The Astros have won the division title in the American League West in each of the past five full seasons. They also reached the ALCS in each of those years, along with the shortened 2020 campaign. There hoisted the World Series trophy twice in that time, including just a few months ago. However, their rivals have been aggressive in trying to load up to chase them in 2023 and it now seems like four out of the five clubs seem like legitimate contenders.
There’s still over a month until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, meaning there’s still time for some aggressive transactions that will further change the calculus. But much of the heavy lifting of the offseason appears to be done. Most of the top free agents are off the board, with guys like Jurickson Profar, Michael Wacha and Andrew Chafin the top remaining options. Those are fine players that could certainly help a team but they wouldn’t be franchise-altering additions. There’s also the trade market, which could theoretically see Bryan Reynolds on the move. The Rangers are reportedly interested in him, but so are many other teams and the Pirates have continued to hold firm to an asking price that seems to be quite high.
Whether there are significant moves still to come or not, let’s look at where the clubs stand now, starting with the reigning champs.
Houston Astros – 2022 record: 106-56, projected 2023 fWAR: 48.2
There’s not much doubt about the Astros at this point. As mentioned, they’re enjoying an incredible run of success. Going into the winter, they lost some significant players to free agency, the most notable of which was Justin Verlander. The club hasn’t done anything to supplant him thus far, which is a defendable but risky move. The rotation has plenty of solid options without Verlander, with Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr., Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy and Hunter Brown on the roster. However, Verlander is the reigning Cy Young winner after tossing 175 innings with a 1.75 ERA last year. Subtracting that kind of performance would have an impact on any club.
On the position player side, they lost Christian Vázquez, Jason Castro, Trey Mancini, Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley and Aledmys Díaz to free agency. They’ve since re-signed Brantley and added José Abreu. Overall, the team is still going to be good, but is it enough to hold off the others? FanGraphs certainly thinks so, giving them the highest projected wins above replacement on their depth charts, but there are three clubs within striking distance.
Seattle Mariners – 2022 record: 90-72, projected 2023 fWAR: 43.5
The Mariners finally broke through in 2022, earning a Wild Card spot and reaching the postseason for the first time since 2001. That snapped the longest active postseason drought in the majors, a dishonor that now falls to the Tigers and Angels, who each last qualified for the playoffs in 2014.
This offseason, they have been fairly quiet in terms of free agency, with reliever Trevor Gott marking their only signing so far. They have made some notable trades, however, as is their wont. They acquired slugging outfielder Teoscar Hernández from the Blue Jays, sending reliever Erik Swanson and prospect Adam Macko the other way. They also acquired Kolten Wong from the Brewers, sending Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro to Milwaukee. Hernández and Wong will essentially replace two of the club’s most significant free agent departures in Mitch Haniger and Adam Frazier.
The Hernández/Wong pairing could certainly act as an upgrade over Haniger/Frazier, but probably not a huge one. If the club is going to catch the Astros, it will likely have to come from gains made by players already on the roster. Having a full season of Luis Castillo, whom they acquired at the deadline last year, will certainly help. Julio Rodríguez had an incredible rookie season at the age of 21 but could perhaps be even better this year. A breakout from struggling young outfielder Jarred Kelenic would be a tremendous boost. Continued development from young pitchers like George Kirby and Matt Brash would also help.
Los Angeles Angels – 2022 record: 73-89, projected 2023 fWAR: 40.4
The Angels have continued to disappoint despite having two of the best players on the planet on their roster. That was the case again in 2022, as Mike Trout was limited by injury to just 119 games but still produced 6.0 fWAR while Shohei Ohtani produced 3.8 fWAR at the plate and 5.6 on the mound. Still, the club fell out of contention in the summer and never really made it back.
Despite years of falling short of expectations, there are reasons to think 2023 could actually be the year they deliver. They didn’t lose any key contributors to free agency, with players like Michael Lorenzen and Matt Duffy marking some of the most notable departures. They’ve also patched some of the holes that have caused their ship to sink in past years, as a lack of adequate depth has continually wasted the star performances at the top of the roster.
Starting pitching has long been a struggle for the club but the rotation seems like it could be in the best shape in years. 2022 saw encouraging developments from Patrick Sandoval, Reid Detmers and José Suarez, all of whom are slated to return to the club this year. The Halos also supplemented that group by signing Tyler Anderson away from the Dodgers. That gives them a solid front five with Tucker Davidson, Griffin Canning and Chase Silseth on hand as depth options. On the position player side, they’ve added Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury and Gio Urshela. Those aren’t stars, but the Angels already had stars. They needed adequate role players to supplement their stars and seem to have added some solid options.
Texas Rangers – 2022 record: 68-94, projected 2023 fWAR: 41.9
Of the four plausible competitors in the division, the Rangers will need the biggest turnaround, since 2022 was rough. Turning a 68-win team into a contender in one offseason is no easy feat. But they already did most of the heavy lifting on the position player side last winter, adding Corey Seager and Marcus Semien on mega deals just prior to the lockout.
The big task of this winter would be upgrading the pitching staff and they have completely overhauled it. They re-signed Martín Pérez while signing Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney and trading for Jake Odorizzi. Those five, along with incumbents Jon Gray and Dane Dunning, put the club in a much better position going forward. There are injury concerns scattered throughout that crew, but it’s miles beyond the staff they had last year.
Oakland Athletics – 2022 record: 60-102, projected 2023 fWAR: 29.3
Since the lockout ended in March, the A’s have leaned hard into a rebuild. In just the past ten months, they have traded away Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Frankie Montas and Sean Murphy. They lost 102 games last year and should be lined up for another rebuild/evaluation season. They’ve made marginal adds by signing Aledmys Díaz, Jace Peterson, Drew Rucinski and Trevor May, but the expectation of just about everyone is that they will be in the basement yet again this year.
The Astros will likely go into the season as the favorite, since they are the reigning World Series champs and have made a few solid moves this offseason. But there are plenty of reasons to think it could be an interesting battle all season long. The Mariners, Rangers and Angels have all made interesting moves this winter and are all within 8 WAR of the Astros according to the projections of FanGraphs. Is this the year the Astros get dethroned?
What do you think? Who will be best in the West in 2023? Have your say in the poll below.
(poll link for app users)