AL West Preview

This week the guys focus on the five teams in the AL West. In case you missed it, here’s everything you need to know about the AL East and the AL Central heading into this season.

Houston Astros

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Josh Reddick to a four-year deal, Charlie Morton to two-year deal

Signed Carlos Beltran to a one-year deal, claimed Nori Aoki on waivers from Seattle

Acquired Brian McCann from the Yankees for Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman

Lost Jason Castro, Doug Fister, Colby Rasmus, and Luis Valbuena to free agency

Traded Pat Neshek to Phillies for player to be named/cash

Season Outlook:

After an impressive playoff appearance in 2015, the Astros were arguably the largest disappointment in the American League during 2016.  Houston posted only seven wins in April and failed to bounce back after the All-Star break, en route to an underwhelming 84-win season.  The biggest issues certainly came from a struggling offense that ranked 24th in BA (.247).  While the team was in the upper half of the league (consistently 14 or 15) in BABIP and OPS, real issue was the immense number of strikeouts.  The Astros averaged 8.96 K’s per game, better than only the Rays, Padres and Brewers.

Keeping this in mind, many analysts have heavily praised the Astros for filling the holes at catcher, DH and OF.  I hate to echo the analysts, but I really do think the Astros did a great job this offseason and think that Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann will be the cure to hitting struggles.  McCann is definitely a significant upgrade at the plate over Jason Castro with 24 less strikeouts despite taking 100 more at-bats.  Carlos Beltran is also a significant upgrade from Evan Gattis in strikeouts and BA.  Josh Reddick may not have the same power as Colby Rasmus or Carlos Gomez, but his defense is solid and his BA towards the bottom of the lineup will allow him to drive in runs and set the table for the top.

The woes of the starting rotation and bullpen are also fairly straight-forward and easy to explain.  Houston’s pitching staff received average run support and the pitching staff matched this with an average performance.  Houston was 15th in runs scored and 16th in ER allowed.  This offseason’s moves from the Houston front office made one thing very clear—Houston believes its lineup needed a boost, while its pitching staff simply underperformed.  Coming off a Cy Young in 2015, Dallas Keuchel flat out pitched like a spot starter.  Even with considerations for the injuries that plagued his season, Keuchel’s 4.55 ERA, 3.87 FIP and 1.286 WHIP in 26 starts was simply unacceptable for an ace on a contending team.

The Astros ability to win the AL West and become a World Series contender hinges on the team’s ability to get solid innings with significantly better numbers from its starting rotation.  Keuchel led the staff with about 6.5 IP/start, followed by Collin McHugh, Mike Fiers and Lance McCullers at about 5.5.  The loss of Pat Neshek in the bullpen will only further magnify the importance of consistently getting quality starts and hopefully an average as high as six IP per start from the top of the rotation.  Yes, the bullpen still has three solid late-inning guys in Ken Giles, Will Harris and Luke Gregerson, but relying on others in the bullpen will be a risky proposition.

I foresee another potentially tough April for the Astros as Keuchel, McCullers and newly acquired starter Charlie Morton work back to 100%.  Don’t expect much from the rotation until May/June, so unless if the bats come out hot I foresee Houston being in the middle of the hunt around the All-Star break.  But as this team continues to mold together, certainly don’t count the Astros out as October nears.  This young core complimented by a few newly acquired veteran bats is scary good; and if the pitching staff can deliver to its potential, playing late into October/November might not even be the limit for this team.  Also, as the trade deadline comes in July, do not be surprised if the Astros try to land one of the many reasonably priced veteran reliever rentals that will be available.  The AL West will certainly be tightly contended in 2017, so don’t count out seeing one of the wild card teams coming from the west coast this year.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. George Springer, OF
  2. Alex Bregman, 3B
  3. Jose Altuve, 2B
  4. Carlos Correa, SS
  5. Carlos Beltran, DH
  6. Brian McCann, C
  7. Josh Reddick, OF
  8. Yulieski Gurriel, 1B
  9. Nori Aoki, OF

Starting Rotation

  1. Dallas Keuchel
  2. Lance McCullers
  3. Collin McHugh
  4. Mike Fiers
  5. Charlie Morton

Steve Campbell

Texas Rangers

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Mike Napoli for 1 year, $6 million

Signed Tyson Ross for 1 year, $11.5 million

Signed Andrew Cashner for 1 year, $6 million

Lost Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond, and Mitch Moreland to free agency and Prince Fielder to retirement

Season Outlook:

Would you believe me if I told you that the 2017 edition of the Rangers actually has a better lineup than last year’s team that won 95 games? The national baseball media hasn’t shown Texas much love with its predictions heading into the new season, some of which is attributable to the Rangers’ 36 wins in one-run games in 2016. However, with full seasons of Nomar Mazara and Jonathan Lucroy in the lineup, the offense looks to be deeper and more explosive than last year’s version. Shin-Soo Choo looks to be fully healthy for the start of 2017, setting the table for Mazara, veteran slugger Adrian Beltre, and the dynamic Rougned Odor. After slashing .266 with 20 home runs and 64 RBIs in his rookie season, the 21-year-old Mazara just may very well become the anchor of this Rangers lineup if he can avoid a sophomore slump. Ageless wonder Adrian Beltre dropped 32 bombs and drove in 104 runs at 37-years-old, but is this the year that all the mileage finally weighs down the third baseman?

Texas’ hopes of repeating last year’s win total depend on the health of its rotation. Cole Hamels anchors the staff as Yu Darvish looks to remain healthy for a full season. If both aces pitch to their potential, the Rangers will have the 1-2 punch needed to give them the best rotation in the AL West. The rest of the staff remains a question mark, however, as Martin Perez posted a 4.39 ERA in 2016 and free-agent additions Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner  have been inconsistent the past few seasons. The loss of reliable workhorse Colby Lewis hurts, so expect Texas to be active in the trade market for starting pitching if the back end of the rotation gets off to a sluggish start.

The Rangers’ glaring weakness is its bullpen, which posted an ERA of 4.35 in 2016, second-worst in the American League. (With such poor performance out of the ‘pen last year, the Rangers’ 36 wins in one-run games is that much more remarkable!) The absence of Jake Diekman after complications from offseason surgery hurts what is already a sore spot on Texas’ roster. Jeremy Jeffress has the potential to be one of the biggest surprises among relievers in 2017 if he can put last year’s off-the-field issues behind him. The Rangers also hope Tanner Scheppers can bounce back after missing most of last year with a knee injury. After failing to stabilize the bullpen in the offseason, expect Jon Daniels to get creative in adding late-inning pieces throughout the season if things start to go south quickly.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Carlos Gomez, CF
  2. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  3. Nomar Mazara, LF
  4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
  5. Rougned Odor, 2B
  6. Jonathan Lucroy, C
  7. Mike Napoli, 1B
  8. Elvis Andrus, SS
  9. Jurickson Profar, DH

Starting Rotation

  1. Cole Hamels
  2. Yu Darvish
  3. Martin Perez
  4. Tyson Ross
  5. Andrew Cashner

John Hayes

Oakland A’s

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Matt Joyce for 2 years, $11 million

Signed Rajai Davis for 1 year, $6 million

Signed Santiago Casilla for 2 years, $11 million

Signed Trevor Plouffe for 1 year, $5.25 million

Traded Danny Valencia to the Seattle Mariners for Paul Blackburn

Season Outlook:

They say patience is a virtue. If they weren’t virtuous enough after the past two seasons, Oakland fans will certainly be by the end of 2017. This season marks a crossroads for the franchise, perhaps more off the field than on it. The lineup isn’t the only thing that’s changed heading into March, as managing partner Lew Wolff and team president Mike Crowley have been replaced by new ownership. Stadium issues aside, what does this mean for Oakland’s product on the field?

Sadly, it doesn’t mean that fans should expect much beyond what they saw at the end of last season. General manager David Forst made some low-risk, moderate upside moves in the offseason, signing outfielders Matt Joyce and Rajai Davis to help replace the production of the departing Billy Butler and Danny Valencia. Trevor Plouffe takes over at third base, allowing last season’s rookie surprise Ryon Healy to shift into a first base/designated hitter role. Don’t be surprised if Khris Davis’ power numbers drop playing in the vast expanse of the Oakland Coliseum.

The pitching staff is anchored by Sonny Gray, who looks to bounce back after a down year. A bizarre insurance rule precludes Gray from participating on Team USA in this year’s World Baseball Classic, but that probably works to Oakland’s benefit. Since the A’s are in rebuild mode, they need Gray to remain healthy and maximize his trade value. Sean ManaeaKendall Graveman, and Jharel Cotton all look to take steps forward this season in the hopes of becoming serviceable pieces for a future Oakland contender. The good news for A’s fans is that the organization currently has two pitchers in MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects with A.J. Puk (#65) and Grant Holmes (#68) currently developing their craft in the minors. While their impact may not be felt in 2017, the two hurlers have quickly become the cornerstone upon which Billy Beane and David Forst are rebuilding the team for the future.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Stephen Vogt, C
  3. Ryon Healy, DH
  4. Khris Davis, LF
  5. Matt Joyce, RF
  6. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  7. Marcus Semian, SS
  8. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  9. Jed Lowrie, 2B

Starting Rotation

  1. Sonny Gray
  2. Sean Manaea
  3. Kendall Graveman
  4. Jharel Cotton
  5. Andrew Triggs

John Hayes

Seattle Mariners

Key Offseason Moves:

Traded for Carlos Ruiz from the Los Angeles Dodgers

Traded for Danny Valencia from the Oakland A’s

Traded Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger

Traded Seth Smith to the Baltimore Orioles for Yovani Gallardo

Traded Nathan Karns to the Kansas City Royals for Jarrod Dyson

Traded Minor Leaguers for Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons from the Atlanta Braves

Traded Mallex Smith and 2 minor leaguers to the Tampa Bay Rays for Drew Smyly

Season Outlook:

If you like trades, I have a team for you. Introducing the 2017 Seattle Mariners. Seriously though, what a winter, as Jerry Dipoto made an incredible 7 trades this offseason involving real MLB talent changing teams. This guy just can’t get enough of it.

To recap: The Mariners traded 2 starters (Walker and Karns), 2 OF’s (Smith and Smith), a SS (Marte) and a host of minor leaguers for 2 starters (Gallardo and Smyly), 2 OF’s (Dyson and Haniger), a SS (Segura) and a host of role players (Ruiz, Valencia, Simmons). Can you for sure say they got better anywhere but SS however? Hard to say. Walker certainly has a higher ceiling than any of the SP they got back, and Haniger and Dyson have never proven the ability to play everyday and be productive. It was an interesting series of swaps by Dipoto, and there is certainly reason to like the moves he made around the edges. One thing we know is the Mariners do have a dynamite core in place, and they will need repeat huge seasons from those guys if they hope to contend again. Robinson Cano (6.0 WAR, 138 wRC+) will need to put up another MVP caliber season in the 3 hole, Nelson Cruz (147 wRC+) will need to keep defying expectations and mashing year in and year out, and Kyle Seager (133 wRC+, 5.5 WAR) needs to repeat his All-Star worthy 2016. If Segura repeats his awesome 2016 (126 wRC+, 5.0 WAR) and the new guys Dyson/Haniger are solid contributors, there is no reason to think Seattle can’t have one of the best lineups in the AL, which will come in handy considering their only average pitching staff.

The Pitching Staff is anchored by Mariner lifer Felix Hernandez, who is coming off an extremely uninspiring 2016 campaign in which he had a 111 FIP-. A bounce back from King Felix will be paramount if the Mariners want to capture the AL West crown. Besides Felix, the other rotation staple is Hisashi Iwakuma, who is coming off a fairly mediocre 2016, and should also be counted on for a slight rebound. The new guys Smyly and Gallardo will combine with James Paxton to hopefully provide some depth to make up for the lack of star power at the top. The X-factor of the Mariners’ arms might be bullpen ace Edwin Diaz, who certainly has the stuff to be one of the nastiest relievers in all of baseball this season. The casual fan might not know Diaz but needs to get used to the name now, as he could be this year’s Andrew Miller if the Mariners advance to October.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Jarrod Dyson, CF
  2. Jean Segura, SS
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B
  6. Mike Zunino, C
  7. Dan Vogelbach/Danny Valencia, 1B
  8. Mitch Haniger, RF
  9. Leonys Martin, LF

Starting Rotation

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. Yovani Gallardo
  5. Drew Smyly

Charlie Wooding

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Luis Valbuena to a 2 year deal

Acquired Danny Espinosa in trade w/ Nationals.

Acquired Cameron Maybin from Detroit Tigers

Season Outlook:

The Angels avoided the big splashes this offseason, but with Mike Trout on the roster, star power isn’t the Angels problem. Depth has been, and the additions of Luis Valbuena, Danny Espinosa and Cameron Maybin should help. Valbuena should form a nice platoon at 1B with CJ Cron, maybe playing some 3B for Yunel Escobar as well. While he is crap against lefties, Valbuena quietly put up a 129 wRC+ vs. righties last season, so getting him in platoons with Cron and Escobar is a smart move. Espinosa replaces Johnny Giavotella, who put up a stunning 0 WAR in 99 games last year. While his bat will only provide a marginal upgrade, pairing Espinosa’s ++ glove at 2B with defensive wizards Andrelton Simmons at SS and that Trout guy in CF should make the Angels very tough up the middle. The last addition, Cameron Maybin, was acquired in an odd salary dump by the Tigers, and provides a serious upgrade in LF over whatever the hell the Angels put out there last year. Maybin probably wont put together a 2 win season again, but even just a 1-1.5 win season would be a massive upgrade for the Halos. Besides the additions, the Angels will once again rely on the brilliance of Trout, as any decline in performance in his game will ruin any chance the Angels have on competing. The good news there is Mike Trout is absolutely spectacular, so I wouldn’t count on a breakdown. If Trout stays Trout, their additions add some depth and Albert Pujols can hit 30+ HR with a 115 wRC+ or so, this Angels offense should be in the upper half of the AL.

The story with their rotation’s outlook and their 2016 season struggles is very simple, health. The 2016 Angels were a mess, with guys going down with season ending injuries seemingly every month. Heading into 2017, ace Garrett Richards returns to lead what could be a potentially solid rotation with a terrific defense behind them. A big year from Matt Shoemaker and Richards could really transform this Angels rotation from a weakness to a competent rotation paired with an elite defense (Trout, Simmons, Espinosa yes please). The bullpen doesn’t have anything special, but Huston Street is a pretty safe bet to lock teams down in the 9th. Overall, this pitching staff is fairly low ceiling, the Angels are ultimately going to need to be an above average offense. However, a large improvement over last years disaster is very easy to envision, especially with a healthy Richards leading the way, and simply being a league average pitching staff could be enough with this offense. Don’t expect any mid-season reinforcements to this bullpen if things go sour with Street or any of their middle relief guys, as this Farm System is as un-impactful as it gets.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Yunel Escobar, 3B
  2. Kole Calhoun, RF
  3. Mike Trout, CF
  4. Albert Pujols, DH
  5. Luis Valbuena/CJ Cron, 1B
  6. Cameron Maybin, LF
  7. Danny Espinosa, 2B
  8. Andrelton Simmons, SS
  9. Martin Maldanado, C

Starting Rotation

  1. Garrett Richards
  2. Ricky Nolasco
  3. Matt Shoemaker
  4. Tyler Skaggs
  5. Jesse Chavez

Charlie Wooding

Predictions

Steve

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Seattle Mariners
  3. Texas Rangers
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland Athletics

Hayes

  1. Rangers
  2. Astros
  3. Angels
  4. Mariners
  5. A’s

Wooding

  1. Angels
  2. Astros (WC)
  3. Mariners
  4. Rangers
  5. A’s

Bold Prediction

Steve: Jose Altuve has another impressive year en route to winning the AL MVP award.

Hayes: Nomar Mazara will finish the season as a finalist for AL MVP. If the 21-year-old improves his plate discipline in his second season, the outfielder will put up monster numbers in a very deep Texas lineup.

Wooding: Carlos Correa will hit 30 HR’s and have 100 RBI’s. After going 20-96 last year I think Correa’s power explodes in a big way leading him to an illustrious 30-100 season.