AL West Off-Season Preview

Houston Astros

Core: Virtually everyone. The important players will be there. Justin Verlander will continue to hurtle toward the tag of “ageless”. Gerrit Cole has another year of arbitration before free agency. Jose Altuve is locked in through 2024. And the bevy of young players like Bregman, Correa, Springer, Osuna, McCullers, Devenski and Peacock are all under some form of club control for 2019.

In Flux: Houston does have some difficult decisions to make with a few free agents. Most prominently lefty Dallas Kuechel is a free agent and the club must decide to even make a qualifying offer to the veteran. Catcher Brian McCann has a $15M club option that is highly unlikely to be exercised. Perhaps a renegotiated deal to bring the veteran back at a salary befitting his declining production may be in the offing. Another significant individual to consider is Swiss Army Human Marwin Gonzalez who has played seven different defensive positions over the past two seasons while hitting 39 home runs and driving in 158 runs.

Possibilities: Keuchel is unlikely to settle for a hometown discount when he is about to turn 31 and has Scott Boras as his agent. The Astros have prospects Rogelio Armenteros, Cy Sneed and Trent Thornton to consider to replace Keuchel and make another run at a World Series title. JD Davis and Kyle Tucker have done what they need to do in the minors but have both fizzled at the plate in the big leagues so far.

Oakland A’s

Core: Khris Davis has now hit more home runs in the past three years than anyone else in the big leagues. He is approaching his last year of arbitration and made more than twice the money than anyone else on the A’s roster last year. Fernando Rodney owns distinctions of both having the second highest salary on the A’s and being born prior to the advent of roller disco. Every other key player is under club control of some kind including hometown hero Stephen Piscotty who is under a very club-friendly contract through 2022.

In Flux: Very little. Starter Mike Fiers is unlikely to be brought back. Look for a few relievers to slide off the roster as they are apt to do for Oakland. Basically, the team that charged to the American League Wild Card game will be very familiar in 2019.

Possibilities:

The A’s went out of their way to build powerful bullpen depth in 2018 and the outlook for 2019 is likely similar. Look for them to be active early in free agency with relievers they target, the one commodity the cash-conscious team really values. If the team doesn’t go on another playoff run, Davis might be on the trading block in July before he heads to free agency.

LA Angels

Core: New manager Brad Ausmus will have the game’s best player in Mike Trout to pencil into the lineup. After that, there are big paychecks and uncertain performance to weed through. Albert Pujols will be 39 and make $28M while coming off the least productive season of his career. Kole Calhoun and Zach Cozart were powerful disappointments despite earning over $20M between them. Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons and Shohei Ohtani performed to expectations and provide hope along with Trout.

In Flux: Not much. There is little room for movement on a roster that is perennially in the top ten of salary and middling in productivity. Young players Taylor Ward and David Fletcher will compete for playing time on one of the oldest teams in the big leagues.

Possibilities: Hope lies in health and returning to form for a number of players. Calhoun, Cozart and Garrett Richards are key players the team needs to produce. Jaime Barria and Ty Buttrey could emerge as the Angels’ ace and closer respectively, sending some veteran players looking for jobs elsewhere.

Seattle Mariners

Core: A group including Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon and Jean Segura are making big money and should be productive. Alex Colome, James Paxton, Mike Zunino, Wade LeBlanc, Edwin Diaz, Mitch Haniger, Ryon Healy, Mike Leake  and Marco Gonzalez are all under some form of club control and will return to prominent roles.

In Flux: 38 year-old Nelson Cruz is a free agent and won’t come cheap. The six-time All-Star hit 37 homers last season and is likely looking for at least a two year deal. The real challenge will be what to do with Felix Hernandez who has the team on the hook for $27M, lost 14 games and compiled an ERA of 5.55. Both players present difficult decisions for GM Jerry DiPoto.

Possibilities: The fate of Cruz will determine what else the club can do in the offseason. Bullpen depth behind Diaz and Colome will be critical.

Texas Rangers

Core: A team in transition has a few veterans left such as Shin-Shoo Choo, Elvis Andrus and Mike Minor. The rest are younger players that will be counted upon to pave the way into the future for the Rangers like Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, Delino DeShields and Ronald Guzman. All have had some success but have known struggles as well. Minor lines up as close to an ace as you’ll find in Arlington right now.

In Flux: Adrian Beltre is on the market and little would be served a rebuilding team by signing him…which means there’s a fair chance he’ll be back. Veterans like Robinson Chirinos, Matt Moore, Martin Perez and Doug Fister have been shown the door to make way for guys who don’t know what the pre-interwebs world was like.

Possibilities: A youth movement means opportunity for players like Willie Calhoun, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Carlos Tocci and Yohander Mendez to step up. The upper minors are largely depleted so the process could be very difficult if the young players already collecting big league meal money don’t develop soon.

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