Division Preview Series

The AL West

Los Angeles Angels

The gold standard of the league is coming off of another championship run, but is actually experiencing a higher than normal rate of turnover. Below is a look at the main pieces coming and going out of LAA this year.

ArrivalsDepartures
Hector Santiago, RPJordan Lyles, SP
Dansby Swanson, SSTony Cingrani, RP
Noah Syndergaard, SPAnthony Meo, RP
Arnold Moser, RF
Zach Cox, 3B
Jing-Bo Xun, DH/LF

The biggest loss above is Jordan Lyles, who walked out to grab a very nice payday with the destitute Detroit Tigers. Cox and Xun represent some remnants of the Angel’s dominant past, but both had down years, and Xun particularly seems to be entering the twilight of his career. Losing arms like Cingrani and Meo should not pose much of a problem for the Angels, as there are a number of young bullpen pieces in the minors that are likely to get a try out in the spring. Throw the addition of Santiago into the mix, a guy who was dominant for St. Louis last year, and the Angels don’t have much to worry about in the bullpen. So let’s get into it, what does the loss of Jordan Lyles really mean?

Over the last 2 years Jordan Lyles has been incredibly consistent in the Angels rotation, amassing 29 wins, and posting a combined war over 6. Nothing spectacular, but a guy you really want in your rotation, as he rarely missed time. However, the real impact of Lyles departure is likely to be felt in the postseason. Postseason play is almost a formality at this point for the steady-handed Angels, and Lyles has been as good as anyone in October. He has actually never lost in the playoffs in his MLBPro career, which consists of 7 starts and a small bullpen appearance for Milwaukee in another lifetime. How do the Angels, for whom nothing short of a title will be considered a success, replace a pitcher who has won 7 playoff games over the last 2 years? For now, the answer seems to be handing over a full time starting gig to Spot-starter Trevor Rosenthal.

Rosenthal, to his credit, was efficient when given chances last year despite bouncing back and forth between the pen and the rotation. He was also FANTASTIC in the 2019 postseason, tossing 18.1 innings over 6 appearances (including one start) posting a 1.41 ERA and a 17/2 K/BB ratio. Not a huge sample size, but clearly enough to warrant a spot in the rotation in Spring and likely early in the season. Angels GM Matt Eisenberg is historically calm when it comes to acquiring players from the outside, so I would not expect a splash in the trade market anytime before the season starts. If they do end up making a trade, expect it to a shrewd one, not a blockbuster for someone like Trevor Bauer.

Projected Lineups and Rotation

LineupRotation
C – Charles CutlerRyan Copeland
1B – Caleb CowartKyle Funkhouser
2B – Daniel PaoliniKevin Gausman
SS – Dansby SwansonBrandon Morrow
3B – Anthony KerrTrevor Rosenthal
LF – Markus Porter (?)
CF – Mike Trout
RF – Nomar Mazzara
DH – Masutaro Ohayashi

One new name here as of now, as Dansby Swanson slides into the Shortstop role, pushing Anthony Kerr over to the hot corner to replace the departed Zach Cox. Swanson and Kerr make up a relatively young left side of the infield for the Angels that should be in place for a few years. Both are solid in the field, and bring enough OBP potential to the plate to feed the big bats of the outfield. Speaking of the outfield, who the hell is Markus Porter? The 26-year-old played well in 30 games last year, but if you are the LA faithful, you are obviously crossing your fingers that the Halos bring in another body to play out in left. There isn’t a whole lot there in the minors either, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eisenberg do just that. But in traditional Angels style, look for them to wait out the first few weeks of real games to see who panics and sells someone on the cheap.

Another area to watch early on is which version of Daniel Paolini do we see in 2020. He is incredibly talented, and on paper had the best year of his career in 2019, but for about 3 months, there were legitimate concerns on whether or not he would see the postseason roster. The 30-year-old is entering a year where he will make $8.8M, and seemingly be worth every penny, but that will be heavily dependent on which version of him shows up. If he struggles again early on, I expect to see Eisenberg stick by his man though. A different organization may panic and make a move, but the Angels are not ones for rash decisions.

We covered a bit of the concern around the rotation earlier on, but the loss of Lyles will loom large this season. Copeland, Gaussman and Funkhouser make up a formidable trio, but in this division, you will need to be 5 deep in your rotation to compete. Youngsters Antonio Cruz, Adrian Morejon, AJ Puk and Brady Singer are all slated to receive invites to Spring Training and will supposedly have a shot at cracking the rotation, but I would be surprised to see anyone other than Rosenthal in that 5 spot.

What to watch in LA in 2020

  1. Can the pack catch up?
    • The rest of the division is constantly retooling, and this offseason was no exception. While Houston didn’t really bring in any massive pieces from the outside, they did add 3 bullpen arms to a stellar rotation. Seattle and Oakland made some waves, with more to come I would assume. Even Texas added some veteran arms to their rotation. Is this the year the LA finally drops down a rung in the division?
  2. What does LA do with its aging stars?
    • Albert Pujols and Brandon Morrow have been Angels since day one. Both mean so much to this team and this fanbase, but they are old, and expensive. Not that LA needs the flexibility, but it would be nice to see them be able to get in on a guy like Will Myers (wouldn’t he look good out in LF?) How does LA handle this as the season moves forward?
  3. Personel concerns
    • Impact of the aforementioned Jordan Lyles departure, and the possibility of another slow start from Daniel Paolini.

Projection

First overall in the AL West – No rings, loss in the Divisional Round.

Seattle Mariners

Always a bridesmaid….. Can that end this year? Let’s look at the movement first:

ArrivalsDepartures
Evan Longoria, 3BFelix Hernandez, SP
Ryan Wheeler, 1BPrince Fielder, 1B
Taijaun Walker, SPJuan Francisco, 3B
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Kevin Comer, SP
Blake Swihart, SP

Longoria is a huge get, as the guy has been one of the best hitters in the game for years now, and Wheeler/Walker are nice pieces to round out a roster, but look at those departures. Granted, Jaun Francisco never even got on a plane to go to Seattle, but still. The King, Fielder and Pablo made up a veteran core for this team, really symbolizing Seattle’s run at the title last year. 40+ HR and 100+ RBI from the two aging sluggers only amounted to just over 3 WAR at 2 big positions however, so perhaps this will be addition by subtraction. At the very least, Seattle should have much more financial flexibility after dropping all those contracts.

The big thing missing from this acquisition list is a bonafide starting pitcher. While you have to love Seattle’s top 2 rotation pieces, things get a little dicey from there. Especially considering the strength of the rest of the rotations in the West. Seattle has made no secret of its pursuit of a starting pitcher, but has reportedly been a little reluctant to part with anything of substance to bring in their man. Admittedly, there has been a stark drop in large deals made after the debacle in Philadelphia that led to the resignment of one of the leagues newest GM’s. The big question heading into Spring here is whether or not they will get the pieces they want (also rumored to be chasing a back of the bullpen arm), or will they attempt to ride out the first month with Tiajaun Walker and a minor leaguer.

Projected Lineups and Rotation

LineupRotation
Jason Castro, DHDanny Hultzen
Evan Longoria, 3BN/A
Manny Machado, SSJustin Hooper
Armando Cabannas, RFDylan Bundy
Mark Baker, LFTaijuan Walker
Julian Silva/Ryan Wheeler 1B
Mariano Gonzalez, CF
Cam Gallagher, C
Cesar Lopez, 2B

Its easy to forget with all the complaining from the Seattle fan base, but this lineup is scary. Legit all-star potential at every position save for 2B (seriously though, how did Cesar Lopez weasel his way onto this roster?). A full season of Cabannas and the addition of OBP king Longoria in front of Machado should make for an MVP Caliber year for the in his prime superstar. Calling it now, Machado for MVP. Dont be suprised if Seattle deals one of its three catchers for a real second baseman at some point during their pursuit of a 5th SP.

Turning your attention to the rotation does raise your eyebrows a bit. Hooper and Hultzen are as good as anyone out there, and Bundy has been very good after finally finding a home in Seattle, but there is literally no 5th option at the moment. Brad Brach is slated to open spring as their 5th starter. Cal Quantril and Kyle Wright, currently the only two SP slated to begin the year in AAA, are not up to snuff yet, and according to Seattle brass, should not even be expecting an invite to Spring Training. The longer I write about it, honestly, the more my pulse rises. How are the Mariners ok with this? They are a legit title contender and are currently sitting on a 4 man rotation, with a shitty 4th option, a sub-par bullpen, and a lump at second. I am offended.

What to Watch in Seattle in 2020?

  1. Who fills the rotation out?
    • How long are the fans willing to put up with this insane game of chicken. Is Elliot Jenkins future potential worth missing the playoffs this year?
  2. How quickly does Justin Kaiser panic?
    • Front office head man Justin Kaiser has already expressed real, Roy Williams-esque concerns about his roster prior to the 2020 season. At times, he has even indicated that the M’s may go full rebuild. Hard to believe, but what happens in Seattle stumbles out of the gate and sits in 3rd place in April?
  3. Manny Machado’s MVP season
    • That dude is going to mash. You absolutely have to pitch to him, and more often than not, there will be people on base. Watch out.

Projection

Wild Card birth out West. Loss in AL Championship.

Oakland A’s

Oakland has been at bottom of this division for a few years now. Many in the industry are predicting much of the same in 2020, with one fellow AL West GM going so far as to make it his “Stone Cold Lock of the Century” that Oakland finishes last in the AL West this year. But talk to Jason Gudim, and he tells you a different story. Here is a look at the movement this offseason:

ArrivalsDepartures
Lucas Giolito, SPJose Arredondo, RP
Felix Hernandez, SPIke Davis, 1B
Jefferson Olacio, RPSteve Lombardozzi, 2B
Jose Rosario, 2BLarry Gonzalez, C
Chris Roberts, SS
James Darnell, 3B
Thomas Fields, 1B
Mark Montgomery, RP

Obvious Headliner here is Lucas Giolito. Oakland already went out last year and grabbed Walker Buehler and Shelby Miller at the deadline, and pairing them with Giolito as a 1-2-3 punch is unbelievably exciting for the folks on the Bay. Add to those 3 heavy hitters the King himself, stolen from in division rivals Seattle, and this is borderline silly. And yet somehow, rumors are swirling in Oakland that Jason Gudim is pursuing another top of the rotation arm to add to his arsenal. If they are able to pull that off…. the basement no longer seems like the appropriate place for the Athletics.

Oakland has also added several pieces this offseason that project to be in their starting lineup in April. Jose Rosario and James Darnell add some much-needed pop to this lineup full of guys who can get on base at a good clip. While neither is a true 30 HR threat, they add a much-needed threat of a longball. Chris Roberts plugging in at SS is a nice pickup, and guys like Greg Faustini, Paul Bailey and Kevin Morrison are rumored to be getting invites to Spring this year. Fields is also an intriguing addition, as his glove and ability vs Left-handed pitching make him valuable in this division. This is really big overhaul to a team that needs some help still.

Projected Lineup and Rotation

LineupRotation
Joe Mauer, CWalker Buehler
Lewis Allen, 1BLucas Giolito
Jose Rosario, 2BShelby Miller
Taylor Sparks, 3BFelix Hernandez
Chris Roberts, SSCarlos Navarro
Lucas Edgar, LF
Aaron Phillips, CF
Corey Ray, RF
James Darnell, DH

In a complete vacuum, this squad is solid. Perhaps even a division winner. Hell, in NL, this team likely wins Central, and competes for the East very aggressively. Unfortunately, they are not in those divisions, and are staring up at 4 divisional foes projected to be their superior. This division is so good that the team that went to the World Series in 2018 from the NL (Atlanta Braves), struggled a little out of the gate in 2019, but held 1st place in their division, and still decided to go full rebuild. No one thinks they can compete with the AL West elites. No one, except Jason Gudim. He has publically committed to see this season through no matter how it turns out, steering clear of many who are predicting a slow start and earl sell-off. And that becomes a fascinating storyline to follow. In either direction honestly. Should they falter, will Gudim stick to his word and wait till the offseason to reevaluate? And conversely, how quickly does he look to double down if things start off hot? Does he deal Faustini, a player he has held onto vehemently for the last few years?

This team still needs upgrades, even if they aren’t blockbuster moves. An upgrade from 4 mediocre first baseman to one good one would be a plus, same at DH. Middle infield could use a boost, potentially pushing Rosario to third and Sparks to the DH slot. And obviously the bullpen can use some addressing. After making a number of moves in the offseason, the consensus seems to be that the A’s have improved by about 5-7 wins. With that number still having them finish south of .500, what else can be done to close the gap with the Rangers, Astros, and eventually the Angels and Mariners?

What to watch for in Oakland in 2020?

  1. Is there another acquisition prior to the season starting?
    • Oakland has made it public that they are looking to add another big piece during Spring. Do they add another arm or another bat?
  2. How many body blows can Oakland take before they bail out?
    • Can Gudim hold tight as the vultures come knocking should his team falter?
  3. Does Greg Faustini ever see the field in Oakland?

Projection

Oakland stays relevant for the first 3 months, makes a move and ultimately falls short of the playoffs this year. Seattle sells in the offseason, and the new power trio in 2021 in the West is LAA, Hou, Oak.

Houston Astros

Its payoff time for the Astros building process. What will the team look like in 2020?

ArrivalsDepartures
Michael Morrison, RPVictor Payano, RP
Bryan Morris, RPJonathan Broxton, RP
Michael Ynoa, RP

Simply a rebuilding of the bullpen this offseason for Houston. Adding quality pieces like Morris and Ynoa to the pen, giving the reigns to youngster Marty Vaughn as a closer, and bringing in Jesus Romero in an opener/specialist role is exactly what Matt Wells intended this offseason, load up on arms and let the kids play. They are in a position where standing pat made the most sense after all the promotions and the major acquisition of Jose Gonzalez (we all forgot about that one didn’t we). Houston is going to look a lot like what Baltimore looked like in 2017 when they pulled a rabbit out of a smaller rabbits ass and won 100+ games. Can it be successful in the AL West?

Projected Lineups and Rotation

LineupsRotation
Ron Winterhalder, CWill Rainey
Gary Cuyco, 1BDave Groves
Aaron White, 2BMelvin Garner
Bill La, 3BShao-Qi Fung
Jorge Martinez, SSPat Crosby (Fo)
Jose Gonzalez, LFTim James
Darge Kawawe, CFJesus Romero (Opener)
Richard Fowler, RF
Edgardo Arredando, DH

Let’s start with the rotation. The traditional 5-man rotation seems to be dead in Houston, as they are adopting the experimental, but increasingly popular opener approach. You still have to assume guys like Rainey, Groves and Garner will be given the opportunity to go deeper, but Fung, James and Romero seem tied to guys like Crosby and the rest of the pen. Sometimes it pays to zig when everyone else is zagging. With the rest of the division boasting impressive 3/4 man rotation tops with bottom 2 pitchers who are suspect, the Astros seem poised to try and control their own destiny by running more arms out there every night. This is of course simply speculation from the outside looking at roster construction, but its fun to think about.

The lineup is impressive and young. Bill La seemed to be down in his first year in Houston after breaking out in Tampa in 2018, but no one in Texas seems to be worried. Arredondo will look to mash 50 HR this season after reaching the 45 mark in 2019. Gonzalez, Kawawe and Fowler make up as good an outfield trio that exists outside of Seattle (and maybe Anaheim). While I don’t love Jorge Martinez at the dish, he is a stellar defender in the field and coupled with White up the middle makes for a good core to protect these young arms. A big question this year will be, if Gonzalez can’t keep up the torrential pace he was on once he came to Houston last year, who picks up the slack? My longshot bet is on Aaron White. After struggling a bit in his debut, I am looking for the Wino to take a huge leap forward in 2020, and lead the AL 2B class in a number of offensive categories.

What to watch for in Houston in 2020?

  1. Does the building payoff?
    • Houston has never finished higher than 4th in the division, and that is despite winning 87 games last year. Can they break past Texas and potentially Seattle in 2020? If they cant…. what do they do?
  2. Who do they bring in?
    • Matt Wells has an already identified list of targets he is keeping an eye on heading into the season. Should his team start hot, and one of his targets struggle, watch for the Astros to pounce and make a push for October.
  3. How does the rotation pan out?
    • Does the opener/follower strategy work? How long do they give i

Projection

Houston wins 90 games, and finishes in 3rd place for the first time, snagging the second wild-card spot, and losing in the wildcard game.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers and GM Kevin Gabri have finished in 3rd place of the AL West every year since he took over in 2016. They have also increased win totals each year, culminating in 88 during the 2019 campaign. How will they fair in 2020?

ArrivalsDepartures
Jordan Cote, SPTrevor Cahill, SP
Carlos E. Martinez, SPFrancisco Liriano, RP
Yadier Molina, CBrian McCann, C
Daniel Tillman, RPLuis Bastardo, RP

Texas adds 2 pieces to its rotation that on paper are significant upgrades over Trevor Cahill. As has been discussed to the point of dead horse beating at this point, starting pitching is huge in this division, and nowhere will that be as true as in Texas. The ball goes further in Arlington, so the Rangers need to keep the ball on the ground. Cote is coming off a down year in Tampa, but if you look at his history prior to that, he is a great fit for what the Rangers want to do. Carlos E. Martinez also is coming off a year where he allowed more HR/9 and a higher FBO, its a risky investment, but I think he slots in really well to this rotation that already features some young talented arms.

Add to that the acquisition of Yadier Molina, a veteran catcher who calls a great game, has a still serviceable arm and knows how to keep youngsters calm, and I like the look of the battery in the Lone Star State. It also allows Wieters to DH on occasion to rest his knees and prevent injury, and doesn’t have the drop off in offensive production they would be looking at with a AAA catcher coming up.

Projected Lineup and Rotation

LineupRotation
Matt Wieters, CJames Kaprielian
Arialdi Peguero, 1BReginald McMillan
Arturo Moreno, 2BJamie Widner
Dennis Moore, SSJordan Cote
Andrew Hardy, 3BCarlos E Martinez
Ryan Braun, LF
Jordan Akins, CF
Jakob Skole, RF
Yadier Molina, DH

No changes to the lineup this year really. McCann out and probably a mix match at DH is likely though. The rotation is bolstered by the addition of Cote and Martinez, giving them a strong 1-5 to compete with the devastating lineups in this division. But if you think improving your 4th and 5th starter is enough to pull you above Seattle or LA, you are dreaming. The Texas faithful are not dreamers. They want more, and I would not be surprised to see them get it before Spring is over.

With the lineup, it will be fun to see Moreno, Skole and Peguero hit together for another full year. A full year of Ryan Braun with that group will also be fascinating, as I think he is one of the most underrated bats in the AL. There is no question Texas can score on anyone, the question has always been can they keep the other team off the scoreboard.

What to watch for in Texas in 2020

  1. Who do they go get?
    • They are to close to being able to challenge the top two in the division to not go out and bring in a real solution at SS and 3B. They also have a need in the middle of the bullpen.
  2. How doe Cote and Martinez bounce back?
    • Can they keep the ball in the park?
  3. How do they respond to sitting in 4th at the deadline?
    • Does Texas jump ship and go full rebuild if they are not within striking distance at the deadline?

Projections

5th place finish behind Oakland, and a retooling in the offseason, no full rebuild.

Final Standings

  1. Seattle
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Houston
  4. Oakland
  5. Texas

Awards

AL West MVPManny Machado
AL West Cy YoungWalker Buehler
AL West ROY

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