With the offseason almost two months old, MLBTR is going through all 30 teams’ remaining needs by division. We started with the NL East. Now let’s move to the AL West, a division the Astros have won three years in a row. This has been a somewhat rocky offseason for the reigning pennant winners, which could create opportunities for at least one or two of the other teams in their division…
Houston Astros [Offseason Outlook]
The Astros’ nigh-invincible rotation has taken a couple serious hits since free agency opened, as all-world right-hander Gerrit Cole left to sign a record-high contract with the rival Yankees and back-end southpaw Wade Miley departed for the Reds. With Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke returning to man the top two spots, the front end of the Astros’ starting staff remains in better shape than most teams’. They’ll also get Lance McCullers Jr. back from Tommy John surgery, though the remainder of their rotation is decidedly less proven.
Jose Urquidy, Forrest Whitley, Rogelio Armenteros, Cionel Perez and Josh James are just a few in-house options who could start for Astros sometime in 2020, but there’s nothing resembling an established option after the Verlander-Greinke-McCullers trio. So, it would make sense for the Astros to seek a veteran from outside, though their desire to avoid the second level of the luxury tax ($228MM) could limit their options. As things stand, the Astros’ tax payroll’s already projected to check in at $237MM-plus, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. From that standpoint, the good news is that there’s no free agent remaining who’d cost an exorbitant amount to sign. However, that also means there’s no sure bet left on the open market. What about upgrading via trade? Two lefties – the Tigers’ Matthew Boyd and the Diamondbacks’ Robbie Ray – are among those who could be available, and both hurlers have drawn the Astros’ interest in the not-so-distant past.
Aside from the back end of its rotation, most of Houston’s roster looks as if it’ll once again enter next season in enviable shape. An exception could be at catcher, where the Astros probably won’t get much offense from Martin Maldonado, Dustin Garneau and Garrett Stubbs. Nevertheless, having re-signed the defensive specialist Maldonado for a two-year, $7MM guarantee, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Astros go into 2020 with their current behind-the-plate cast.
For Houston, the biggest question of all is whether it’ll face discipline in the near future for a scandal centering on alleged sign-stealing during its World Series-winning campaign in 2017. That’ll continue to be a major story to watch going forward, as it could have negative effects on president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch and the organization as a whole.
Oakland Athletics [Offseason Outlook]
There may be no greater need in Oakland that at second base, a position Jurickson Profar failed to solidify last season (the A’s dealt him to the Padres earlier this winter as a result). For now, the A’s have several fairly untested in-house possibilities in Franklin Barreto, Sheldon Neuse, Chad Pinder and Jorge Mateo, but they’ve shown interest in addressing the spot from elsewhere. Former Athletic Jed Lowrie, now a Met, has come up as a potential trade acquisition. If healthy (no sure thing after an injury-ruined 2019), the switch-hitting Lowrie would at least offer some variety to a righty-heavy lineup. But if the A’s don’t pick up Lowrie or someone else via trade, they can still choose from several free agents, including Starlin Castro, Brock Holt, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Scooter Gennett and ex-A Ben Zobrist, to name some players left on the market.
Elsewhere, the Athletics have at least considered adding a veteran backup catcher and more relief help. Matt Wieters has been on the radar as a possible reserve behind highly promising young backstop Sean Murphy. In the bullpen, the A’s had interest in a reunion with Blake Treinen before he signed a one-year, $10MM deal with the Dodgers. They also eyed Sergio Romo prior to his re-signing with the Twins, and have looked at Royals lefty Tim Hill.
Texas Rangers [Offseason Outlook]
Credit to the Rangers for remaking their rotation this winter. What was previously a weakness now looks like a strength with new faces Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles following the terrific Mike Minor–Lance Lynn tandem. But where are the offensive reinforcements? The Rangers came into the offseason at least expected to take steps forward at third base, where Anthony Rendon was available and Josh Donaldson is still without a deal. They watched Rendon sign with the Angels for seven years and $245MM,however, and it doesn’t seem they’re serious players for Donaldson. Therefore, barring a trade for someone like Kris Bryant of the Cubs or Nolan Arenado of the Rockies, it doesn’t appear the Rangers will be making a blockbuster addition at the hot corner. Other than Donaldson, free-agent options (Todd Frazier?) don’t inspire a great deal of confidence.
Meanwhile, the Rangers’ offensive production from the catcher position was catastrophically low last season. Jeff Mathis put up a wRC+ of 2 (yes, you read that correctly), while Jose Trevino wasn’t a world-beater in his own right. But the Rangers are currently poised to enter next year with those two as their primary backstops yet again. Robinson Chirinos, a former Ranger they’ve shown interest in re-signing, is still out there. So is Jason Castro. On paper, either would give the team a much more credible starting catcher than it has at the moment.
Not to be forgotten, the Rangers aren’t in the best shape at first base, where Ronald Guzman fell flat for the second straight year. The 25-year-old Guzman still has a minor league option remaining, so the Rangers could sign a veteran (Eric Thames? Old friend Mitch Moreland?), demote Guzman and still keep him in the org.
Los Angeles Angels [Offseason Outlook]
As mentioned above, the Angels made one of the offseason’s most noteworthy splashes when they signed Rendon. Many expected the Angels to hand out a $200MM-plus contract this winter, but the popular belief was that money would go to a pitcher (Cole or Stephen Strasburg). The Angels struck out on Cole, Strasburg and $100MM-plus man Zack Wheeler (now a Phillie), but with Rendon in tow, they boast arguably baseball’s premier one-two punch of position players in him and the transcendent Mike Trout. The supporting cast behind those two isn’t bad, either, with DH Shohei Ohtani, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, second baseman David Fletcher and left fielder Justin Upton as quality complements. Furthermore, star outfield prospect Jo Adell gaining on a major league spot.
If there’s one serious issue among the Angels’ cast of hitters, it’s behind the plate. The only catchers on the Angels’ 40-man roster are Max Stassi and Anthony Bemboom, and that probably isn’t going to cut it. They have, however, shown interest in boosting their cause from outside. Either Chirinos or Castro (or, although it’s less likely, a trade for the Cubs’ Willson Contreras) would go a long way toward giving them one of the most formidable groups of position players in baseball.
Of course, as was the case when the offseason began, the Angels still need front-of-the-rotation help. Sure, they’ve done well to land Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran as competent innings eaters, and Ohtani will factor in again after missing all of 2019 (as a pitcher) while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning are still in the mix, which is a plus, but there’s no proven ace in the fold. Problem is that it may be too late to find one. Boyd, Ray, Chris Archer (whom new manager Joe Maddon knows from their time in Tampa Bay) and David Price (who still has three years and $96MM left on his contract) are among the top options on the trade market, but all come with question marks.
Fortunately for the Angels, they’re still more than $20MM under the luxury tax, so there’s room for them to make further upgrades even after grabbing Rendon, Bundy and Teheran.
Seattle Mariners [Offseason Outlook]
Unlike the other teams in their division, the rebuilding Mariners have very little chance to vie for a playoff spot next season. As such, one of their only real “needs” is to find a way to jettison more veterans and keep building for the future. The Mariners already got rid of one prominent player in catcher Omar Narvaez, whom they traded to the Brewers earlier this month, and third baseman Kyle Seager, outfielder Mitch Haniger and second baseman Dee Gordon are among those who could also find themselves on the outs in the coming months.
Meantime, general manager Jerry Dipoto has said the Mariners won’t be adding to their position player group before next season, but it would at least make sense to buy low on a pitcher or two, hope for a rebound(s) and try to flip him or them by the July trade deadline. Old pal Taijuan Walker has come up as a possible starting addition via free agency, and would join free-agent signing Kendall Graveman as a bounce-back candidate for the Mariners. Those are the type of arms they should be on the hunt for right now.