In recent memory, the AL West has been home to the division where, over the last three seasons (2014-2016), all five teams within the division have had a legitimate opportunity to win the division outright. The Halos broke the division race open to win the AL West by 10 games in 2014, but the past two years have been much closer: in 2015, the Rangers won the division with the Astros and Angels both within three games. And last year, both the Mariners (86 wins) and the Astros (84 wins) were in the thick of the wild-card hunt up until the very end. (Mike Trout played spoiler to the Astros, leading the Angels to dominate a crucial 4-game set for HOU’s playoff hopes.).
If there’s anything we’ve learned in recent memory, it’s that the barrier to the postseason in the AL West is the lowest it’s ever been. And with the addition of the second wild card and the one game playoff, the bar for “contention” has never been lower than it is now.
Here’s a brief recap of the Angels rivals’ offseasons and their short-term MLB outlooks.
2016 record: 84-78
The Astros have a solid young foundation to build on in Altuve, Correa, Alex Bregman, and George Springer. The Brian McCann acquisition pushes Evan Gattis to part-time duties, and Josh Reddick fills in a black hole in right field. Nori Aoki is also acquired (booo, I could’ve sworn we saw the last of that guy in Seattle) to play some outfield here and there. The aging Carlos Beltran will play DH.
On the pitching side, they’ve got a strong three in Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh with top prospect Francis Martes on the way and Joe Musgrove an MLB-ready back end arm, the Astros rotation looks pretty darn good now, just wait until midseason. The bullpen has a nice 7-8-9 in Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, and Ken Giles.
One could argue the Astros gave up too much in cash or prospects for most of their offseason acquisitions and that’s probably true, but they didn’t surrender their most prized assets and surrounded their core with veteran leadership and performance to get to the next level on a consistent basis.
Verdict: Stock Up
2016 record: 86-76
Ahh, our longtime colleague Jerry Dipoto. Our former GM has been at the helm of the Mariners’ ship for two offseasons now and has proven his trigger-happiness is truly akin to Kobe’s on-court mentality. In all honesty though, Dipoto has revamped the Mariners roster to become more athletic and defensively able.
The acquisitions of Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and Danny Valencia are all upgrades over what previously existed, and Nate Karns and Ariel Miranda have been swapped out for Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo. With so many injury concerns, regression, and/or aging of core players (Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, Cano, Cruz, Paxton), it’s no surprise that Seattle’s window is closing relatively soon. And it’s interesting to see that Dipoto is mortgaging intriguing future potential farm pieces for more MLB-ready back-end types, the same strategy he pursued in his early Angels tenure.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but with the current roster this could backfire big time if it doesn’t end up being worth it in the short-term. I believe they are a win or two better than their 2016 record, but there’s so much variance that I wouldn’t be surprised if it all falls apart either. But I’ll place my bets on the former.
Verdict: Stock Up
2016 record: 95-67
The Rangers added Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross to a rotation that already had Darvish and Cole Hamels, but the problem is that Cashner is ineffective and Ross is injured and might not pitch at all this year. Carlos Gomez was re-signed to play center after a successful one month September stint with the team and Halo killer Mike Napoli signed a one-year deal with the Rangers just to mess with us.
Their designated hitter is currently occupied by Ryan Rua and their right field is assigned to Shin-Soo Choo. Yikes! They have an extremely risky starting rotation (as Darvish has had surgeries and Hamels has lost his luster) and Jonathan Lucroy is no longer the elite pitch framer he once was. The Rangers bullpen is a force to be reckoned with, as their bevy of arms have panned out quite nicely. Mazara figures to improve and Beltre will keep on being the constant that defies aging curves.
Aside from being the most Odorous team in the division, the Rangers also happened to be the luckiest. In 2016 they were 36-11 in one run games: and that luck does not last. Texas was actually outscored by 4 runs over the course of 2016. Texas is definitely worthy of being in the wild card conversation, but the class of the division? Heck no.
Verdict: Stock Down
2016 record: 69-93
The A’s know they aren’t going to win, but they haven’t stood still. They added Matt Joyce and Trevor Plouffe. They
signed poached Santiago Casilla for their pen.
Fangraphs only projects one A’s position player as average for the upcoming season: Stephen Vogt. But that’s not taking into account Vogt’s poor pitch framing, which makes him a well-below average catcher. So yeah, on the everyday players side, the A’s are awful. But their pitching might not be so bad.
They’ve got Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, and Andrew Triggs for the rotation, and three of the five are projected for more than two wins. Their bullpen with Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Casilla, Liam Hendriks, Ryan Dull, etc. is insanely good, and they are putting themselves in a position to restock their farm system by mainly selling relievers at the deadline.
As for wins, well, c’mon man, they’re the post-Donaldson A’s! What did you really expect?
I guess I’ll go out on a limb here.
Verdict: They will win some games: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯