Josh Hamilton has helped build the Rangers into a powerhouse. (Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE)

West Coast Bias; The League's Best Players Aren't Just in the East Now

Since baseball originated, it was an east coast game.  In the 1800′s when the game first gained traction with the American public, there weren’t many people out west.  So the sport developed and spread in the eastern states.  It would move as far west as places like St. Louis and Cincinnati in the early days, but professional baseball on the west coast would not arise until the 1950′s.  For this reason, among others, it’s no wonder there has long been an east coast bias in baseball and in other sports.

The west coast has another thing playing against it; the time difference.  Baseball games generally start at around 7 PM, meaning west coast games are starting at 10 PM in the east.  No one is going to stay up until 1 AM to watch a west coast game if they’re living in the east.  So the east coast maintained its television and media coverage dominance.  Players would grow up watching east coast games.  Fans would flock to the games and boost attendance figures.  The eastern teams grew fast in popularity and revenue.  That popularity and revenue, in turn, made it easier to attract the best player through free agency and trades.

But there’s been a sudden shift.

Suddenly, the west coast is stockpiling some of the best players in the league.  They are spending money like the old guard of the east coast teams.  In the last couple years, teams on the west coast have more great players than they ever have at one time, and they are stealing the spotlight away from the east. The Yankees and Red Sox will always get their coverage, but now those aren’t the only teams worth covering in the media.

The Angels, Rangers, Dodgers, A’s, Mariners, Giants, and even the Rockies have some of the best players in all of baseball.  The Angels, Rangers, and Dodgers have made it clear, at least for now, money is no object when it comes to winning.  This has netted those three teams All-Star caliber players.  The Oakland A’s develop great young players, but every now and then, they will shock everyone with a free agent signing – even an international one.  The Mariners have, arguably, the best pitcher in baseball.  The Giants have the best catcher in baseball.  The Rockies, while they are in bad shape now, have two of the best young players in the game.  There’s been a clear power-shift.

It may have started with the Rangers.  They got Josh Hamilton, and he came back like no player has ever come back before.  After drugs and alcohol stole him away from the game, he shook the grip of his demons to become the American League MVP and help lead the Rangers to back-to-back American League pennants.  But it doesn’t end there with the Rangers.  They made sure to keep getting better.  They snatched Mike Napoli away from the Angels, they grabbed Adrian Beltre, they traded for a light-hitting right fielder who showed promise in Nelson Cruz, and they sent one of the best first basemen in the league in Mark Teixeira to Atlanta for Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Elvis Andrus.  But they weren’t done.  This past offseason, the Rangers won the sweepstakes that was Yu Darvish, paying an astronomical sum not just for his contract but for his posting fees as well.  They also signed the aging, former-ace, Roy Oswalt.  While Oswalt hasn’t quite worked out, the move was a big one at the time.  Finally, at the trade deadline, the Rangers pulled the trigger on Ryan Dempster. Dempster was having a career year with the Cubs and was one of the most sought-after trade targets. Texas has built themselves into an All-Star team.

So, what about their division rivals, the Angels?  Long considered one of the smarter teams in baseball, relying mostly on small-ball and speed to win, the Angels suddenly jumped into the power play game.  Last offseason, GM Jerry Dipoto signed Albert Pujols as a free agent, and just like that the Angels had a future Hall of Famer manning first base.  Dipoto then signed C.J. Wilson away from the Rangers.  Texas had lost Cliff Lee after 2010, and now the Angels were making sure they lost their new ace in Wilson. They had picked up another ace when they traded for the Diamondbacks’ Dan Haren in 2010.  Then, at this year’s deadline, the Angels went out and traded for Brewers’ ace Zack Greinke.  Greinke was already a Cy Young winner and proven talent from his days in the American League with the Royals, and the Angels hoped he could continue the dominance he showed his entire career.  But it wasn’t all trades and free agency for the Angels.  They made some great moves in the draft.  Jered Weaver was drafted by the Angels and has become a bonafide star.  Mark Trumbo was drafted in the 18th round and finished 2nd in rookie of the year voting last season.  And then there’s Mike Trout.  Trout was drafted 25th overall in 2009, and he is clearly the best player in the league right now.  He looks like he’ll be a star for a very long time.

The Rangers and the Angels are on a path to become the Yankees and the Red Sox of the west.  But, there are a few other teams in the mix.  After the Dodgers had one of the ugliest ownership splits and sales in history, the team has emerged under new owners and flourished.  Not only that, but the new owners have shown a willingness to spend.  Andre Ethier, the Dodgers’ All-Star outfielder, was given a contract extension.  Matt Kemp, the 2011 MVP runner-up, was as well.  They have a Cy Young award winner in Clayton Kerhsaw.  Yet, even with those players, the team wasn’t quite elite.  So this season, they came out guns blazing.  Before the trade deadline, the Dodgers picked up Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins and Joe Blanton from the Phillies.  Both moves have been solid for Los Angeles and Ramirez could soon return to his All-Star form.  Now, if a deal the Dodgers and the Red Sox agreed to yesterday goes through, the Dodgers will have their own All-Star team to compete with the like of the Rangers and the Angels.  It’s been reported that a trade that would send Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers has been agreed to by both the Dodgers and the Red Sox.  Nick Punto would be included in the deal too.  The deal is pending until Beckett, who has 10-5 rights, agrees to the trade, and Crawford, who has a limited no-trade clause with the Dodgers as one of the teams on the list, agrees to the deal.  Commissioner Bud Selig will ultimately have to approve the trade as well.

On lesser notes, the A’s, Mariners, Giants, and Rockies all have some great players on their rosters as well.  The A’s shocked everyone this offseason when they landed the highly-touted Cuban free agent, Yoenis Cespedes.  He was given a 4-year, $36 million contract, but no one expected him to go to Oakland.  He is still developing, but he’s already proven himself as a true Major League hitter.  Seattle has a perfect game in their books now thanks to Felix Hernandez.  Not since Randy Johnson was a member of the Mariners, have they been so excited about a pitcher.  Hernandez won the Cy Young in 2010, and he has been consistently one of the best pitchers in baseball.  He’s also just 26 years old, so his dominance could continue for years to come.  The Giants, while still leading the Dodgers in the National League West for now, do not quite have the level of players as the Rangers, Angels, and Dodgers (if the trade goes through), but they have the best catcher in all of baseball in Buster Posey, and they have a pretty good ace of their own in Matt Cain.  Posey has returned from his ankle injury and put up the type of numbers we have come to know him for.  And Cain threw a perfect game himself eaerlier this season.  Finally, the Rockies have two young players who are the envy of the league.  Troy Tulowitzki is nursing an injury, but he may be the best shortstop in all of baseball.  And Carlos Gonzalez is an MVP award waiting to happen.  He’s a career .302 hitter and he’s just 26 years old.

The shift has not taken long, but it wasn’t over night either.  These western teams have drafted well, made smart personnel moves in the off seasons, and had the guts and money to pull the trigger on blockbuster trades.  With that comes notoriety, exposure, and popularity.  Baseball on the west coast will never garner as much attention because the majority of this country’s population is in the east, but with the players named above, people are paying attention.

Tags: Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers Texas Rangers

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