2012 will be an interesting year in the AL West. The AL West has 2 championship caliber teams (Angels, Rangers) and two rebuilding teams (Mariners, A's). Over the past two years, the AL West has been ruled by the Rangers, but could that change in 2012?
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (projected record: 96-66)
Most will probably argue that the Rangers are the better team, but I think differently. The Rangers may have depth, but the Angels have 4 starters capable of pitching at a number 1 or 2 starter level. Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, and CJ Wilson could all anchor a staff, and that trio puts the Angels near the Phillies trio of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels. Ervin Santana is the x factor here. When Santana is on, he has elite stuff, capable of being a number 2 starter. But Santana can fluctuate, making him the riskiest of the quartet. If Santana can post a solid season, along with a decent contribution from the number 5 spot, then the Angels could end up with the best rotation in the big leagues (I currently have them number 2 behind the Rays).
The bullpen is probably the biggest question surrounding the Angels. Walden could be an elite closer, but he will have to cut down on his blown saves. If the Angels need to make any moves, an added bullpen piece would be nice. The Angels offense is not elite, but I think it is very underrated. Chris Iannetta is a big offensive upgrade at catcher over the incumbant Jeff Mathis. The middle infield of Kendrick and Aybar was worth over 10 WAR last season, and a significant drop-off is unlikely. Alberto Callaspo is actually quite solid at 3B, being worth over 4 wins each of the last 2 seasons. And of course Pujols is a great addition to any team.
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Vernon Wells, for all his glory, is still a viable offensive player. He is just 2 years removed from a 4 win all-star season, and he cant get much worse than his 2011. Peter Bourjos and Hunter should put up numbers similar to their 2011's. The DH/1B platoon of Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales should be good this season. If Morales can put up numbers even remotely close to his 2009, then the offense will get a huge boost.
Bottom Line: The Angels will have a good chance at the division, and if that fails, I would be shocked not to see them win a wild card spot.
2. Texas Rangers (projected record: 95-67)
The Rangers have had the good fortune of reaching the world series in two consecutive years, but unfortunately they have yet to win it all. The Rangers have arguably the best offense in the game led by 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton. Hamilton and Cruz will likely anchor the offense. Each of them has all-star talent, but has injury concerns. If I was guaranteed a full season from each of them, the Rangers would top the Angels here. The middle infield is arguably one of the best in baseball, with Kinsler going 30-30 last season, and Andrus displaying plus speed and defense. Adrian Beltre is a strong hitting, gold glove caliber third baseman, and Mike Napoli should be an offensive force at catcher. Michael Young is also a reliable option.
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The only 2 positions of question for the Rangers are CF (Gentry and Borbon), and first base (Mitch Moreland), but the strength of the rest of the team will make up for it. Like the Angels, the Rangers have one of the best pitching staffs in the majors. They have 7 starters capable of pitching as a number 3 type starter. Unfortunately two of them (Feldman and Ogando) will end up in the bullpen. Yu Darvish is the big name out of the quintet of Darvish, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz. In the end, I think Holland will emerge as the anchor of the staff down in Texas.
Bottom Line: Texas will have a tough fight for the division with the Angels in 2012, but I would be shocked not to see the Rangers playing in October this year.
3. Seattle Mariners (projected record: 77-85)
The Mariners may not be good in 2012, but they are on the right track. The offense really depends on the trio of Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, and Dustin Ackley for this season and the future. Mike Carp could provide some much-needed power, and Figgins will likely rebound from his horrid 2011. Brenden Ryan cannot hit, but he's probably the best fielding shortstop in the majors.
Pitching is definitely the strength of the Mariners as they are led by the formidable Felix Hernandez. Jason Vargas is also a decent pitcher who will be the number 2 in that rotation this year. The rest of the future rotation is in the minors right now, but Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton could reach the majors within 2012 with Hultzen likely getting a mid-season call up.
Bottom Line: The Mariners are not going to win much in 2012, but this could be a pivotal developmental year for the future of the Mariners' young core.
4. Oakland Athletics (projected record: 73-89)
The Oakland A's may be one of the most interesting teams to watch in 2012. Not because there will be a whole lot of winning going on, it's because there are quite a few intriguing players to watch on this team. Yoenis Cespedes will be very interesting to see how he will adapt, and I think Josh Reddick has breakout potential in 2012. If Daric Barton can put up numbers similar to his 2010, he may be one of the most undervalued players in the majors.
The middle infield combo of Cliff Pennington and Jemile Weeks will be a great pair to watch. Each of them are young and this could be Oakland's double play combo of the future. On the pitching side, Brandon McCarthy will be intriguing to watch as he attempts to improve on his breakout 2011. The development of young pitchers such as Brad Peacock and Jarrod Parker will also be interesting to watch.
Bottom Line: The bottom line for Oakland and Seattle are very similar.
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