AL West Preview

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OAKLAND ATHLETICS

2006: 93-69, first place

MANAGER: Bob Geren (first season)

BOTTOM LINE: After the A's won a playoff series for the first time since 1990, GM Billy Beane still decided to fire Ken Macha, in part because of discontent in the clubhouse. Geren takes over a team that must replace its two most dependable performers last year in Barry Zito and Frank Thomas. Starting CF Mark Kotsay had back surgery in early March and is expected to miss the first two months of the season. Milton Bradley has moved to CF and Nick Swisher will go from 1B to RF. That puts more pressure on Dan Johnson to revert to his rookie form of 2005 and not the 2006 version who started 0-for-27.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

2006: 89-73, second place

MANAGER: Mike Scioscia (eighth season)

BOTTOM LINE: The pitching staff should be one of the best in baseball if Bartolo Colon can come back from his shoulder problems and Jered Weaver isn't hampered by tendinitis in his biceps. Both pitchers have been brought along slowly this spring and will miss the start of the season. Left-hander Joe Saunders and right-hander Dustin Moseley will fill in early. Los Angeles' offense looks relatively solid, and Vladimir Guerrero is one of the best hitters in the game.

TEXAS RANGERS

2006: 80-82, third place

MANAGER: Ron Washington (first season)

BOTTOM LINE: Texas' rookie manager has provided a different, player-friendly approach after the Rangers spent four seasons with Buck Showalter, a renowned taskmaster. Still, it's going to come down to the same thing for Texas if they're going to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999: Will the pitching staff come through? Sammy Sosa might be the productive right-handed bat the Rangers need in the middle of the order.

SEATTLE MARINERS

2006: 78-84, fourth place

MANAGER: Mike Hargrove (third season)

BOTTOM LINE: CEO Howard Lincoln put Hargrove, GM Bill Bavasi and every Mariner short of Popeye the Sailor Man on his "hot seat" to begin 2007. Team owners have had it with three consecutive last-place finishes and declining attendance at Safeco Field. So they upped the payroll to almost $110 million. But closer J.J. Putz, one of the few supposed "sure things," has a stiff elbow. Plus, Ichiro Suzuki, moving from RF to CF for the first time to make room for Jose Guillen, is entering the final year of a contract that is paying him $11 million. The six-time Gold Glove winner and All-Star is already fancying free agency.


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