The A.L. West has been a two-team division for several years now, essentially since the Mariners' 116-win campaign in 2001 brought the last gasps of semi-glory for the holdouts from the RJ-Griffey-ARod years. Now it's Oakland and the Angels, two teams with vastly differing payrolls. Happily for A's fans, the superiority of their team's GM more than compensates for their limited resources.
Oakland's season rests on the fragile right arm of Rich Harden. Barry Zito is a slightly-above-average pitcher who was not worth half what the Giants paid him, but he ate up innings. After Harden and Haren, the A's rotation is shaky. Their offense isn't spectacular either, although their next wave of prospects appears ready to break through, and Dan Johnson, Mark Ellis and Eric Chavez aren't as bad as their 2006 performances indicate. I think Harden finally busts out with a 20-win season, and the A's squeak out the division title.
The Angels seem to be forever waiting for their limitless supply of prospects to mature, but nothing has come of the youth wave thus far. Howie Kendrick seems like a can't miss, but so did Casey Kotchman at this time last year. The Halos finally shed themselves of the dead weight that is Darin Erstad, only to replace him with Gary Matthews Jr., perhaps the single most retarded free agent signing of the year. Beyond John Lackey, the rotation is filled with question marks, from the balky right arm and flawed gene pool of Jered Weaver to the goutish figure of Bartolo Colon. Ervin Santana is overrated based on one playoff start. Any team with this much money and this many prospects should be the class of the American League, but Bill Stoneman has yet to prove he understands how to leverage those strengths into wins.
If form holds, the Rangers are due to win the World Series this year, the first after a semi-successful Buck Showalter tenure. Mark Teixeira will rebound, Hank Blalock might, Sammy Sosa won't, but the offense will still be fine. Not fine enough, though, to overcome one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball. No amount of post-Showalter karma can fix this. There's no solution in sight. Even a pre-surgery Eric Gagne can't do much with an 11-6 deficit.
Pat Gillick started this mess, but Buzz Bavasi has made it significantly worse. Ichiro is past his prime, and was overrated at his best. The Sexson-Beltre combo is still killing this team, years after one of the dumbest free-agent tandem signings in history. A 3-4-5 combo of Jose Guillen, Raul Ibanez and Richie Sexson captain the worst lineup in the American League, and Bavasi traded the best arm on the 40-man roster for nothing in the Rafael Soriano deal. Oh, and enough with the Doc Gooden-Felix Hernandez comparisons. Gooden was never fat, and never looked as lost on the mound as Hernandez does at times. The M's might be worse than the Royals this year.