CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Strong already, AL West can up the ante

Spencer: Strong already, AL West can up ante

Strong already, AL West can up the ante
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Winter Meetings ended on Thursday exactly as they began: Waiting on Zack.

All along, from the moment everyone checked in to the moment everyone checked out, this has been about Zack Greinke and where the right-handed starting pitcher decides to take his high-quality repertoire. Free agency's pace would accelerate immediately in the wake of his decision, setting the market and turning loose the second tier of starting pitchers to find their new homes.

The early assumption was that Greinke would climb aboard the money train in Los Angeles and, in concert with Clayton Kershaw, give Dodgers manager Don Mattingly a modern-day version of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. These, after all, were the new Yankees, and we all recall how that generally turned out.

More

As things wind down, however, the Rangers appear to be right there with the Dodgers, perhaps even edging ahead in the Greinke pursuit. Texas president Nolan Ryan keenly understands the value of starting pitching and knows what the gifted right-hander would mean to his Rangers, who landed last winter's prize in Yu Darvish. The Japanese right-hander did not disappoint.

The upshot of Texas winning the Greinke sweepstakes could have an enormous ripple effect with respect to slugging outfielder Josh Hamilton, the other kingfish in the free-agent marketplace. Texas signing a new ace to a long-term contract in the range of $25 million per season would likely end Hamilton's run in the Lone Star State and send him off to ... Seattle?

Yes, that is a lively possibility. And Hamilton in the Pacific Northwest, where Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez once flourished, would add an exciting new element to the most fascinating and formidable division in the sport.

The American League West is where the power resides now, with all due respect to the reigning World Series champions in San Francisco and the Giants' eternal rivals down south. The Dodgers, in good shape even without Greinke, would likely move on to Anibal Sanchez, the next best arm on the market.

The Arizona Diamondbacks could make for a trio of feared clubs in the National League West, assuming Justin Upton remains part of the scenery and rebounds in 2013 with an MVP-type season. Moving an athlete with his talent doesn't make much sense when Arizona's biggest need is offense.

Bringing Hamilton into the fold would produce instant credibility for the Mariners, giving them the one lethal weapon they've been missing behind Felix Hernandez and an impressive collection of arms. Without much notice, given Oakland's astonishing ascent, Seattle also finished with a nice kick in 2012 and has more pieces than most folks realize.

Making their daunting ballpark more hitter friendly by moving in the fences was the Mariners' first wise move. Removing that psychological barrier could have a decidedly positive impact on a promising collection of young hitters.

Adding Hamilton -- as deadly a force as can be found when he's feeling right -- would carry significant impact not just to the offense but also to the pitching staff. No longer would King Felix and Co. feel that one bad pitch could ruin their night, giving them a new comfort zone.

If he doesn't return to the comforts of Rangers Ballpark and a familiar clubhouse, Hamilton would find an ideal environment in Seattle. The air is clean, the people are friendly, the media isn't suffocating. Hamilton is a family man, and there are few better places to find contentment.

Joining the Rangers, Angels and A's as a realistic contender, the Mariners would add even more spice to an eclectic division.

Texas would have a new look without Hamilton and Red Sox newcomer Mike Napoli, and perhaps even clubhouse leader Michael Young, who reportedly could be headed to Philadelphia. The Rangers have an abundance of promising position players waiting for the chance to showcase their skills. Perhaps that time has come for Mike Olt, Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin.

One thing the Rangers should not do is include shortstop Elvis Andrus in any deals. Players that young and proven, at that vital position with that much personality, should be retained at all costs.

The Angels haven't exactly thrilled their fan base with their recent moves, which bear no resemblance to last winter's splurge on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Rather than breaking the bank again on the star power of Greinke, the man they acquired from the Brewers in a midseason trade involving three quality prospects, they focused on adding depth to their rotation and bullpen.

While Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson won't be mistaken for Greinke, Sanchez, Ryan Dempster or Kyle Lohse, they might not need to be dominant behind Jered Weaver and Wilson to keep the Angels competitive.

A healthy Ryan Madson and lefty Sean Burnett have turned a bullpen that had been questionable into a potential exclamation mark with an appealing, balanced mix. Six solid innings from the starters should be enough to win a lot of games behind an offense that figures to be potent again.

The defending division champion A's -- that still sounds strange -- are a shortstop away from being content. Major League Executive of the Year Billy Beane is on a roll. Whatever he decides to do, he gets the benefit of any doubt.

Brad Pitt would second that emotion. His view on the new division entry from Houston is anybody's guess.

There are no D-backs around, but the Astros are walking into an AL West snakepit.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less