5. Los Angeles Angels of California of the West Coast of Not the Bay Area of Anaheim
This roster takes the “Stars and Scrubs” idea to the extreme, employing Mike Trout and Daniel Nava in the same outfield. Trout has some help with Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun, but I don’t think anybody else will be above a league average hitter. Johnny Giavotella and Yunel Escobar looked primed to fall victim to the BABIP gods and regress from their decent 2015 seasons. C.J. Cron has no plate discipline and has a ceiling of Mark Trumbo 2.0. Even with Trout, this offense had the 14th worse OPS in the American League last year, and I wouldn’t be surprised with a similar performance this season.
In the rotation, Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney both look like number two starters, but the team lacks a true ace. And beyond the top two it starts getting really iffy. Any starts they give to Jared Weaver or C.J. Wilson at this point are just going to be a mistake. Hector Santiago was an all-star last year, but his 4.77 FIP makes me very skeptical about a repeat performance this year. Matt Shoemaker has mediocre stuff, and looks like nothing more than a back of the rotation filler guy. The pitching won’t be enough to carry the below-average offense to contention.
PECOTA projection: 76 wins
My pick: UNDER
This seems like a very accurate estimate, and I agree with PECOTA that they’ll be about 10 wins worse this year than they were last year. They upgraded at shortstop with Simmons, but somehow weren’t able to upgrade their horrid left field production from last year. This team also has no depth and no ability to add any pieces at the deadline. Their farm system is by far the worst in baseball, so getting any somewhat quality pickup will be a challenge. I see them winning somewhere around 75 games.
4. Oakland Athletics
I like the direction that they’re going in, and the farm system looks so much better now than it did 18 months ago. They’re not far away from contending, but the current big leaguers just don’t make up a playoff team. The roster has some quality big leaguers like Danny Valencia, Stephen Vogt, Marcus Semien and Billy Burns, but all of those guys are just like 2 or 3 win players. That’s fine, but even with the pickups of Khris Davis and Chris Coghlan there aren’t enough big bats to make this a top tier offense. It’s still a strong, deep group though that I can see being above league average this year.
My biggest concerns with this team are on the mound. Behind Sonny Gray, there just isn’t a healthy starter capable of being a number two. Rich Hill is old and not good. Bassitt has nice stuff, but isn’t more than a four starter. Graveman looks like a back of the rotation guy, but he can probably be an innings eater. Oh and Felix Doubront is in the rotation and watching him pitch makes me hate baseball.
The rotation will get help when Henderson Alvarez comes back and top prospect Sean Manaea comes up, but that won’t be until late May or June. The two months of Hill and Doubront could dig them too deep of a hole, and they might sell their assets at the deadline like last year. Josh Reddick, Vogt and Valencia should all be valuable trade chips, along with some of their veteran relievers.
PECOTA projection: 76 wins
My pick: UNDER
There’s a chance that the rotation can hold together until June, and if they are hovering around .500 at that point I think they could make a push for a playoff spot. The bullpen is revamped, the lineup is deep and improved, and a Gray/Manaea/Alvarez/Bassitt/Hahn rotation is playoff-caliber. But if they’re 10 games under .500 in mid-June, I just don’t see them holding on to everybody. They’re better than that 68-win team last year, but they’re still another year away from contending. They’ll finish close to the Angels with around 75 wins.
3. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are looking at another year of being close to contention, but not quite there. They picked up a couple nice players in Leonys Martin, Adam Lind and Nate Karns, but didn’t make any splashy signings like the last couple of years. The Robinson Cano/Nelson Cruz/Kyle Seager heart of the order is still one of the best in baseball, and the rest of the lineup is relatively hole-free. Luis Sardinas isn’t the ideal utility guy, but Franklin Gutierrez and Nori Aoki should be a nice left field platoon, so the depth is okay.
Getting Iwakuma back was huge for the rotation. His health is still a question, but even if he gives them 20 solid starts again like last year that’s incredibly valuable. Taijuan Walker showed signs of his very high potential last year, and this could be the year that he puts it together. He’s still just 23, and has the stuff of a number one. Karns and Wade Miley are both lowkey good pickups for the back of the rotation, and Mike Montgomery is perfect in a swingman role.
PECOTA projection: 84 wins
My pick: OVER
This is another spot-on PECOTA pick. I see this team finishing in the mid-80s, but falling a little short of a wild card spot. They should be in it until late September though, as this team is better than last year’s 76-win squad. Lind is a big upgrade over Logan Morrison, and the outfield depth looks a lot better now, even if Martin can’t hit.
2. Texas Rangers
Last year’s surprise division winner looks to be competitive again. They didn’t make any big moves this offseason, but they didn’t really need to. Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara could both make a big impact on this team, and all of the key contributors on offense are returning. Adrian Beltre might finally start to regress at age 37, but Hanser Alberto is just 23 and played well in AAA last year all over the infield.
The rotation has the potential to be great if Yu Darvish comes back to full form. He and Hamels could be the best 1-2 punch in baseball. I think Martin Perez can be a good three starter, but he’ll need to improve a little from his 2015 performance to take on that role. Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez and Derek Holland are all decent five starters, but none of those guys are going to step up and be the three guy.
PECOTA projection: 79 wins
My pick: OVER
They won 88 games last year, and even though that was a little lucky, I don’t see this team getting nine wins worse. Their prospects coming up are so good that I’d be shocked if they don’t provide any help this year. The only major subtraction from last year’s team is Yovani Gallardo, and he’s very replaceable. I think they’ll come close to 90 wins again this year, and if Mazara and Gallo break out early they could push 95.
1. Houston Astros
This team is so well-rounded and deep that I think they’ll take their first ever AL West title this season. Carlos Correa is so damn good, and his supporting cast isn’t bad either. Jose Altuve, Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, George Springer and Evan Gattis are all above average hitters too, and Preston Tucker could join that club if he gets enough playing time. Marwin Gonzalez is a great versatile bench piece, and Jake Marisinick could be a decent starter but he’s a great fourth outfielder. The catcher spot still looks like a problem, but maybe Jason Castro can rediscover some of his 2013 all-star performance.
The rotation is strong as well, headed by last year’s Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel. Colin McHugh has a great name and isn’t a bad pitcher either. One Lance McCullers comes back those three are a strong top three. Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman are both good innings eaters, and maybe Doug Fister can figure it out and be a decent three or four starter. This is an underrated group that can help carry this team to the division title.
PECOTA projection: 87 wins
My pick: OVER
They won 86 games last year, and Carlos Correa didn’t even start the year with the big league team. A full year from him and a full year from Gomez will be a big improvement from the two months of Jed Lowrie and four months of Jake Marisinick. This team could win 95 games this year and I don’t think this division will be all that close down the stretch. They’re a legitimate title contender.