We’re in a slow time of the year for sports. Sure, college sports are in full swing, but the NFL is only on three times a week, NBA players are putting in minimal effort and every once in a while we get NHL games through UConn cable, but we’re missing the most important sport of them all: The MLB.
It’s been under a month without baseball, but it feels like a year. The jump from games all-day, every-day to no games at all is just as devastating as it is every year, so I guess our only choice is to talk about the offseason. I’ll be going through each division in a six-article series, looking at what each team’s likely path this offseason will be. So, without further adieu, let’s start with the AL West.
What can you even say about the Astros right now? With all the cheating and sign-stealing allegations swirling around them, Houston is a firestorm right now. But for this, let’s just try to stick to the baseball. So, what’s priority number one? Get another starting pitcher. Gerritt Cole is almost certainly out the door, so they’re going to want to replace him with another quality starting pitcher. If they want to go big, they should target Zack Wheeler, adding him to a rotation that already has Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke would be nasty, but a more realistic option to be the fourth or fifth starter is Cole Hamels.
The former Phillies star spent the past one-and-a-half-ish seasons with the Cubs and finished last year with an ERA of 3.81 in 141.2 innings. Even though Hamels will be entering his the season at 36 years old, he’s still a quality piece to pick up on a one or two-year deal to sure up the rotation. They also need a catcher, but I just don’t see them spending big this offseason. I could see them potentially bringing in someone like Alex Avila, or maybe just bringing back one or both of Martin Maldonado and Robinson Chirinos.
It’s been back-to-back postseason trips for the A’s, who after three straight years of coming in last in the AFC West managed to win 97 games and earn a wild card berth in 2018 and 2019. However, they’ve lost the play-in game each year, so it’s about time they get over the hump. They’re losing three starting pitchers, Brett Anderson, Tanner Roark and Homer Bailey, the latter two, who were both acquired by Oakland midseason, should be fairly easy to replace with ERAs of 4.35 and 4.57 last season, respectably. Anderson had a solid year, finishing with a 3.89 ERA, so there is some value they’re losing. Still, between the three of them, they’re losing 54 starts and over 300 innings, so they need to add some starters.
Since it is Oakland we’re talking about, they’re not going to get a Cole or Strausburg type, so bargain pitchers are what they’ll be after. Bringing Anderson back would be a fine idea, and they should also look into Drew Smyly, who had a disaster of a 2019 after missing three full seasons due to Tommy John surgery. He was a good starter from 2012 to 2015, and they could take a chance on him regaining his form and potentially get a huge bargain. Michael Pineda and Gio Gonzalez could also be viable options, but frankly they just need someone who’s going to eat innings on a consistent basis.
This is where we get into the dregs of the AL West. I’ll put it bluntly: The Rangers are not competing this season. They frankly overperformed last season, going 78-84 and coming in third in the West, but in a division with the Astros, A’s and consistently underperforming but potentially scary Angels, they’ve got no shot. The offense was below average, and their two best starting pitchers, Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, each had some of the best years of their careers that they probably won’t repeat. Not only that, but nine of their top-12 prospects aren’t higher than AA ball, and the three that are combined for 60 innings in the bigs last season with ERAs of 4.32, 7.43 and 9.18.
So, what should they do? Stock the farm. Minor and Lynn have one and two years left on their deals respectably, so I’d capitalize on their value now and get anything back I could for them. They could also consider trading outfielders Nomar Mazara and Delino DeShields, both solid, under-28 players who have two or fewer years remaining on their contract. Shin-Soo Choo, a free agent after this season, is also an intriguing trade piece as even in his year 15 he still had an OPS of .826, but the fact that at 37 he’s limited to a designated hitter and him being owed $21 million next year could turn off most suiters. The Rangers need to restock their farm, one that Bleacher Report ranked at No. 20 in the majors following the 2019 season, and plan for the future.
Los Angeles Angels
So much talent, so little results. The Angels have one major advantage over every other team in the MLB: They’re home to the best hitter in the league. The three-time (and reigning) MVP, eight-time All-Star, seven-time Silver Slugger–need I recite more? Mike Trout is simply the best, but unfortunately for him, the rest of the Angels … aren’t. One of their biggest downfalls has been pitching, but this year, they have a chance to fix that.
As of right now, the Angels are being looked at as one of the main frontrunners for Cy Young finalist Gerrit Cole, and they need to do everything in their power to make it happen. Yes, Cole’s not going to come cheap. He’s a Boras client (and he made sure everybody knew it following World Series Game 7), so odd’s are he’s signing with whoever gives him the most money. Yes, the Angels already have the No. 10 payroll in the MLB, with Trout’s new mega-deal and the immovable contracts of former stars Albert Pujols and Justin Upton. But they have the chance to bring in one of the best pitchers in the game right now. He could potentially help them compete right now, but the most likely scenario is the Angels lock him up while they have to the opportunity to and then wait out the contracts of Pujols and Upton, which will expire after the 2022 and 2023 seasons respectably.
After an incredible 13-2 start to their 2019 campaign, the Mariners crashed and burned the rest of the season, dropping under .500 less than a month later. However, they do have a great farm system, one that Bleacher Report ranked at No. 5 in the MLB, one that was greatly bolstered by trading Edwin Diaz at his peak value and dumping Robinson Cano to the Mets for top-25 prospect Jarred Kelenic and top-100 prospect Justin Dunn, so similarly to the Rangers, they have to play the waiting game. The difference with them is they’re in a much better position to do so, and the turnaround should happen much sooner.
In the meantime, they could trade some of their assets for more prospects – something that never hurts to have – whether you keep them and have them be contributors or trade them away for MLB ready talent when it’s time for them to compete. Tim Beckham is a prime candidate, as the 30-year-old had an okay 2019 and is a free agent at the end of this season. Kyle Seager is another option, but he has an inflated contract with three (two and a club option) remaining on his deal he’s probably not worth the money. Dee Gordon might be the most intriguing piece, as he hits for a solid average, and even though his on-base percentage and slugging percentages are low, his speed is something that has value in and of itself. Seattle needs just a couple more years of rebuilding, and then maybe they can make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.