With each passing winter day, we can take solace that the baseball offseason is nearing its end. Once again, it’s that time where we can take a look and proudly declare who won or lost the offseason before actual baseball does its thing and makes us all realize how naive and foolish we once were. For teams that appear to be attempting to contend, we’ll be looking at whether the moves they made should help them do so. For rebuilding teams, we’ll be looking at whether they are getting enough for the players they are trading away. And then there are the teams that don’t seem to know what they’re doing or otherwise don’t fit into either of those categories, but don’t worry, we’ll address them, too.
Today we’re covering the AL West, but, in case you missed it: here’s the NL West.
If it seems like the only news we’ve been hearing as of late regarding the Astros is about the punishment to the Cardinals for their hacking of Houston, that’s because it has been all quiet on that particular AL Western front (with the exception of rumors about the Astros working on a trade for a frontline starter). But it’s easy to forget that the Astros hit the offseason running, and were one of the most active teams early on in the going.
Houston’s first move was claiming outfielder Nori Aoki off waivers from the Mariners and then signing him to a one-year, $5.5 million deal. While Aoki, who just turned 35, certainly doesn’t qualify as a star, he has been remarkably consistent during his five years in MLB, and has been a league-average hitter every year. He also basically never strikes out and sports a 8.0 K% over that time frame, which is the best in baseball and will be a marked improvement for that stat over Colby Rasmus’s 29.0 K% from 2016. While it was hopefully more of a depth move, certainly, it’s the kind of move that gives Houston options, which is never a bad thing.
Then the Astros really, really got busy in mid-November and, over just a few days, signed pitcher Charlie Morton and outfielder Josh Reddick and traded for catcher Brian McCann. We’ve already covered these moves in detail right after they went down, but to rehash, they seemed like reasonable moves that should (hopefully) improve the team and were necessary to replace departing players, but raise some questions in regards to the players’ age and health.
The final big move of Houston’s offseason came in early December when they signed Carlos Beltran to a one-year, $16 million deal. Beltran may be turning 40 in April, but he still managed to put up a 124 wRC+ in 2016. That should presumably be an improvement over the 102 wRC+ that Astros got out of the designated hitters in 2016. Beltran didn’t fare as well after he moved from the Yankees
But that was the end of the big moves, which might be disheartening for Astros fans who were hoping that the team might do something about improving the rotation. With Dallas Keuchel taking a big step back last season, the Astros were firmly middle of the pack when it came to their starters’ fWAR (12.1, 13th in MLB), ERA (4.37, 15th in MLB) and FIP (4.17, 12th in MLB). At first there were rumors about Chris Sale but, after he went to Boston, the rumors moved on to another White Sock in the form of Jose Quintana. Obviously, the cost of acquiring quality starting pitching is high these days, so it’s not as easy as saying that the Astros should damn the torpedos and trade for a starter no matter what the cost, but the starting rotation looks like the weakest link at this point, especially in light of the cumulative effects of their minor improvements on the offensive side of the ball.
All things considered, it certainly appears that the Astros have improved over the offseason. Whether they have improved enough to actually ensure that 2017 will be, as predicted, the Astros’ year is another question entirely. There are questions of age, health or both with all of their additions this offseason, so it’s hard to be terribly excited about the moves they made. On paper though, the Astros’ additions appear have moved the needle enough. After all, PECOTA projects them to have the best record in the AL, so they must have done something right even if their moves weren’t the flashiest of the offseason.
Where the Astros sprinted out of the offseason gate and then relaxed, the Mariners did the started off sprinting and never stopped. Just like last hot stove season, GM Jerry Dipoto is apparently a mad scientist, who will tinker until he comes up with the winning formula, as the Mariners’ transaction list this offseason reading like a Tolstoy novel. Brace yourself...
To get things started, Dipoto traded pitcher Vidal Nuno to the Dodgers for catcher Carlos Ruiz, who will provide some veteran presence in the backup role. Then he sent pitcher Paul Blackburn to the A’s in exchange for Danny Valencia, who has been very effective (126 OPS+) over the last couple of years and provides some positional flexibility. There were some minor deals with the Yankees and Atlanta that we can’t even get into, and that’s all before we even get to the biggest trade of the month which sent starter Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to Arizona for middle infielder Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger and LHP prospect Zac Curtis (and which we already went over here). Is your head spinning yet? Because that was just November.
Things slowed down a minute in December, as the Mariners were limited to signing relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Casey Fien to make up for some free agency losses in the bullpen and taking pitcher Chris Heston off the Giants’ hands for rotation/middle-relief depth at the cost of a PTBNL. But then Dipoto got back to his old tricks in January, when we did Mariners Week here at RealGM, and he traded outfielder Seth Smith to the Orioles for RHP Yovani Gallardo and then RHP Nate Karns went to the Royals in exchange for outfielder Jarrod Dyson (covered in depth here) and then sent a couple of their top prospects, to the Braves for RHP Shae Simmons and outfielder Mallex Smith, who was promptly sent to Tampa Bay with a couple other prospects for LHP Drew Smyly (covered here).
Where does all of this leave Seattle in terms of the product they’re putting on the field now, though? Well, their outfield defense should be much improved, which should play well in Safeco Field. They sent away some of their best prospects, but they also added some interesting prospects as well.
Dipoto’s crazed meddling last offseason took them from a 76-win team to an 86-win team. While it’s probably a bit much to expect anywhere near that kind of improvement from his moves this offseason, you can see some improvement overall when you add up all the individual moves (just don’t think too hard on the Gallardo trade). They look like they managed to get a little better and give their current core a chance to contend while not sacrificing too much for the future. The only thing we have to do now is sit and wait for Dipoto to make twenty more moves before the season starts...
Los Angeles Angels
Dipoto’s old team has been slightly less active this offseason under the watch of Billy Eppler, who is now on his second year of trying to get Mike Trout back in the playoffs. The Angels didn’t even come close last year, as they finished with 74 wins and in 4th place in the AL West. Did they do enough to upgrade around their MVP this offseason?
In 2016, second base was an absolute wasteland, both offensively and defensively, as the players the Angels utilized there combined for -0.6 fWAR, good for 28th in MLB. To solve that problem, Eppler traded a couple of 25-year old pitching prospects (Austin Adams and Kyle McGowin) to Washington in exchange for Danny Espinosa. While Espinosa doesn’t offer much on the offensive side of the ball with his career .226/.302/.388 slash line and 86 OPS+, his defensive skillset has kept him in the positive WAR range (by both bWAR and fWAR) for all but one of his seven seasons in MLB.
To provide further infield depth, the Angels signed Luis Valbuena to a two-year, $15 million with a mutual option for 2019. Although Valbuena has spent most of his time at third, he can also play second, which is important not only in terms of depth, but also because Espinosa is only around for one season. Although his markedly improved hitting in 2016 (124 OPS+) may have been somewhat fueled by a career high .315 BABIP, he’ll insert a left-handed bat into a righty-heavy lineup which won’t hurt and the fact that he can play first as well gives the Halos even more options to address injuries or potential trades.
In the outfield, the Angels traded pitching prospect Victor Alcantara to Detroit in exchange for Cameron Maybin, who had the best hitting year of his career last season (.315/.383/.418, 120 OPS+) while he struggled to stay healthy and only played in 94 games. While the defensive stats have been down on Maybin as a centerfielder as of late, the presence of Trout will push him to left where he should grade out far more competently. Assuming he can stay healthy, he will likely be a large improvement over the makeshift approach the Angels took in left field last season.
To add further outfield depth, Eppler signed Ben Revere to a one-year, $4 million deal. Revere is coming off his worst season to date, where he hit .217/.260/.300 but also posted a much worse than normal .234 BABIP. He dealt with an oblique injury early in the season and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect something of a bounceback, which makes the investment a reasonable one and allows for further flexibility.
The real question for the Angels is their pitching. They were 28th in MLB by bWAR for both their starters (5.6) and their relievers (0.6). The only move made by Eppler to improve their starting pitching was to sign Jesse Chavez to a one-year, $5.75 million deal (plus incentives). Chavez didn’t start a single game last year and only pitched in relief, but he’s only a season removed from being a just a tad shy of a league-average starter. Chavez will likely slot in behind Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, and Ricky Nolasco, and that group comes with some serious injury questions.
The Angels are certainly skating on thin ice when it comes to their pitching, but it’s also not clear what exactly they could have done to improve that much in this particular offseason, what with their prior commitments, current farm system and the pitching available. They have more money coming off the books next year and that should allow them to get more proactive in a better free agent class. It looks like they did a better job of improving in terms of position players this offseason, at least. Who knows, it might be just enough to squeak into a Wild Card spot and secure a little more postseason Trout for all.
The Rangers are coming off back-to-back AL West titles and back-to-back losses in the NLDS to the Blue Jays. Last year, though, they were the luckiest team in baseball, outperforming their Pythagorean and BaseRuns records by a whopping 13 games, thanks mainly to an insane record in one-run games. The regression bug is likely going to bite next year, so some upgrades would probably be in order.
The Rangers may have been slightly more active than they were last offseason, but not much.
To fortify their rotation, Texas signed Andrew Cashner to a one-year, $10 million deal. Cashner has had a rough last couple of years as he lost a little speed off his fastball and watched his home run rate skyrocket. The move to a notorious hitter’s park and the designated hitter league probably isn’t going to help, either. While there were not a lot of great options available on the free agent starting pitching market this offseason, the Rangers might have gone and picked one of the worst fits for themselves.
Not content to have one ex-Padre on their roster, GM Jon Daniels also signed Tyson Ross to a one-year deal for a guaranteed $6 million with up to $3 million in incentives. Ross only made one start last year and is coming off of shoulder surgery, but the upside (a 3.03 ERA and 117 ERA+ over 64 starts in the prior two seasons) meant he was going to find a home somewhere and he was a worthwhile gamble to slot into the rotation at that price point.
With Ian Desmond and Carlos Gomez both hitting the open market, Texas needed to do something about its outfield situation, so they resigned Gomez to a one-year, $11.5 million deal. Gomez had a rough start to his 2016 before he was released by Houston and then picked up by the Rangers, where he fared better and hit .284/.362/.543. If he hits like that (rather than the .210/.272/.322 he hit in Houston), he could end up being one of the steals of the offseason. While that’s certainly not a certainty to happen, the commitment and price reflect that.
In the latest news, just this week, the Rangers announced that they have signed Mike Napoli to a one-year, $8.5 million deal with a club option. Napoli is going to probably hit quite a few balls out of the park in his new home and this, once again, seems like a reasonable move in terms of the level of commitment.
With the exception of the Cashner signing, all of these moves were the very definition of “reasonable” and there’s definitely something to be said for not committing to long term contracts with Jonathan Lucroy and Yu Darvish hitting free agency next offseason. That being said, it’s also tough to imagine the Rangers winning a third straight division title without upgrading a bit more, as they’re unlikely to be as lucky as they were last year.
Finally, we arrive in Oakland where GM Billy Beane’s A’s have had a rough couple of years after three straight of making the postseason. In 2015, they finished with only 68 wins and improved by only one win last year. To make matters worse, much of the talent that was on the A’s at the beginning of 2016 (Reddick, Rich Hill, etc.) was gone before the trade deadline last season, so there was going to be a lot of work to do this offseason.
To make up for losses in the outfield, Oakland signed Matt Joyce to a two-year, $11 million deal. Joyce has always struggled against left-handed pitching but the Pirates mostly shielded his exposure in 2016 (he only had 42 PAs against lefties), and Joyce rebounded from an awful 2015 to hit .242/.403/.463, good for a 131 OPS+. The A’s aren’t shy with employing platoons, so expect more of that in Joyce’s future. Also in the outfield, they brought Rajai Davis back to the Coliseum. The 36-year old had some issues at the plate last year, but was still valuable enough in the field that he’ll should be useful on a team that needs warm, playable bodies.
These trades in the outfield allowed them to make the aforementioned trade of Danny Valencia to the Mariners for pitching prospect Paul Blackburn. With the one year remaining on Valencia’s contract and the relative success he’s had over the years, it seems like this trade had more to do with clubhouse issues than the actual talent changing hands.
Although Valencia spent time in the outfield after Reddick departed, prior to that he was in the infield and the A’s had a need there as well, so Beane signed Trevor Plouffe to one-year deal a little north of $5 million guaranteed plus some incentives. Plouffe dealt with quite a few injuries last year which limited his ability to get a multi-year deal and so he ended up on the A’s, where he can see if he can stay healthy on a “prove-it” contract. Also added in the infield on a smaller deal ($1.25 million for one year) was another ex-Athletic in the form of Adam Rosales, who had a breakout year with the Padres last year.
To improve the bullpen, Beane signed Santiago Casilla (which we already already covered) and, like many of the other moves here, is a smart move with some potential, even if it’s not going to be enough to get the A’s back in contention.
That might be the theme of the Athletics’ offseason: relatively smart move, with some upside, but almost certainly not enough. It’s tough to argue with most of the individual moves, but you also can’t really look at the team and see them doing much this year. The most likely scenario is that some of the players they signed are good enough to be flipped for prospects.