BY John Hickey 08:14PM 01/12/2011

Mariners aren’t alone in struggle to improve

AL West teams as a group are scuffling in bid to improve their rosters

Jack Zduriencik - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 2

Will Felix Hernandez find GM Jack Zduriencik's moves enough in 2011?

Is the American League West about to become the Major League Baseball equivalent of the football’s NFC West?

Will 2011 see the AL West be a four-team division without any team commanding respect and exhibiting staying power?

It could happen, because the Mariners aren’t the only team to have fans complaining about the remake of the roster since the end of the 2010 season, when the Texas Rangers won 90 games and made it to the World Series but no other team in the division won was over .500.

For all of having won the West and made it to the World Series for the first time (losing to the Giants in five games), the Rangers are arguably a worse team now than they were in October.

They’ve lost Cliff Lee from the starting rotation, and while they did everything but rename Arlington, TX., for former Mariner Lee, he bolted to the Philadelphia Phillies, leaving the Texas starting rotation noticeably weaker. True, the Rangers added Adrian Beltre, but it’s hard to say a Lee-less Ranger team is better than the one of a year ago.

The Angels went 80-82 last year as their two-year title run in the AL West came to an end, and they haven’t done much of anything except see DH Hideki Matsui head north to Oakland and have veteran reliever Scot Shields floating in the free agent breezes.

The A’s did make it to .500 exactly last year by going 81-81, but other than adding Matsui they haven’t spruced up the roster all that much. And Matsui, while he is a World Series MVP (2009) and a legit 90-RBI man, doesn’t have numbers in the last couple of years appreciably better than the DH the club let walk, Jack Cust.

In the last three seasons, both men have been up and down. Matsui has 219 RBIs and 58 homers over that span while Cust has 199 RBIs and 71 homers.

When Oakland decided that Cust needed to be replaced, the Mariners were quick to snap him up. But he’s been the biggest incoming name in a season in which Mariners’ general manager Jack Zduriencik has traded for an slick-fielding infielder, Brendan Ryan, let a poor-fielding infielder, Jose Lopez go, and signed former Seattle catcher Miguel Olivo.

Almost certainly as the season plays out, more than one of these teams will be better than they were in 2010. That being said, it’s hard to see any of them being a good deal better, and all have a chance to be the same or worse.

Angels’ general manager Tony Reagins is hearing it from his fans that Carl Crawford eluded the club as a free agent, landing instead in Boston, and Adrian Beltre wound up in Texas and not Anaheim.

Reagins had to go so far as to tell the Los Angeles Times that he wasn’t “ready to admit’’ that the off-season has been failure. The fact that such a thought is even a consideration has got to scare the Angels.

The A’s have some of the best young starting pitching in the game with Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden combining for 44 wins last year, all of them with an ERA of 3.50 or lower. But no one on the roster drove in more than 71 runs and while Matsui should do better, he’s 37, so it’s far from a sure thing.

The Rangers thought they had Lee locked up and were privately devastated to learn that he’d gone elsewhere. Then they missed out on trades for Zack Greinke and Matt Garza. They have added Brandon Webb, but that’s clearly not enough. Offensively, they’ve added Yorvit Torrealba in addition to Beltre, but the catcher, another former Mariner, is not going to rev up the offense. He’s never had 50 RBIs in a season.

That brings us to the Mariners, who are about tapped out financially. They just added veteran infielder Adam Kennedy, signed to a minor league contract, this week, and Zduriencik said he’s looking for more help, but he admits the money available to spend is down to pocket change.

Will Seattle be better? The Mariners could hardly be worse. But the additions of Cust, Olivo, Ryan and Kennedy aren’t ones that scream out “pennant contender.’’

On the other hand, they may be in just the right division for that to matter less than it should.


YourThoughts

  • Shawnuel

    I think you are underselling the A’s offensive improvements and slightly overstating their pitching. Josh Willingham and David Dejesus are nice pick-ups for the Athletics and greatly improve (with Matsui) the A’s offensive expectations. As for the pitching…Cahill was the beneficiary of a lot of good fortune last season. No one with a barely 5/9IP K rate can be called an ace. He is good….not star quality. Gonzales will never ascend to star quality as long as he continues walking over 4 batters per 9IP. Braden had the perfect game, but he is, essentially an innings eater….a poor man’s Mark Buehrle. Ironically, the one true ace of the staff, Brett Anderson, was not even mentioned. Probably because he has trouble staying healthy, but he is, likely already one of the 5 best LH starters in the game, from the perspective of pure talent.

    Texas isn’t going to miss Lee that much. He had troubles pitching in Arlington. Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter both have talent and, with incremental improvement can replace most of what Lee gave the team. Moreland was pretty solid at 1B and probably improves as well. Beltre helps immensely. His defense gives the rangers the best left side defense in MLB and Arlington is perfect for his offensive profile. If Texas signs Thome…..look out. I see the same record if not slight imrovement for texas. Clearly the class of the division with the A’s methodically closing the gap. I will boldly predict the Mariners slipping into the 3 position in the division (not as bad last season as the record indicates……at least 5 players HAVE to regress i.e. improve on poor 2010′s) and the Angels falling to the cellar.