Baseball 2002 Al West

March 31, 2002|By Profiles by Peter Schmuck

Anaheim Angels

Manager: Mike Scioscia

2001 record: 75-87 (third)

What's new in 2002: The Angels committed themselves to establishing a balance between what was once a strong young offensive club and what has perennially been an average pitching staff. They brought in established pitchers Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele to solidify a starting rotation that was high on potential but low on experienced veterans. The club traded away power hitter Mo Vaughn, but offset the loss with the off-season acquisition of Brad Fullmer.

On the spot: Appier is coming back to his native Southern California after a solid career with the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. He has long been considered one of baseball's top starting pitchers, but would love to put together a triumphant 2002 season to prove it. Sele also should feel a lot of responsibility, coming off a 15-5 season with the 116-win Seattle Mariners.

Where they'll be in October: Though the Angels finally have addressed some pitching deficiencies, they still appear to be overmatched by the rest of the AL West. Finishing higher than third would be a major accomplishment.

Oakland Athletics

Manager: Art Howe

2001 record: 102-60 (second, wild card

What's new in 2002: The most important question might be, who's still around. The A's lost two of the game's top offensive stars when Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon bolted to the American League East, and also lost closer Jason Isringhausen to free agency. A's general manager Billy Beane was able to cover the loss of Isringhausen with a trade for 36-save guy Billy Koch and could replace some offensive production with veteran slugger David Justice, but the future of this team rests on the talented shoulders of its big three starting pitchers - Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.

On the spot: The rotation. The top three starters combined to go 56-25 last year and are talented enough to do even better in 2002. No. 4 starter Cory Lidle also had a strong 2001 season and needs to repeat it. Where they'll be in October: The A's had the second-best record in baseball last year at 102-60. They can - and should - reach the playoffs with 95 victories this year, but only if they can avoid a significant offensive downturn.

Seattle Mariners

Manager: Lou Piniella

2001 record: 116-46 (first)

What's new in 2002: More than you might expect from a team that tied a major-league record with 116 victories last year. The Mariners let Aaron Sele go and replaced him with veteran James Baldwin. They acquired infielder Alex Arias and catcher Tom Lampkin in a trade with the Padres. They also picked up a solid hitter in third baseman Jeff Cirillo, speedy infielder Desi Relaford and comeback outfielder Ruben Sierra. General manager Pat Gillick never lets the grass grow under his feet.

On the spot: Everybody. How do you come up with an encore after one of the most amazing regular-season performances in history? The Mariners lost three of the biggest stars in the sport over the previous 3 1/2 years and Piniella still managed to create an incredible winning chemistry. They probably can't do it again, but they don't have to. They can get there with 95-100 victories.

Where they'll be in October: Barring a staggering rash of injuries, the Mariners will be playing host to a Division Series opener on Oct. 1 and just might get another chance to topple the Yankees' American League dynasty.

Texas Rangers

Manager: Jerry Narron

2001 record: 73-89 (fourth)

What's new in 2002: Who would have suspected that the Rangers would have any money left after signing Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million contract before the 2001 season? But owner Tom Hicks apparently had plenty more where that came from, because new general manager John Hart signed No. 1 starter Chan Ho Park and brought back two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez to stablize a team that finished last the past two seasons. The Rangers also signed veteran starter Dave Burba, acquired underachieving right-hander Ismael Valdes and fleshed out the bullpen with Todd Van Poppel, setup man Jay Powell and volatile left-hander John Rocker. The bad news: Closer Jeff Zimmerman begins the season on the DL, and Powell may not be far behind.

On the spot: Narron, who finds himself in the same spot that Johnny Oates occupied at this time last year. Expectations have been inflated again by a winter of big spending, so the Rangers had better be in the race all year.

Where they'll be in October: The Rangers have enough offense to beat anybody any time, but their pitching staff still isn't gold-plated.

The staffs

Mariners

Rotation rank: 1

Bullpen rank: 1

Skinny: Why even bother to play out the season? The Mariners had four starters with at least 15 wins last year, and the staff is so deep that no one has even noticed that free agent Aaron Sele left over the winter. The terrific bullpen of 2001 also is largely intact. Start chilling the champagne.

Athletics

Rotation rank: 2

Bullpen rank: 2

Skinny: Everybody loves the A's top three starters, but can they match last year's numbers without last year's offensive attack? Off-season acquisition of closer Billy Koch is key to remaining in contention in AL West.

Angels

Rotation rank: 3

Bullpen rank: 3

Skinny: Rotation is clearly better with arrival of veterans Aaron Sele and Kevin Appier, and whoever those guys are in the bullpen (Lou Pote?), they seem to be able to pitch.

Rangers

Rotation rank: 4

Bullpen rank: 4

Skinny: New ace Chan Ho Park should help drag Rangers staff off the bottom of the league ERA rankings and controversial reliever John Rocker should provide some comic relief, but one thing hasn't changed in Texas ... the best defense is a good offense. -Peter Schmuck

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