Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: AL West

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (B-)
The class of the AL West remains in the driver's seat. GM Bill Stoneman stepped down after the end of the season. New general manager Tony Reagins has yet to prove he can run a big market ballclub. Overpaying for OF Torii Hunter in 2007 wasn't as egregious as when the Angels overpaid for Gary Matthews Jr. last year but still was a bad signing. Trading Orlando Cabrera netted the Angels a quality starter in Jon Garland but leaves a gaping hole at SS. Despite these lateral moves LA still possesses superior talent (Vladimir Guerrero and great pitchers) and coaching (Mike Scioscia) compared to its division rivals. The Angels farm system has thinned since the promotions of RHP Jered Weaver, 2B Howie Kendrick and OF Reggie Willits. Top prospects 3B Brandon Wood and RHP Nick Adenhart are promising but have performance and injury questions.

Oakland Athletics (C)
GM Billy Beane is considered one of the shrewdest if not smartest general managers in baseball.
He lived up to the reputation by receiving kings' ransoms for RHP Dan Haren and OF Nick Swisher. Beane also signed OF Emil Brown for peanuts. Oakland is undergoing a full-blown reconstruction due to payroll constraints and lackluster fan support. The A's hope to be competing by the time a new ballpark opens, perhaps as early as 2010. Until then Oakland's offense will be anemic. Jack Cust is the only home run threat in the lineup. The pitching situation will be marginally better -- barring any more trades. Joe Blanton and Rich Harden are very good starters and Huston Street is a reliable closer. While the major league ballclub will likely be awful the minor league system has been replenished by the likes of 1B Daric Barton, OF Carlos Gonzales, RHP Fautino de los Santos and LHP Gio Gonzalez.

Seattle Mariners (D+)
Despite playing in a market that receives near-zero national attention, GM Bill Bavasi can play with lots of money thanks to ownership's deep pockets. However mismanagement ranging from mediocre (signing Jose Vidro) to disastrous (trading Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez) has plagued the organization. The Mariners should be grateful their international scouts excel at identifying and signing Latin talent. RHP Felix Hernandez was identified early on and despite more lucrative offers from other teams he signed with Seattle because the franchise made an early impression.
Felix was occasionally dominant but otherwise inconsistent last season. Although he's still young Hernandez will be asked to step up and carry a weak rotation that includes Miguel Batista, Carlos Silva and Jarrod Washburn. C Kenji Johjima is a reliable albeit overworked backstop. 1B Richie Sexson was astoundingly awful in 2007 -- especially for "earning" $14 million. 2B Jose Lopez and SS Yuniesky Betancourt were below average. Lopez in particular needs to show mental toughness. 3B Adrian Beltre won his first Gold Glove last season and remains one of the best at the hot corner. "OF" Raul Ibanez was red-hot for the final two months after a disastrous start. He needs to move to first or DH to mask his defensive deficiencies. Resigning CF Ichiro Suzuki was the number one priority for this team last season. His return assures the M's will field a MVP-caliber star with international appeal. RF Jose Guillen signed with Kansas City. Adam Jones is currently penciled in at the position but he may be dealt for a starting pitcher. The bullpen was one of the few bright spots for Seattle. J.J. Putz and George Sherrill established themselves as elite relievers. John McLaren, a career bench coach prior to 2007, is simply in over his head when it comes to baseball strategy. After years of despair the M's minor league is brimming with promise. OF Wladimir Balentien and C Jeff Clement showed flashes of brilliance during their brief September call-ups. SS Carlos Triunfel is as promising as a 17-year old can be. The Mariners front office wants to believe it will contend in '08 but the team is better off working toward the future -- preferably by retaining their prospects.

Texas Rangers (C)
Constant cellar dwellers since the Ivan Rodriguez-Juan Gonzalez days, Texas remains a team with a great offense and terrible pitching. SS Michel Young and 3B Hank Blalock form a great left side of the infield.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, acquired as part of the Mark Texeira trade last year, might be the most promising catcher in baseball. Whether he stays at that position or shifts to first base will determine his value. CF Josh Hamilton comes from Cincinnati. He was a great comeback story in 2007, but more importantly he was incredibly productive. The pitching situation is a mess. The Rangers signed washed-up LHP Eddie Guardado to shore up a woeful bullpen. At least Texas is home to one of the best farm systems. There are good prospects playing in every level such as RHP Neftali Feliz, RHP Eric Hurley, SS Elvis Andrus, OF Engel Beltre, C Taylor Teagarden and RHP Blake Beavan.

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