12/15/10 10:00 AM EST
AL West looks to overcome Hot Stove misses
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Discovering that the euphoria of their first World Series had a quick expiration date, the Texas Rangers must move on without Cliff Lee, who did so much to take them on that joyride through Tampa Bay and New York to San Francisco and the Fall Classic.
When Lee decided that, on the whole, he'd rather be in Philadelphia, it was a severe jolt to the Lone Star State's collective ego, to say nothing of president Nolan Ryan's projected pitching staff.
Lee's rejection of Texas came close on the heels of Carl Crawford's selection of Boston's chowder -- and dollars -- over the beaches and temperate climate offered by the Angels.
Like the Rangers, the Angels, in the wake of their first losing season since 2003, are left to figure out ways to compensate for the speed, defense and offense they'd hoped Crawford would provide.
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Even the Oakland Athletics felt the sting of rejection when free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre -- who could set off a bidding war between the Angels and Rangers -- decided he'd wait out the market rather than accept their reported five-year, $64 million offer. Boras maintains that the A's are still in the mix for Beltre. Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma also walked away from a potential deal with Oakland.
Beltre reportedly is hoping to get a deal in the $80 million range across five seasons, but nobody ever really knows what his agent, Scott Boras, is calculating. Certainly few insiders anticipated the seven-year, $126 million deal Boras extracted for outfielder Jayson Werth from Washington.
The A's are hoping Hideki Matsui can add muscle and accomplished outfielder David DeJesus delivers quality offensive production. They're banking on a superb collection of young arms to come together and hopefully emulate the World Series champion Giants on the other side of the Bay Bridge.
Rounding out the division, the Seattle Mariners are hoping to play their way back to respectability with improved offense in support of King Felix Hernandez. Justin Smoak, the prize the Mariners sought from the Rangers in the Lee deal, figures to be a big part of it, along with new acquisitions Miguel Olivo and Jack Cust.
The landscape has changed in the AL West. No longer are the Angels, with five division crowns in six previous seasons, the team with targets on the back of those red uniforms. That distinction now belongs to the Rangers, even without their departed ace, Lee.
"I don't know how other people feel, but I have a lot of respect for the teams in our division," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I respect what the Angels have done, and I respect Oakland and Seattle. It's a good, competitive division."
The Angels, Athletics and Mariners are aware of the challenges ahead in trying to keep up with the new division kings, who have depth on the field and on the mound to be contenders in 2011 and for years to come.
Here is how the AL West shapes up in the aftermath of the Winter Meetings, with more work to be done in all four locales.
Los Angeles Angels
What they've done: The Angels signed a pair of free-agent left-handed relievers to deepen and balance a bullpen in need of repairs. Scott Downs, one of the game's premier setup men, agreed to a three-year, $15 million deal, while Hisanori Takahashi accepted a two-year, $8 million pact. This appears to have the pitching staff complete. The Angels like their rotation almost as much as the Phillies like their mega-million group.
Left to do: Spurned in their attempt to sign Crawford, the Angels focused their immediate attention on upgrading the bullpen. The club needs to beef up the offense, ideally at third base and possibly in left field. Beltre is on their radar; the challenge is hammering out a deal they consider reasonable with Boras, who owns prime box-seat real estate inside Angel Stadium but is not known to be a fan of any particular club. The Rangers are also interested in Beltre, whose arrival would force another position switch (or trade) for franchise centerpiece Michael Young. A number of veteran outfielders remain in the free-agent market, including former Angels superstar Vladimir Guerrero, believed to be on his way back to Texas. The need for a leadoff man could turn their attention to Johnny Damon or Scott Podsednik.
Where they stand: The Angels feel they will be stronger out of the gate with Dan Haren, a midseason acquisition from Arizona, joining Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir in a potentially lethal rotation. The anticipated return of Kendry Morales, who missed two-thirds of the season after a freak home-plate celebration of a game-winning grand slam, brings missing thump back to the middle of the order. They're not the run-and-stun Angels of the Chone Figgins days, but they have the athletes to return to that style if Maicer Izturis stays healthy, Erick Aybar plays to his potential and ultra-swift Peter Bourjos hits well enough to hold down the center-field job. The bullpen figures to be improved, even though critics are not convinced the club is content with Fernando Rodney and young Jordan Walden or Kevin Jepsen as closing options. Boras client Rafael Soriano is still available, at a high cost.
What they've done: The A's acquired DeJesus from the Royals for left-hander Justin Marks and righty Vin Mazzaro. They landed a pair of right-handers, Danny Farquhar and Trystan Magnuson, from the Jays in exchange for Rajai Davis. Looking to add some thump, the A's signed free-agent outfielder and designated hitter Matsui to a one-year, $7 million deal. Matsui had a .507 slugging mark, while batting fourth, and finished second on the Angels in RBIs (84) and third in homers (21). He can play a day or two in left per week. If Brandon McCarthy's right shoulder is as healthy as he says, the Oakland A's landed another potential starter for their rotation with the agreement on a one-year deal for the free-agent right-hander. Shoulder problems have limited him to 22 Major League starts over the past three seasons, but he threw well at the end of last season in Triple-A ball and then in the Dominican Winter League, convincing the A's he's worth a $1 million pact with performance incentives.
Left to do: The inability to sign Iwakuma created some payroll flexibility. They're also still on the lookout for a starter -- a viable option to include in the fifth-starter mix with McCarthy, Tyson Ross, Josh Outman and Bobby Cramer. An additional reliever also could be on the way. Boras maintained that the A's are still in the mix for Beltre, but Kevin Kouzmanoff provides solid defense and muscle at third. The outfield should be superior defensively, anchored by Coco Crisp in center with Ryan Sweeney and DeJesus on the corners.
Where they stand: With the most underrated defense in the game, featuring Gold Glove candidates at multiple positions, the A's will support their young arms with a succession of defensive gems. Few clubs can match the rotation potential of Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden. McCarthy, if healthy, could be a strong fifth starter. Andrew Bailey is a premium closer supported by high-caliber setup men and middle relievers. The question is whether the A's can score often enough to hang in the race. Matsui is a proven clutch hitter and should help in the middle of the order. DeJesus, a .289 career hitter who bangs the gaps, could be an excellent fit for the sprawl of Oakland, with the bat as well as his glove. Catcher Kurt Suzuki is one of the game's most valuable receivers, highly respected for his game-calling as well as his clutch bat.
What they've done: They haven't made any major splashes, but the Mariners feel they've helped themselves in several areas. They agreed to terms with free-agent catcher Olivo on a two-year, $7 million deal and landed free-agent designated hitter Cust with a one-year, $2.5 million pact. Improving infield depth, the Mariners traded pitching prospect Maikel Cleto to the Cardinals for Brendan Ryan, one of the Majors' premier defensive shortstops the past two seasons. Ryan also provides depth at second and third base. Erik Bedard was signed with the hope that he can recapture his once dominant form in support of Hernandez. With the second overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft, right-hander Jose Flores, a 21-year-old reliever in the Cleveland Indians' farm system, was selected by the Mariners. Flores, who pitched with the Class A Lake County Captains in the Midwest League last year, must remain with the Mariners for the entire 2011 season or be offered back to the Indians for $25,000.
Left to do: Seattle has been seeing what is available in left field to supplement 24-year-old Michael Saunders. The free-agent market is loaded with possibilities. If Ryan hits enough to play second, the Mariners can return Figgins back to third base, where he was a Gold Glove-level defender for the Angels. Ichiro Suzuki and Figgins should be a dynamic tandem at the top of the order, but the club has to be aware of any potential upgrades in the power department.
Where they stand: Olivo should be a major addition behind the plate. Noted for his strong arm and quickness behind the plate, Olivo has averaged 16 home runs and 56 RBIs the past five seasons for Florida, Kansas City and Colorado. He brings toughness and nine seasons of big league experience to the pitching staff. The overall defense is excellent, and could be even better with Ryan playing regularly somewhere in the infield. They'll need to win a lot of 3-2 and 2-1 games unless the offense produces more than it did during a dismal 2010 showing, when it was at the bottom of the heap in most of the important categories: runs scored, homers, batting average, slugging and on-base percentage.
What they've done: Virtually the entire offseason focus has been on Lee. Now that he's gone, they can get busy on shoring up other areas and figuring out how to replace an ace. They have replaced Bengie Molina behind the plate with Yorvit Torrealba, who is known for his defense but never has been an offensive threat on Molina's level. Matt Treanor was re-signed as the backup.
Left to do: They've been linked in the rumor mill with Royals ace Zack Greinke, who would come at a steep price in young talent if the Rangers go in that direction. The Rays' Matt Garza also is a trade possibility. Another option is to return closer Neftali Feliz to a starting role. It would take a while to stretch him back out, but Feliz has the overpowering stuff and the temperament to be a dominant starter. Frank Francisco has closing experience, and Soriano -- who figures to command in excess of $10 million per year -- is available as a free agent. Carl Pavano is the best of the free-agent starters available. There seems to be mutual interest in bringing Guerrero back in the DH role, but the veteran would prefer a multiyear deal and could depart if the right offer presents itself. If the Rangers pursue Beltre, Young would have to move -- to another role (first base or DH) or perhaps another club in a deal.
Where they stand: Rangers GM Jon Daniels claims there will be no panic moves made in Texas. This club has been extraordinarily smart in the trade market and free agency in recent seasons, and it has a wealth of prospects and young talent to move if the right commodity -- Greinke, Garza, someone close to that level -- is too good to resist. Texas' last offer to Lee was for $138 million over six years, with an option for a seventh season.
"Ownership took over in August and by the fall, they were authorizing nine-figure proposals," Daniels said. "Our fans should know they are committed to winning. We would have liked to have him back, but we weren't able to find terms that made sense."
Texas is still blessed with dependable starters in C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland. The club has talked about moving setup reliever Alexi Ogando to the rotation, and he also could be a closing option if Feliz starts.
"We knew it could go either way," Daniels said of Lee's big decision. "It doesn't change the fact that we still expect to win next year. The offseason is far from over."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. Reporters T.R. Sullivan, Jane Lee and Greg Johns contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.