New Decade, Who Dis?: AL West

The AL West is probably the most competitive, yet predictably non-competitive division in Major League Baseball. It bears some similarity to it’s National League counterpart, in the sense that one team rules the roost, and everyone else is just trying to figure out ways to keep up. What makes the junior circuit version more interesting though, is the makeup of these consolation clubs. The Angels have the best player in baseball (by a notably wide margin), one of the most intriguing two way players ever, and a sure fire first ballot hall of famer, but can’t seem to be…. good. The Mariners are perpetually rebuilding, yet not rebuilding at the same time, always to mediocre results. The Rangers are one of those teams that experts say are “just a piece or two away from being a contender”, and the Oakland A’s are just like, really good for reasons that no one really understands? At the end of the day, the Houston Astros set the pace out in the American League West, and while the A’s can mount a legit challenge, it’s just really hard to envision a world where that isn’t the case. They hit, run, pitch, and field in the upper echelons of the league, and have the type of roster that was once only thought possible if “commissioner mode” was enabled. It’s not that foreign of a concept to say the A’s could make a run at the reigning AL champions, but in all honesty… it’s still kind of a stretch. Let’s take a deeper look at the division…

Salary Committed – Per Spotrac’s 2020 estimates.
Offense – Using Fangraph’s OFF statistic
Starters – Using Fangraph’s total pitching WAR, and separated by starters
Relievers – same as starters, but for relievers
Defense – Using Fangraph’s DEF statistic.

The Houston Astros: Looks Good, Feels Gross

  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: STARTING PITCHING
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: DEFENSE (I GUESS?)
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Daniel Hudson

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: The Houston Astros are a shitty organization. You all know why. Got that out of the way, now let’s talk about the product this shitty organization is putting on the field, because that is well, the opposite of shitty. The Astros depth chart is something of a work of art, with not a single real deficiency in it. Could you add a glove-first oufielder? I guess… but that wouldn’t make any sense since Kyle Tucker is already starved for playing time. A backup infielder for when Correa inveitably hits the IL? You could, but why when young high-upside players like Abraham Toro could slide into 3rd base and Alex Bregman can play pretty decent short stop? It’s pretty ridiculous, honestly, so I put reliever Daniel Hudson as a potential free agent acquisition because i’m trying to be faithful to the format, and I guess everyone could use bullpen help. Who knows, maybe they’ll sign some low cost pitcher and turn them into a friggin Cy Young contender because why the hell not (throws arms into the air in exasperation). Anyway, the Astros are a great team, water is wet, and they’re still a shitty organization. I’m done here.

The Oakland A’s: The Secret Sauce of Baseball

Photo: Keith Allison
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: DEFENSE
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: STARTING PITCHING
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Alex Wood

The Oakland A’s are without a doubt, the most unique franchise in baseball today. For the past two seasons, the only thing they haven’t done right is be in the American League West divisions, behind the shitty Astros. In 2018, their 97-65 record would have taken down any National League division, and the AL Central. This year? They would have owned the NL East and NL Central. Instead, they are forced into a one game playoff with the team made in their image, the Tampa Bay Rays, who ultimately beat them, and the A’s season came crashing down. Well, as the title suggests, we are entering a new decade, and maybe the A’s will surprise us all with a notable free agent acquisition, sensing the peak of their competitive window is opening? Eh, probably not. Instead, they’ll just keep on parading out Mark Canha and his .913 OPS, or Matt Chapman and his elite defensive skills at third base. They’ll just keep leaning on no-names like the unsung MVP candidate Marcus Semien or “I struck out 124 batters over 85 innings” Liam Hendriks. None of those players, by the way, are even out of their arbitration years. Alex Wood makes a lot of sense for this team, as an underrated but high-risk starter that could help add some upside to an otherwise shaky rotation. It’s just stupid how good they are for how little they spend. It’s almost like they could make a movie out of how they do things…. oh, wait.

The Texas Rangers: New Ballpark, New Look?

Photo: KA Sports Photos
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: STARTING PITCHING
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: OFFENSE
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Josh Donaldson

And no, i’m not talking about those silly powder blue uniforms. I’m talking about a team that could actually go out and spend money to usher in a new era of winning in Texas somewhere other than Houston. It’s a tall order, with a new ballpark on the way, and a roster that has plenty of upside, the time to start could be now, and the first move should be a high profile signing like Josh Donaldson. JD would bring another powerful bat to the Rangers lineup to help compliment slugger Joey Gallo, and would bring some much needed plate discipline to a team that ranked 20th in OBP this past season. Texas has already made some moves to improve their roster from a pitching standpoint, adding oft-injured ace pitcher Corey Kluber to command a rotation that already included Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, so there’s some notable upside there. I’m not sold on the Rangers being a competitive team as it stands right now, and even with a potential addition like Donaldson they’re a fringy bet in such a tough division, but all signs could be pointing in the right direction in Texas, even if they don’t make any serious waves just yet.

Los Angeles Angels: The Black Hole of Greatness.

Photo: Keith Allison
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: DEFENSE
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: STARTING PITCHING
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Julio Teheran

Take the best player in a generation, on pace to be the greatest of all time. Add in one of the most intriguing two way stars baseball has to offer, and quite possibly the greatest glove to man the left side of any infield ever. Put them on the same team together and what do you get? Mediocrity. Like, a lot of it. The Angels have some great pieces to build a winning team around, but also have some glaring holes on their roster. The addition of Anthony Rendon satisfies the need for another big bat and his plus glove matches with Andrelton Simmons to make any ground ball to the left side pretty much an automatic out. I’m pretty sure Justin Upton won’t field a ground ball for the entire season. As great as that addition is though, the team has a train wreck on the mound. Since the 2016 season, only the Rays starting pitchers have thrown less innings than the Angels, and I think we all know why. Julio Teheran could be a solid addition for this team, having averaged at least 174 innings in every full year of his career, and he will come cheap. He will take the ball every 5th day and soak up lots of work, which is something the halos desperately need. This is another team that could use the help of some mid to high end relief as well, someone like a Pedro Strop to help add some stability to the pen. Of all the teams in this division, the Angels are the easiest case to diagnose. If they can get decent innings from their pitching, the lineup should be able to help them win more games than not.

Seattle Mariners: Yeah, They’re Here too.

Photo: Eric Drost
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: OFFENSE
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: DEFENSE
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Kole Calhoun

I’m fairly certain that watching grass grow might be more exciting than this Mariners roster. There are some high points, like DH Dan Vogelbach, who’s massive frame emerged to crank 30 home runs in his first full season in the show, and despite a down year, I think Mitch Haniger has a lot of potential. Oh, and that’s about it. General Manager Jerry DiPoto has been very flip-floppy as to what the teams mid to long term plans are (in terms of, are you rebuilding or not?), and the results would dictate that. The team is pretty much mediocre to bad at everything, and lacks a lot of depth and versatility. Kole Calhoun could be an interesting piece for them, since he brings a plus glove and will most likely sign a one year deal, making him very tradable if he shows up. This, of course, makes notoriously trade happy DiPoto very happy. I could see someone like Brock Holt being a fit here as well, since the team currently lacks a true utility option. I don’t really have a lot to say here, the rotation is bad, the bullpen might be worse, and the lineup is pretty meh. It’s the Mariners, and it would seem like they’re content to just anchor themselves (see what I did there?) at the bottom of the division for the foreseeable future.

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