The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: A Preview of the American League

As Spring Training begins again, MLB’s offseason activity fades and executives let their work show on the field. Many teams accomplished their goals over the winter, while others came up short. Some struggling clubs righted the ship, while others continued to take on water. Who won, who lost, and who really blew it? Read on:

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AL West

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The Good:

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Oakland Athletics—With a very strong core of young pitchers, the A’s entered the offseason with one pressing need to address: offense. Bringing in Josh Willingham, David Dejesus, and Hideki Matsui accomplished just that. Adding Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to an already strong bullpen was the icing on the cake. The offense is far from a powerhouse, but it should be enough to support a dominant pitching staff.

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The Bad:

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Texas Rangers—They couldn’t retain Cliff Lee because his heart was still stuck in Philadelphia, meaning their pitching staff took a huge hit. Mike Napoli should fit into the lineup just fine, while Adrian Beltre is an upgrade offensively from Vladimir Guerrero, as well as defensively from Michael Young. However, the tension between Young and the club could prove to be divisive beyond Spring Training.

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The Ugly:

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Seattle Mariners—A year ago, Mariners camp was home to playoff aspirations. They proceeded to finish last in the majors in most key offensive categories and headed into the offseason with major holes to fill everywhere except the top of the rotation. They acquired Jack Cust (a DH who doesn’t hit much), Miguel Olivo (who flashes some power but just does not get on base) and shortstop Brendan Ryan (who batted .223 and slugged two home runs last year). Mariners fans should be counting down the days until minor league gems Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley are brought up. Hey, at least they signed King Felix’s older brother!

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim—The Halos acquired an atrocious contract in Vernon Wells, a player most analysts deemed immovable. They gave multi-year deals to two solid left-handed relievers in Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs. Their massive hole at third base will be “filled” by Alberto Callaspo, and they will otherwise bide their time while catching prospect Hank Conger and outfielder Mike Trout develop. Mike Scioscia does a great job year in and year out, but how much magic does he have?

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AL Central

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The Good:

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Chicago White Sox—Adam Dunn, who may have the best raw power in the game, will be their new DH, while franchise icon and ageless veteran Paul Konerko re-signed to play first. Bullpen additions Jesse Crain and Will Ohman were needed to offset the loss of closer Bobby Jenks, who became expendable with the emergence of rookie Chris Sale. This team should contend, especially if starter Jake Peavy comes back healthy and effective.

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Detroit Tigers—Victor Martinez will DH and help out behind the plate, giving Miguel Cabrera some much-needed protection. Magglio Ordonez-Cabrera-Martinez is a formidable middle-of-the-lineup trio that should produce runs for ace Justin Verlander, emerging star Max Scherzer, and new rotation addition Brad Penny. Joaquin Benoit should improve the bullpen, too.

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The Bad:

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Minnesota Twins—They re-signed Carl Pavano and Jim Thome, keeping 2010’s division champions mostly intact for another run. They sent slugger J.J. Hardy packing and brought in Japanese batting champion Tsuyoshi Nishioka to share the middle infield with Alexi Casilla. Otherwise, health issues surround key players Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan, while the back end of the rotation looks a bit vulnerable. With several improved clubs in the division, the Twins may struggle to continue their success.

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Kansas City Royals—After trading away their ace, Zack Greinke, the outlook for 2011 is bleak. While their farm system may be loaded with talent, only a few of these players will be able to make a meaningful impact until 2012 or later. They made a flurry of moves this offseason, including the shipment of top-of-the-order bat David Dejesus out west for Vin Mazzaro, who projects as a back-end starter. Pedro Feliz, Jeff Francoeur, and Melky Cabrera are not impact players, while Jeff Francis is a poor substitute for the departed Greinke. Jeremy Jeffress could be an outstanding late-inning option before Joakim Soria, but his off-field issues could prevent his talent from ever contributing at the big-league level.

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The Ugly:

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Cleveland Indians—Carlos Santana could emerge as one of the best offensive catchers in the league. That’s the good news. The bad news? Pretty much everything else. The offense remains weak, with light-hitting Orlando Cabrera actually a significant addition. Travis Buck, Austin Kearns, and Adam Everett—their other significant acquisitions—are either defensive-minded (Everett) or not starting quality (Buck, Kearns). This team looks doomed to rot in the AL Central’s cellar.

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AL East

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The Good:

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Boston Red Sox—They added Carl Crawford, the best power-speed threat in the game. They finally traded for Adrian Gonzalez, the big bat they have been eyeing for some time. Kevin Youkilis should slide over to third with the loss of Adrian Beltre, making room for Gonzalez. Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks should give them a formidable bullpen to back up a shaky rotation. Catcher looks like a question mark, as does shortstop, but this team should still take the rough AL East.

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Baltimore Orioles—After a promising finish to the season under Buck Showalter, and with the progression of developing young pitchers like Brian Matusz, the Orioles entered the offseason with expectations for the first time this decade. They acted admirably to improve the club, acquiring legitimate power threats Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero, and Derrek Lee to create a rather potent lineup. While I don’t see them contending for the division title, smart offseason moves have them looking at the potential for 80-plus wins. If nothing else, they should have bats to trade at the deadline to improve their farm system.

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The Bad:

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New York Yankees—The Yankees were desperate to improve their starting pitching by acquiring an ace in lefty Cliff Lee; while their offer was tops financially, they were not the pitcher’s club of choice. This failure was magnified by Andy Pettitte’s retirement. They added struggling catcher Russell Martin, moving Jorge Posada to the DH spot, and picked up a pair of free agent relievers: Pedro Feliciano, one of the most effective ‘pen lefties in the game, and Rafael Soriano, who earns closer dollars to man the eighth inning for the Yanks. An aging lineup and question marks in the back of the rotation remain.

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Toronto Blue Jays—A year ago, they sent away the best pitcher in baseball to prop up their farm system and set themselves up for future contention in the brutal AL East. While Shaun Marcum is not Roy Halladay, trading him this winter is again a big loss for their pitching staff. They were released from the shackles of Vernon Wells’ contract, while solidifying the back end of the bullpen with closer candidates Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, and Octavio Dotel. Unfortunately, the lineup did not pick up any impact bats, while the starting rotation looks decent at best.

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The Ugly:

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Tampa Bay Rays—A massive bullpen exodus turned a major strength into a potential weakness, while the loss of franchise icon Carl Crawford will certainly hurt both offensively and defensively. Carlos Pena’s pop will be missed, as will be the steadiness of rotation staple Matt Garza. This team could still contend with young stars Evan Longoria and David Price to build around, but this offseason certainly didn’t help their cause.

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This article is courtesy Claremont Sports Connection. For more sports coverage and live scores, head over to http://www.claremontsportsconnection.com.

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