(Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports)
Earlier in the week, the writers at M-SABR previewed the AL East and AL Central teams as they head into the offseason. Today, we look at what’s in store for teams in the AL West.
2017 Record: 101-61 (1st in AL West, won World Series)
2017 Payroll: $149,964,177 (15th)
Current 2018 Outlook:
As the champagne slowly runs dry and they finally leave Disney World, the Astros have every reason to look forward to 2018 when they will begin their quest for a repeat. Coming off of an AL best 101-61 record, built on the strength of an absolutely loaded line-up featuring 8 players with over 100 games played and an OPS+ north of 120, the Astros might be even better next year. With Carlos Beltran off to Cooperstown, the Astros’ list of outgoing Free Agents is as short as it is unimpressive. Aside from Beltran, Cameron Maybin, Tyler Clippard, Luke Gregerson and Francisco Liriano, Houston returns its entire roster. That roster will also include Justin Verlander returning for his first full season, and hopefully a lot less injury misfortune. No starter on the 2017 Astros started 30 games or the team leader in innings pitched at 153.1 was Mike Fiers with his 5.43 FIP. Throw in Carlos Correa only playing 109 games due to injury last season, and the Astros of 2018 might get even better.
Though their regular season dominance and World Series run were fueled by their historic offense, the hottest story the past few Postseasons has been the heightened importance of a reliable bullpen. Following Ken Giles’ World Series implosion, in which he gave up 5 Earned Runs in 1.2 innings, the Astros certainly don’t appear to have that right now. It will interesting to see if Giles can rebound, but for the time being, the bullpen is the only obvious area of need in Houston.
Given their dynastic aspirations and potential, and their shockingly reasonable payroll, the Astros should go all in for Wade Davis to fill the aforementioned closer role. Coming off another impressive season, 190 ERA+ and 12.1 K/9, the 32-year old brings the consistency and playoff experience this Astros team needs.
Also, it might seem ludicrous to say that a team featuring Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Evan “El Oso Blanco” Gattis and Dallas Keuchel’s beard could become more fun, but if there’s one guy who could do it, it’s Shohei Otani. Especially if Otani values winning, it will be difficult to find a better situation than Houston. Could the forward thinking front office that masterfully led the Astros rebuild also be the one to give him the chance to play both ways?
Los Angeles Angels
By Erik McKeen
2017 Record: 80-82 (2nd in AL West, missed playoffs)
2017 Payroll: $176,337,209 (11th)
Current 2018 Outlook:
As of late, the Angels have mostly been either in the playoffs or a middle of the pack team. The most recent time they finished last in their division was in 1999, the final season before Mike Scioscia took over as manager. As long as the Angels have Mike Trout on the team, they have potential to be competitive. We will definitely not be seeing a rebuild any time soon. In 2017, we saw a team that was right in the mix of the AL Wildcard race for the whole season, despite the best player in the league being out for several weeks. Part of this success was having 2 Gold Glove winners on the team in Andrelton Simmons and Martín Maldonado, and 2 other finalists in Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun.
Let’s look at the good players the Angels have under contract for next season. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons had the highest WAR in 2017 among all shortstops with 7.1, which ranked 8th among all major league batters. He is signed through the 2020 season. We all know how good center fielder and 2-time MVP Mike Trout is. He achieved a WAR of 6.7 last season, good for 10th best among major league batters, despite having played only 114 games. He is signed through the 2020 season. Right fielder Kole Calhoun is signed through 2019 and has played well, averaging a 3.2 War over the last 4 years. Last but not least, the Angels locked up left fielder Justin Upton earlier this month through the 2022 season at $21.2 million a year, who had a WAR of 5.7 last season.
Even though Albert Pujols hit his 600th home run last season and had another 100 RBI season, he had an atrocious WAR of -1.8. Not positive 1.8, negative 1.8, far worse than a mere replacement level player. Unfortunately for the Angels, he is signed through the 2021 season, and unless another team wants to take on his $24 million a year salary, the Angels are stuck with him. Hopefully he can turn it around next season, but unless he is a big leader in the clubhouse (hopefully he is), there’s not much good he’s doing there. Third baseman Luis Valbuena is not good, having achieved a WAR of 0.0 last season. Second basemen and former first round draft pick Kaleb Cowart hasn’t shown anything special in the 3 partial seasons he had played so far. Unfortunately, the Angels do not have a good third or second baseman in their minor league system, or a good farm system overall for that matter.
There are many players eligible for arbitration who should be back with the Angels next season and be meaningful contributors. This list includes first baseman C.J. Cron, catcher Martín Maldonado, starting pitchers Garrett Richards (who can hopefully stay healthy next season and continue to be an ace) and Matt Shoemaker, and lastly closer Blake Parker. There are also several young pitchers eligible for arbitration who showed promise last season and who the Angels hope can be meaningful contributors, such as starters J.C. Ramírez, Parker Bridwell, Alex Meyer, and Nick Tropeano, and relievers Kenyan Middleton and Eduardo Paredes. Considering the fact that the Angels have one of the worst farm systems in the league, they either need to have multiple players come out of nowhere and have good seasons, or they need to spend a lot to get quality players. The Angels currently do not have a sufficient pitching staff or bullpen to compete with the best teams in the league. If would be great for them if some of those young pitchers get a lot better, but they cannot count on that.
If I were the Angels’ GM, I would try to sign a good free agent starting pitcher, third baseman, second baseman, and maybe a good reliever this offseason. Who knows what trades they will be able to get done before the deadline next season with that farm system (assuming they are in the AL Wildcard mix again). I don’t know how much money the Angels are willing to spend on free agents, but in order to compete and not waste Mike Trout’s talent, they need to sign a couple good ones this offseason.
By AJ Janetzke
2017 Record: 75-87 (5th in AL West, missed playoffs)
2017 Payroll: $85,977,680 (29th)
The Athletics are coming off another underwhelming season. For the third season in a row, they fell below the .500 mark, finding themselves in last place in the AL West. Though, they did have to deal with the AL West and World Series Champions, the Houston Astros, who completed a 100 win season. 2018 has a chance to be the year the A’s make a comeback into the playoff hunt if they make some moves in the offseason. The Athletics are looking to move Khris Davis to DH after trading Ryon Healy, the incumbent DH, to Seattle. The A’s are specifically looking for a right-handed hitting left fielder to replace Davis. In particular, they have shown interest in Marcell Ozuna and Avisail Garcia. One thing fans can look forward to is Brian Howard, a RHP out of TCU, who the A’s drafted in the 8th round this year. In a short season in the minors (about 40 innings), Howard held a 1.15 ERA, a 29:1 strikeout to walk ratio, no home runs, and a .200 opponent batting average. Howard will not likely play in the majors next season, but has the potential to make a large impact in the coming years. As for pitching, it was a rough season for the A’s. Their top 5 pitchers all had an ERA over 4 with their ace, Sean Manaea, at 4.37, and their #2, Jharel Cotton, at 5.58. With a team average of 4.77, it is difficult to win many games. Here’s hoping that the staff will get it together collectively a produce better numbers for the 2018 season.
A big help, like noted above, would be new additions to the starting pitching staff. They need pitchers that can get them through at least innings without giving up 3+ runs each time. On top of that, they have a need for a closer. Casilla started as the only closer, but later the A’s traded for Treinen. Casilla posted an ERA at 4.27 for the season which doesn’t cut it for a go-to closer. Treinen performed better at an ERA of 2.13, but posted a record of 3-4. Throughout the year, the A’s switched players around in the field and made several trades which is what they need to do until they find a fit that works.
A player like Avisail Garcia could benefit their team. They need a hitter that can come up in clutch situations with runners in scoring positions and drive them home. With an average of .330 and an OBP of .380, Garcia could really fit as a replacement for Davis in left.
By Cam Cain
2017 Record: 78-84 (T-3rd in the AL West)
2017 Payroll: $171,255,830 (12th)
Current 2018 Outlook:
On paper, the Mariners have one of the best teams in the American League. They have a solid core in the middle of their lineup with Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager. Mitch Haniger had a strong rookie season and should continue to be an important piece in this lineup. They have an ace in James Paxton, and a solid pitching staff surrounding him. However, they were hit hard by injuries in 2017. 12 pitchers started at least 5 games for the Mariners, and nobody started more than 29. That doesn’t even include Drew Smyly, an offseason acquisition who missed the entire season with injury after a promising showing in the World Baseball Classic. If they can remain healthy, this rotation is good enough to complement their lineup. Felix Hernandez is no longer an ace, but he is still an average pitcher. Additionally, Mike Leake looked very solid in 5 starts down the stretch for Seattle. It’s a promising sign that the Mariners were able to stay in the wild card race for so long despite all of their injury woes. With some help and some luck, they should be right in the mix again in 2018.
The Mariners could definitely benefit from an extra starting pitcher, especially given the injury problems their rotation had last year. They were 12th in Wins above Average in left field this year. Ben Gamel started 130 games and posted only 1.0 WAR. Danny Valencia needs to be replaced at first base as well, after putting up an OPS of .725 as an everyday player.
Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners got off to a fast start this offseason, acquiring Ryon Healy from the Athletics. While the current plan is for Healy to jump in and replace Valencia at first base, it is an underwhelming move. Healy was primarily a designated hitter for the Athletics, and his .302 OBP is uninspiring, despite his 25 home runs. If this trade rules out the possibility of acquiring a first baseman, they could go after a left fielder. Unfortunately, the free agent market at LF is slim. Howie Kendrick is the best choice, but his high BABIP shows that he is due to regress in 2018. The Mariners have also been rumored to be a frontrunner for Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. He would fill a need at starting pitcher for the Mariners, but there may not be a spot in the lineup for him. If Otani does continue to bat in the major leagues, it will likely be as a designated hitter in between starts. But Nelson Cruz was the best offensive DH in the majors this past season, so it may be difficult to find at bats for Otani.
By Duncan Wallis
2017 Record: 78-84 (T-3rd in the AL West)
2017 Payroll: $185,899,040 (8th)
Current 2018 Outlook:
Rangers fans, be happy. Expect 2018 to be a bounce back year, overall. Cole Hamels should have a stronger showing than his uncharacteristic 2017. An uninjured Joey Gallo and a revamped Rougned Odor paired with a steady Adrian Beltre (in the final year of his contract) should help get their lineup back intact. Carlos Gomez still has the ability to return to his younger days and be a superstar and look for Elvis Andrus and Shin-Soo Choo to contribute as well. The starting pitching is where the Rangers need to look for answers. Jon Daniels will be more motivated than ever to be competitive with his final year of Adrian Beltre and potentially Cole Hamels, as well. The window for Texas is closing fast, expect Daniels to take advantage of the time they have left.
Biggest Needs: SP, OF, RP
Suggested Moves: Sign Arrieta. Period. Figure out how to get it done to have a top of the rotation starter as Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, and more come into their own from the farm system. Sign Tyson Ross back or get some other middle or back end help like a Lance Lynn or Jeremy Hellickson on a shorter contract. Make some smaller moves for a backup outfielder and a little relief help… Tony Watson? Expect Jon Daniels and the Rangers front office to be as active as they ever are. A transition is coming.