(Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports Images)
Today, we take a look at the AL West. Previews are given in alphabetical order; standings predictions will be released before Opening Day.
2016 Record: 84-78 (3rd in AL West, missed playoffs)
2016 Payroll: $114,738,542 (21st)
Offseason Moves: Key departures include Doug Fister, Colby Rasmus, Jason Castro, and Luis Valbuena. Key additions include Nori Aoki, Charlie Morton, Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, and Carlos Beltran.
2017 Outlook: After finishing the 2016 season 11 games behind the division champion Texas Rangers, the Astros have their work cut out for them to be in playoff contention in 2017. However, with some key trades and signings, Houston is poised to compete. With Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran adding to the offensive threat of Evan Gattis, it will be interesting to see how this power trio will be handled. Houston’s outfield also saw a major makeover with the addition of Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick. If the young talent of the middle infield holds up, the Astros will have a lineup to contend with in 2017. Houston’s biggest concern, however, is their pitching staff, which will need to demonstrate improvement. If Dallas Keuchel delivers as the Cy Young pitcher he was in 2015, and if the Astros find a bullpen formula that works, they may be able to support their great lineup. Additionally, if Ken Giles’ late season success spills over into this year, the bullpen will be top notch. Overall, while the Astros show promise for 2017, they still have much to prove.
Players to Watch:
Josh Reddick: New in Houston after a $52MM, 4-year signing, Josh Reddick will need to replicate the numbers he posted with the Oakland A’s to be considered a worthwhile investment.
Dallas Keuchel: Among an otherwise mediocre starting rotation, Dallas Keuchel will need to emulate something closer to his Cy Young performance in 2015 (2.48 ERA). Astros fans will hope to see him bounce back from a very unimpressive 2016 season (4.55 ERA).
- Alex Bregman: After getting picked second overall in the 2015 draft, Alex Bregman had a strong 2016, posting .264/.313/.478. It will be interesting to see whether he lives up to expectations as an elite prospect.
– Ambria Hopfe
Los Angeles Angels
2016 Record: 74-88 (4th in AL West, missed playoffs)
2016 Payroll: $180,743,007 (7th)
Offseason Moves: Key departures include CJ Wilson (retired), Jered Weaver, and Tim Lincecum. Key arrivals include Yusmeiro Petit, Jesse Chavez, second baseman Danny Espinosa, third baseman Luis Valbuena, and outfielders Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin.
2017 Outlook: In 2017, the Angels will be looking to improve on their 2016 4th place finish and try to get back into playoff contention. There were certainly some bright spots last year for the Halos, as Mike Trout posted another fantastic season winning the AL MVP award for his troubles. Complimenting Trout’s production was venerable first baseman Albert Pujols, who put out 31 homers and 119 RBIs. The offense was by and large not the problem for the Angels last year: per Fangraphs, the team ranked ninth in offensive fWAR. The majority of their struggles came from the mound. Although the Angels’ staff ranked in the top half in team ERA, they ranked second to last in pitching WAR, indicating mediocrity across the board. The staff certainly missed Garrett Richards after he tore his UCL in May; Matt Schoemaker was their only starter with an fWAR above 1.0, and he went 9-13 with an ERA near 4. To remedy this, GM Billy Eppler signed right-handers Yusmeiro Petit and Jesse Chavez, and cut loose aging starters CJ Wilson, Jered Weaver, and Tim Lincecum. The Angels’ offseason was successful thanks to their frugality. By not offering big contracts to free agents like Matt Wieters, they have money to spend in the future, once they see how well this group of players meshes (a side note, Josh Hamilton’s contract will be off the books following 2017). The Angels are still likely a year out from a playoff run unless their pitching can adequately complement their lineup, but 2017 should certainly be a step in the right direction.
Player to Watch: Garrett Richards
Angels ace Garrett Richards missed most of 2016 due to a UCL injury. The likely 2017 Opening Day starter, Richards will look to put up an ERA similar to the 2.36 he put up in limited action last year. Will his velocity still be around? Will he become injured once more? There are question marks, but if Richards can return to form, he can be a workhorse for the Angels and help them contend for a playoff spot.
– Austin Stamford
2016 Record: 69-93 (5th in AL West, missed playoffs)
2016 Payroll: $99,914,388 (27th)
Offseason Moves: Notable arrivals include Indians and Tigers legend OF Rajai Davis, RF Matt Joyce, 3B Trevor Plouffe, RHP Santiago Casilla, and RHP Paul Blackburn. IF/OFs Arismendy Alcantara and Danny Valencia are the two main departures.
2017 Outlook: Remember 2014, when Billy Beane got feisty and traded for Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel at the tradeline while dealing away Addison Russell? Cubs fans remember too! Sadly, so do A’s fans, and their memory of the experience is not quite as fond. Ever since Billy Beane went all in on a World Series title, his Athletics have struggled greatly back-to-back years, and somehow, Beane has not traded away Sonny Gray, the only star on the team who regressed from an ERA+ of 143 in 2015 to an ERA+ of 70 (in nearly 100 less IP). Yes, the Oakland Athletics are truly the underdog of the AL West in 2017. Kendall Graveman quietly put up a 3.2 rWAR in 2016 and will be the likely Opening Day starter in April, but besides Graveman, Khris Davis (who replicated the power of Chris Davis in 2016), and Marcus Semien (who commits an error seemingly every other game), the A’s don’t have many bright spots. That said, I’ve been rereading Moneyball recently, so let me be the first to tell you that anything is possible.
Player to Watch: Trevor Plouffe
Trevor Plouffe hit 22 HR for the Minnesota Twins in 2015 but saw his stats cut in half in 2016 as he missed half the season. What’s puzzling is that Billy Beane signed a 3B who can only achieve an OBP around .300. That doesn’t sound like a Billy Beane move! That said, Plouffe put up a 2.5 rWAR in 2015 and a 3.9 rWAR in 2014, so Beane is probably gambling that Plouffe bounces back after a 2016 in which he posted a 0.4 rWAR in 84 games (that’s still on pace for under 1, for anyone keeping score).
– Zane Harding
2016: 86-76 (2nd in AL West, missed playoffs)
2016 Payroll: $154,718,253 (13th)
Offseason moves: Jerry DiPoto was very busy making trades this offseason. The biggest move the Mariners made this offseason was trading SP Taijuan Walker and infielder Ketel Marte to the Diamondbacks in exchange for SS Jean Segura, filling one of their largest needs. They also made moves to acquire Yovani Gallardo, Jarrod Dyson, and Drew Smyly, giving up Seth Smith and starter Nate Karns respectively in the Gallardo and Dyson trades.
2017 Outlook: Once again, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic in Seattle. Robinson Cano hit 39 home runs last year, and at 34 he is still one of the best second basemen in the majors. Third baseman Kyle Seager may not be the best player in his family, but he is the league’s most underrated hitter. Worth 5.5 fWAR last year, he is projected to be worth 4 fWAR this year. The 2-5 of Segura, Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Seager is a daunting core of the lineup, and rookie RF Mitch Haniger has looked ready to contribute if his spring training stats are to be believed. The rotation should be solid, if unspectacular. Hisashi Iwakuma will never replicate his 2013 season, in which he was worth 3.9 fWAR and finished 3rd in Cy Young voting, but he remains a valuable number 2 starter. Additionally, new acquisition Drew Smyly was outstanding in the World Baseball Classic, and James Paxton is poised for a breakout season. And of course, there’s Felix Hernandez. The former Cy Young winner had a disappointing 2016 by his lofty standards, posting a 3.82 ERA and only 1.0 fWAR, lower than even his 12-start rookie season in 2005. His 4.63 FIP shows that it may have been a fluke, but digging into his stats, I found something else interesting. Batters last season hit for a wRC+ of 166 against his sinker, a pitch he threw more than any other. As his velocity drops, he may need to make some adjustments to his arsenal if he wants to remain an elite pitcher. The team around him is good enough, so it is up to Hernandez to step up if he wants to pitch in the postseason for the first time.
Player to Watch: James Paxton
Paxton’s 2016 season was the best of his career, setting career bests in nearly every category. His average fastball velocity has improved by over 2 mph since his rookie season, and he was clocked at 100.2 last year while increasing the use of his off-speed pitches as well. As Seattle’s third starter, Paxton is a prime candidate to break out in 2017.
– Cam Cain
2016 Record: 95-67 (1st in AL West, lost in ALDS)
2016 Payroll: $168,520,990 (8th)
Offseason Moves: Notable departures include DH Carlos Beltran, OF Ian Desmond, and 1B Mitch Moreland. That said, the team brought back DH Mike Napoli, while also adding RHPs Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Dillon Gee, along with 1B James Loney and IF Will Middlebrooks. Unfortunately, RHP Tyson Ross will not be available until May, while RHP Andrew Cashner will likely be back sometime in April.
2017 Outlook: The biggest anomaly of 2016, the Texas Rangers won 95 games last year despite having a Pythagorean W-L of 82-80. That’s right: the 2016 Rangers performed 13 games above their expected record. How did they pull it off? Well, the team’s ERA+ sat at 103, while it’s OPS+ sat at 95. This suggests stronger pitching than offense, even though the team’s lineup looked scarier on paper. Will the Rangers be better in 2017? It’s hard to tell. The team lost OF Ian Desmond, who posted a 2.7 rWAR in 2016. Carlos Gomez will play CF in his place, which could go better than some may expect following his time as an Astro: Gomez posted a 0.9 rWAR in only 130 PA as a Ranger last year, to pair with a team-best 134 OPS+ for a player with over 100 PA. Shin-Soo Choo will also play more often, and while he isn’t the player he used to be, he still has his signature >.350 OBP. Further, the team will receive a full year from Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy, while enjoying production from Tyson Ross once May rolls around. The Rangers in all likelihood have to play better than they did last year to compete in 2017’s AL West, nonetheless. Don’t let that 95-67 record fool you.
Player to Watch: Nomar Mazara
Mazara was great at the start of 2016 for the Rangers but cooled off as time went on. He batted .282 in the first half, but only .242 in the second half. The Rangers would much prefer to see .282 with a .330 OBP from Mazara in 2017, instead of .242 and a .306 OBP. Which will it be? It’s hard to tell, seeing that Mazara’s BABIP was .304 in the first half and .292 in the second half. Regardless, a strong season from Mazara will boost the Rangers’ chances in 2017.
– Zane Harding