

They need to ignore the pleas and stand pat.

This team, bottom line, isn’t very good. They’re dysfunctional in the clubhouse; there’s a leadership vacuum in the front office with multiple voices vying for influence; and their veterans haven’t performed. Trading prospects for a rental starting pitcher or even one that they’ll be able to keep in Garza makes no sense.

Toronto Blue Jays

There’s talk that they’re buyers. There’s talk that they’re sellers. There’s talk that they’re both.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is in on everything and they have the prospects to do something major. Desperate for starting pitching and holding out hope for a late-season playoff run, it’s something to consider when making a move on Garza or Wandy Rodriguez. They’re not far away from being a legitimate contender now and definitely in 2013 and beyond.

But they’ve been on that verge multiple times for the past 10 years and nothing’s happened.

I don’t get the impression that the Brewers are all-in on cleaning house and dealing Zack Greinke. In fact, I’m thinking that unless they totally come apart over the next three weeks, they won’t move him. They Blue Jays would probably be better off shifting focus toward a Randy Wolf or bringing Shaun Marcum back because they’re cheaper.

I’d try to get rid of Adam Lind now that he’s hitting again.

Edwin Encarnacion’s name popped up as being in play. He’s having his career year and still makes mental gaffes that can aggravate the most patient manager. If someone is willing give up a pitcher for him, then do it in a mutually advantageous deal. The Pirates have extra pitching and could use a bat, but I’d be concerned about messing with their current chemistry.

I’d buy or sell within reason with nothing too explosive.

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American League East Predicted Standings

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American League East Predicted Standings:

1. New York Yankees                        94       68         —

2. Toronto Blue Jays                         87       75           7

3. Tampa Bay Rays                            85       77           9

4. Boston Red Sox                             81       81          13

5. Baltimore Orioles                           65       97          29

New York Yankees

The Yankees benefited greatly from the lack of decisively bold movements and drastic improvements of their rivals. While they’re repeating prior mistakes with paranoia and pitcher-babying, they have the offense, abundance of starting pitching and deep bullpen to again rise to the top of the division.

The bench is something that will have to be addressed as the season moves along because Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones aren’t suitable backups regardless of the Yankees’ propaganda machine unequivocally stating that they are.

Expect Alex Rodriguez to have a comeback season and hope that the overwhelming pressure they’re putting on Michael Pineda doesn’t haunt them.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays needed a name arm or a name bat to be a preseason favorite and didn’t get either.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t contend; it means that they’re going to have to get big seasons from young players Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar and Henderson Alvarez. Sergio Santos must prove he can close for a full season and throw strikes; Brandon Morrow has to develop into a trustworthy top-tier starter without restrictions.

I picked Jose Bautista as the AL MVP.

Tampa Bay Rays

Again forced to scrounge around the bargain bins, they reunited with Carlos Pena to increase their power at first base. The Rays have been good and lucky in finding bullpen arms who fit into their system and rejuvenate stalled careers—running a club that way is rife with risks that eventually it’s not going to work.

B.J. Upton will play like a maniac all season as he heads for free agency.

With their young starting pitching, they could make it to the World Series or falter and be out of contention to put such stars as Upton, James Shields and David Price in play for a trade at mid-season.

I’ve got them somewhere in the middle.

Boston Red Sox

It’s chaos.

Who’s running things?

Is there any cohesion between John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine?

At least when Theo Epstein was there—like it or not—you knew there was one person mostly in charge; now with Theo gone and Lucchino grasping for power; Henry providing self-protectionist alibis; Cherington marginalized; and Bobby V being…Bobby V, there are going to be voices, whispers, Machiavellian power plays and rampant dysfunction the likes which have not been seen in Boston since 2001.

Are they making the types of moves that laid the foundation of their annual championship contending teams from 2003-2010 or are they desperately trying to patch holes and find “name” people to replace the “name” people who are gone?

I like Valentine, but his polarizing personality can go both ways. The Red Sox starting rotation is short and they have black spots in their lineup at shortstop, right field and possibly catcher.

It’s a time bomb with Valentine and Josh Beckett.

Baltimore Orioles

I don’t hear much about Buck Showalter’s status as a miracle worker after the team came apart last season.

Following a hot start, they reverted to being the Orioles of the past 15 years.

Dan Duquette has received unfair criticism and there’s a lack of context in the good work he did as the Expos’ and Red Sox’ GM, but a lack of talent is a lack of talent; an impossible division is an impossible division; and until they develop their young arms and stick to a strategy for the long term, there’s not much that will change in Baltimore.

Duquette must be allowed to take the marketable players—notably Nick Markakis and Adam Jones—and see what types of offers he can get for them to replenish the system with multiple players. They’re not going to do the Orioles any good as Orioles.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Are the White Sox Rebuilding or Not?

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White Sox GM Kenny Williams uttered the unutterable word after the club’s disappointing 2011 season ended and manager Ozzie Guillen had been traded to the Marlins when he said, “rebuilding”.

After following the win-now edict and acting accordingly by relying on veterans and mostly ignoring the farm system as anything other than a means for immediate help or to trade for veteran players, they hired a neophyte manager in Robin Ventura; traded closer Sergio Santos; and allowed veterans Mark Buehrle, Ramon Castro and Juan Pierre to depart via free agency.

But Williams’s actions don’t imply a full-blown teardown.

Such is the case as he signed lefty starter John Danks—about whom he was listening to trade proposals—to a 5-year, $65 million contract extension precluding his free agency after next season and locking him up for four years hence.

Danks is a good pitcher and if he maintains his performance from the past 5 years, he’ll be a bargain in comparison to what he would’ve gotten as a free agent.

But I don’t understand the dual messages the White Sox are sending.

Are they rebuilding or not?

If they are rebuilding while trying to remain competitive, wouldn’t they have been better off signing Buehrle to a contract similar to what he got from the Marlins and trading Danks for 2-3 prospects? Buehrle presumably would’ve given a discount to the White Sox to stay and Danks is a very marketable arm.

So which is it?

If the White Sox were in the American or National League East or the AL West, I’d say they should start over, but they’re not. The AL Central doesn’t have a dominant team and any team can win it in 2012.

So many things went wrong for the White Sox over the past two seasons, perhaps the managerial change from the controversial and loud Guillen to the calm and respected Ventura, plus a tweak here and there, places them right back in the thick of things.

Given the immovable nature of some of their contracts—Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy especially—what sense did it make to give these mixed signals of their planned course?

There are plenty of “ifs” involved with their 2012 club.

If Chris Sale transitions well to the starting rotation…

If Philip Humber can continue pitching as well as he did in 2011…

If Peavy can return to some semblance of his Padres form…

If Dunn hits better than a moderately threatening starting pitcher who doubled as an outfielder in college…

If, if, if…

But there’s enough talent to contend in that parity-laden division—all the teams have flaws—and with that in mind, what the White Sox are currently doing doesn’t make much sense at all.

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