2020 Division Preview: AL West

Could a shortened season give the Athletics or Angels a real shot at taking down the Astros?

We don’t know when Opening Day is going to be, but hopefully, you are still open to reading some baseball content in these trying times (perhaps an egg would help?). It’s impossible for anyone to know what will be happening in the next couple of months, but maybe this will help get your mind off our hope and toilet paper-less world.

There is no set roster size, so I am listing the players I deem as viable candidates to start the season with the team. If I left off your sleeper for the 28th roster spot on the Mariners, I’m not saying that player won’t be on the roster come actual Opening Day; I’m just trying to capture a snapshot of who could be on each team’s roster.

 

Houston Astros

2019 Record: 107-55 (.660 W%)

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: The honor of being the most hated team in baseball

Subtractions: Gerrit Cole, Will Harris, the last speck of respect we had for them

What an offseason for a team that made no significant additions. The Astros re-signed some players from their 2019 team and made some low-risk moves. Perhaps this was due to the turnover and absolute hell this team went through due to their “banging scheme.” Despite all of this, they were easily one of the most complete teams in baseball coming off a loss in Game 7 of the World Series. They have some unfilled holes, but I still see them as the favorite in a division that got better this winter.

Projected Lineup

Spot in Order Player Projected wRC+ Position
1 George Springer 134 CF
2 Jose Altuve 127 2B
3 Alex Bregman 150 3B
4 Yordan Alvarez 140 DH
5 Carlos Correa 133 SS
6 Michael Brantley 118 LF
7 Yuli Gurriel 116 1B
8 Kyle Tucker 105 RF
9 Martin Maldonado 77 C

Dusty Baker is the philosophical opposite of A.J. Hinch and the Houston Astros. Baker has often been criticized by the Sabermetric world as an old-timer who has fallen behind the times. Due to this, the lineup could look vastly different than it does above come Opening Day. This is what a healthy Astros lineup looked like in 2019 with the addition of Kyle Tucker. I pegged Michael Brantley for a drop in the lineup due to him getting a little older and their younger players deserve more plate appearances. Their offense is going to mash regardless of what happens this season, and I pegged Yordan Alvarez as my 2020-decade HR leader in the MLB Vault challenge. Alex Bregman is the best third basemen in the sport, and Jose Altuve is still an elite second basemen.  The most interesting player on this roster is Carlos Correa. He has had so many health concerns in recent years, but if he can produce like he did in his first two seasons then the Astros have another potential MVP candidate in their lineup. 

Projected Bench

Player Positions Projected wRC+
Josh Reddick OF 101
Aledmys Diaz INF 102
Abraham Toro INF 100
Myles Straw OF 86
Dustin Garneau C 74

Abraham Toro has been popping on people’s radar in recent months and if there is an injury anywhere in their infield it is easy to see him getting regular PA. He has above-average regular potential but this roster is just so stacked it is hard to see him getting more than 200-300 PA. Josh Reddick and Tucker could share time to start the year, but I would love to see Tucker get the bulk of the playing time.

Projected Rotation

Player Role Projected ERA
Justin Verlander SP 3.45
Zack Greinke SP 4.25
Lance McCullers Jr. SP 3.74
Jose Urquidy SP 4.45
Josh James SP/RP 4.06
Brad Peacock SP/RP 4.16
Bryan Abreu SP/RP 4.16
Austin Pruitt SP/RP 4.70

This is where problems with the Astros reveal themselves. With the loss of Gerrit Cole their rotation was already left thin at the top. Before his injury, Justin Verlander had them covered at the top and the bottom of their rotation is filled with interesting options. The problem is their #2 and #3 need to perform if they want to repeat their performance from last year. Since 2018, their rotation has lost Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Dallas Keuchel. Jose Urquidy and Josh James have tons of upside, but if the rotation does not come together it could be how this team ends up with a wild-card spot instead of another division win.

Projected Bullpen

Player Role Projected ERA
Roberto Osuna Closer 3.61
Ryan Pressly RP 3.33
Joe Smith RP 4.17
Chris Devenski RP 4.30
Framber Valdez RP 3.49
Chris Devenski RP 4.30
Joe Biagini RP 4.51

Nothing new and interesting here for the Astros. Ryan Pressly is the best pitcher in this bullpen, and maybe if someone punches Roberto Osuna, Pressly can have a shot at closing games for them. They lost Will Harris, who was their primary method of getting out lefties in their right-handed dominated bullpen. Enter Framber Valdez, a former starter who has proven he can get righties and lefties out. That is especially important considering the implementation of the three-batter minimum rule for this season.

Final Thoughts

This is a great team and even in a small sample they should be great. A shortened season does add an extra element of volatility, and I would not be shocked if they hit a bump in the road and did not win the division. In a normal 162-game season, I would expect this team to win more than 100 games, but if the season is shortened, they might be in trouble if they can’t get healthy quick enough.

 

Oakland Athletics

2019 Record: 97-65 (.599 W%)

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: Austin Allen, Tony Kemp

Subtractions: Blake Treinen, Homer Bailey, Jurickson Profar

The A’s continued their run of success with another Wild Card appearance. They lost to the Rays, who took the AL champion Astros to five games. With Matt Olson and Matt Chapman in their last year before arbitration, the A’s future is looking solid but also expensive. Chapman and Olson alone will drive up their payroll in the coming years even before they hit free agency. Marcus Semien is making $13 million this year, but he is a free agent after this season. If he repeats or even comes close to his 2019 season, it is impossible to see the A’s retaining him. They are still quite young, but I fear we may only have one or two more seasons until the A’s launch into a rebuild yet again.

Projected Lineup

Spot in Order Player Projected wRC+ Position
1 Marcus Semien 117 SS
2 Matt Chapman 126 3B
3 Ramon Laureano 109 CF
4 Matt Olson 126 1B
5 Mark Canha 115 LF
6 Khris Davis 115 DH
7 Stephen Piscotty 113 RF
8 Sean Murphy 100 C
9 Franklin Barreto 89 2B

Despite this lineup not being as flashy as the Angels or the Astros, they have 8 hitters who are league average or better in their lineup. Mark Canha had a sneaky good year in 2019 and has been popping onto fantasy sleeper lists throughout the winter. Ramon Laureano has posted wRC+ marks of 130 and 126 in his freshman and sophomore years in the majors. I could see the 1 through 7 hitters all hitting 30-plus homers if the cards (and the ball) swing in their favor. The Matts are arguably the best first base-third base duo in the game. This lineup is dangerous and opposing teams are going to need to watch out.

Projected Bench

Player Projected wRC+ Positions
Austin Allen 83 C
Tony Kemp 93 MI
Chad Pinder 95 UTIL
Robbie Grossman 104 OF
Jorge Mateo 68 MI

 Tony Kemp was an interesting acquisition this offseason and I could see him and Franklin Barreto in a platoon barring a breakout from either of them. Austin Allen was a great grab for the A’s and now they have their catching tandem of Sean Murphy and Austin Allen locked up for the foreseeable future. Jorge Mateo is out of options and will most likely occupy a bench role unless he can find a way to hit big league pitching. 

Projected Rotation

Player Role Projected ERA
Jesus Luzardo SP 3.94
A.J. Puk SP 4.09
Frankie Montas SP 4.14
Sean Manaea SP 4.55
Mike Fiers SP 5.20
Chris Bassitt SP/RP 4.28

If you follow fantasy coverage, you already know Jesus Luzardo far too well. In 2019, he posted a 2.77 SIERA in 12 innings and looked really strong in Arizona prior to the season being suspended. He has front-of-the-rotation stuff, but he’s never thrown more than 125 innings in a season. Workload is also going to be a concern for A.J. Puk, as he threw 36 innings in 2019 and zero in 2018 due to Tommy John surgery. After Puk and Luzardo, things are still a bit questionable. Frankie Montas broke out last year before getting busted for PEDs. Sean Manaea pitched well in his limited 2019 innings but got quite lucky with a .194 BABIP. He could post a 2 WAR season for the Athletics, but they will need him to be durable in 2020. Chris Bassitt is interesting and projects to be one of their better starters if he gets the shot. It is a strong rotation on paper, but it is not difficult to see one or two of these guys getting injured and the whole thing falls apart. The rotation is the key to the A’s season.

Projected Bullpen

Player Role Projected ERA
Liam Hendriks Closer 3.16
Joakim Soria RP 3.89
Yusmeiro Petit RP 4.70
Lou Trivino RP 4.17
T.J. McFarland RP 4.49
J.B. Wendelken RP 4.33
Burch Smith RP 4.77
Jake Diekman RP 3.52

Liam Hendriks pitched out of his mind in 2019. 3.9 fWAR for a relief pitcher is unfathomable and he will need to post similar numbers if this bullpen is going to be successful in 2020. Blake Treinen is gone, and they have made few moves to make up for the loss of a solid relief option. Treinen was not the 2018 version of himself last year, but the potential for a reliever to emerge of that caliber outside of Hendriks is hard to imagine. Lou Trivino is interesting, but his 2019 was not pretty.

Final Thoughts

A shortened season is to the benefit of the weaker teams in every division. The A’s have all the makings of a team that would win 90 games, but I think there is a real possibility Matt Chapman and/or Matt Olson are not on this team come 2021. The rebuild is on the horizon, but for now the A’s remain one of the most fun teams in the American League.

 

Los Angeles Angels

2019 Record: 72-90 (.444 W%)

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: Anthony Rendon, Dylan Bundy, Jason Castro

Subtractions: Kole Calhoun

The biggest curse and blessing of my life is being an Angels fan. I get to watch Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani on most nights. Having to watch Albert Pujols swift and sharp decline has been considerably less fun. Anthony Rendon filling in the hole at 3B was the splash this team has needed for years. Projection systems still have them sitting around the low 80s in win totals, but the shortened season will certainly play in their favor with them potentially sneaking into the playoffs through a Wild Card spot.

Projected Lineup

Spot in the Order Player Projected wRC+ Position
1 David Fletcher 94 2B
2 Mike Trout 173 CF
3 Shohei Ohtani 131 SP/DH
4 Anthony Rendon 133 3B
5 Justin Upton 107 LF
6 Andrelton Simmons 96 SS
7 Albert Pujols 96 1B
8 Jason Castro 88 C
9 Jo Adell 86 RF

Joe Maddon’s lineup should look similar to this if all is well. The presence of Ohtani and Rendon makes me believe Joe will load Trout into the #2 spot to maximize his PA and scoring potential. If I were managing, then Pujols would be on the bench and Tommy La Stella would be at first. Trout is the best player in the game and his projected 173 wRC+ should speak to how good he is. I have slated Jo Adell into this lineup, but there is a possibility he starts the year in the minors. In that case, Brian Goodwin is likely to slot into Adell’s spot in the order. The Joc Pederson trade falling through certainly hurt the Angels depth a good bit, but perhaps it was a blessing as Pederson will be a free agent and this season has been cut short.

Projected Bench

Player Projected wRC+ Positions
Tommy La Stella 106 INF
Luis Rengifo 89 INF
Max Stassi 73 C
Matt Thaiss 91 1B
Brian Goodwin 84 OF
Taylor Ward 96 UTIL

Tommy La Stella could be the starting second basemen against right-handed pitchers, and when Ohtani is on the bench or the mound he should slot into the lineup at DH or first base. Luis Rengifo was almost sent to the Dodgers and is below Simmons, Rendon, La Stella, and David Fletcher for playing time in the infield. He could slide into left field to give Justin Upton some rest if they are trying to fit another bat into the lineup. Max Stassi provides the Angels with an incredible framer only behind Jason Castro on the depth chart. This bench and depth is surprisingly deep for a team that has been lacking in that department for years.

Projected Rotation

Player Role Projected ERA
Andrew Heaney SP 3.99
Dylan Bundy SP 4.47
Julio Teheran SP 5.30
Patrick Sandoval SP 4.35
Matt Andriese SP/RP 4.57
Jose Suarez SP/RP 4.83
Shohei Ohtani** SP/DH 3.70
Griffin Canning* SP 4.35

Gerrit Cole was the plan in November but that dream never translated into reality. He signed with the Yankees, but Anthony Rendon is about as good of a consolation prize as you can get. Rendon improves the defense by providing above-average defense at the hot corner, and by allowing David Fletcher to slide over to second base. Their infield defense should be among the best in the game (aside from Pujols), and this should help boost their new-look rotation.

The loss of Tyler Skaggs is one that many of us will be mourning for the rest of our lives. It was quite hard for me to look at this group of guys and not see his name there. We miss you, Tyler. We are in fact nasty.

Former top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy joins a group of pitchers who all look eerily similar. Using Hansel Robles as a previous example, the Angels have been scooping up pitchers with above-average spin rates on their sliders in recent years. Bundy, Julio Teheran, and Matt Andriese all throw breaking pitches that spin far above average. They fit the mold the Angels are looking for and each of them bring an extra layer of depth the Angels have sorely needed for some time now. Ohtani is certainly the X-factor in this group. In 2018, he flashed top-15 SP potential, and many of his bad outings seemed to be right before he would head to the DL. Like some of the A’s pitchers mentioned above, Ohtani has not thrown more than 100 innings since 2016 (140). He is still quite young, but the Angels are going to be extremely cautious with his workload even in a shortened season. He could be the ace they need, he also could be on the injured list come July 1 (although, I guess you could say this about anyone).

Projected Bullpen

Player Role Projected ERA
Hansel Robles Closer 4.18
Ty Buttrey RP 3.54
Justin Anderson RP 4.21
Keynan Middleton RP 4.63
Cam Bedrosian RP 4.02
Hoby Milner RP 4.09
Noe Ramirez RP 4.20
Jacob Barnes RP 4.48

 The Angels have had surprisingly good bullpens in recent years despite their mediocre records. Ty Buttrey has the potential to become an elite relief pitcher, and he could be deployed in a fireman role if Maddon chooses to keep Robles as the closer. Speaking of Hansel Robles, he was their best relief pitcher last year (in 72 innings, he posted a 2.48 ERA). He had a career-low walk rate and a career-high strikeout rate. Both of those are encouraging signs heading into 2020.

Final Thoughts

I predicted the Angels would have a better winning percentage than the A’s. While the A’s are more consistent across the board, I think the Angels rotation will hold together better than the A’s. This team is easily going to be the most volatile team in the division, and if they are under .500 come the end of the regular season I would not be surprised. I would also not be shocked if they were in first place.

Also, Mike Trout.

 

Texas Rangers

2019 Record: 78-84 (.481 W%)

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson, Todd Frazier

Subtractions: Nomar Mazara, Hunter Pence

The Rangers had one of my favorite winters of any team. Kyle Gibson was my sleeper free agent pick, and the Corey Kluber trade was an absolute steal. They were in the market for Anthony Rendon and truthfully, they needed him to sign with them if they had any shot of competing this year. The offense is essentially Shin-Soo Choo trying to get on base so Joey Gallo can hit a two-run dinger. Outside of them their options at the plate are severely limited and that does not make me too optimistic on their 2020 outcome.

Projected Lineup

Spot in the Order Player Projected wRC+ Position
1 Shin-Soo Choo 101 DH
2 Elvis Andrus 82 SS
3 Willie Calhoun 105 LF
4 Joey Gallo 119 RF
5 Todd Frazier 97 3B
6 Danny Santana 79 CF
7 Rougned Odor 87 2B
8 Ronald Guzman 88 1B
9 Robinson Chirinos 89 C

As stated above, Joey Gallo and Shin-Soo Choo are the only real threats in this lineup. Todd Frazier would have been a nice bench bat but thinking of him getting 500-600 PA is not ideal for a team trying to contend. This also could end up being the worst defensive outfield I have ever seen. Danny Santana and Willie Calhoun were both below average defensively in 2019 according to Outs Above Average (-3 and -7 respectively). Gallo was just one run above average, and with the players adjusting to the new outfield in Texas, it might not be pretty out there. They are in desperate need of some new position players if they want to even sniff the postseason.

Projected Bench

Player Projected wRC+ Positions
Nick Solak 98 2B/OF
Jeff Mathis 39 C
Adolis Garcia 67 OF
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 74 UTIL
Matt Duffy 92 INF
Greg Bird 94 1B

Their bench bats are solid outside of Jeff Mathis. Nick Solak, Matt Duffy and Greg Bird are all interesting options who could find some playing time with the expanded roster sizes to begin the year. Not much else to say here but I will always love Jeff Mathis.

Projected Rotation

Player Role Projected ERA
Corey Kluber SP 4.20
Lance Lynn SP 4.07
Mike Minor SP 4.62
Kyle Gbson SP 4.44
Jordan Lyles SP 5.25 

The Rangers have a solid rotation in those five games. Scanning through their depth charts I quickly realized that those are essentially their only five options. Lance Lynn and Mike Minor both shocked us all last year by making a run for the AL Cy Young. Corey Kluber has ace potential if he is able to stay healthy. As previously mentioned, I am in love with Kyle Gibson as he is just so durable while remaining slightly above average. He’s essentially Mike Leake, but actually good at pitching. If these five remain healthy they have arguably the best rotation in this division, if they don’t, then they could derail incredibly fast.

Projected Bullpen

Player Role Projected ERA
Jose Leclerc Closer 3.71
Brett Martin RP 4.02
Luke Farrell RP 5.08
Rafael Montero RP 4.18
Jesse Chavez RP 4.67
Nick Goody RP 4.90
Joely Rodriguez RP 4.68
Cody Allen RP 4.51
Juan Nicasio RP 4.71
Luis Garcia RP 5.20 

They did quite well in the minor-league market by signing three guys with above-average potential. Cody Allen and Juan Nicasio have had success in recent history and Luis Garcia has an interesting repertoire. Jose Leclerc will make up most of the work at the back end of games, but the bridge to him is very much up for grabs. Brett Martin is a solid option, and Rafael Montero was good in 2019 (2.48 ERA in 29 IP). Jesse Chavez could end up in a long relief or be the primary follower behind the opener if one of the starters hits the IL.

Final Thoughts

Unlike the Angels and the A’s, I do not see them as playoff contenders even if the cards swing in their favor. There are too many holes in the lineup and the depth behind their 5 starters is limited. A record above .500 for them should be considered an incredible success and hopefully they can make some additions after this year.

 

Seattle Mariners

2019 Record: 68-94 (.420 W%)

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: Evan White’s contract

Subtractions: King Felix

I’m not sure if any of you have noticed this, but there are a ton of baseball writers who are also Mariners fans. This is far from the most interesting Mariners team to watch or write about, but it is significantly more interesting than this preview would have been last year.

Projected Lineup

Spot in the Order Player Projected wRC+ Positions
1 Shed Long Jr. 93 2B
2 Kyle Lewis 84 RF
3 Kyle Seager 101 3B
4 Daniel Vogelbach 113 DH
5 Evan White 95 1B
6 J.P. Crawford 91 SS
7 Tom Murphy 78 C
8 Jake Fraley 86 LF
9 Mallex Smith 85 CF

Kyle Lewis closed out 2019 hitting better than he has at any level since A-ball. 2019 was a big step forward for him, but his 2020 season will be make or break for the young outfielder. With Julio Rodriguez and Jared Kelenic coming in the next couple of years, he will not have long to cement himself as a big league regular with the Mariners. Shed Long and J.P. Crawford will have a little longer to find their place in the lineup. The Mariners lack high-end middle infield talent and will likely look to inject their roster with a free agent to fill one or both positions when they choose to enter their competitive window. Evan White is going to be elite defensively even if he does not hit, but 2019 was a step forward for the young first baseman.

Projected Bench

Player Projected wRC+ Positions
Austin Nola 84 C
Dee Gordon 79 INF
Tim Lopes 79 UTIL
Dylan Moore 76 UTIL
Patrick Wisdom 71 INF
Sam Haggerty 66 INF
Braden Bishop 72 OF
Mitch Haniger* 109 OF

 If he can ever catch a break, Mitch Haniger is primed to take over regular duties in one of the corner outfield spots. Braden Bishop is also interesting as an interesting option in center field if they choose to move on from Mallex Smith at some point. He’s flashed an above-average bat in the lower minors and should be an above-average defensive center fielder at the very least.

Projected Rotation

Player Role Projected ERA
Yusei Kikuchi SP 4.72
Marco Gonzales SP 4.62
Justus Sheffield SP 4.77
Kendall Graveman SP 4.77
Taijuan Walker SP 4.93
Erik Swanson SP/RP 4.32
Nestor Cortes SP/RP 4.43
Justin Dunn SP/RP 5.06

 At first glance, this rotation made me want to look away as quickly as possible. On second glance, it still wasn’t pretty, and only one or two of these guys will be in their rotation when their competitive cycle comes. Justus Sheffield has not lived up to his prospect status in his short stint with the Mariners. Marco Gonzales posted back to back 3 WAR seasons and is under contract through at least 2024. However, he is 28, and the Mariners’ window of contention will be when Gonzales is in his 30s. He could still be there, but I believe the most likely outcome is a transition to the bullpen. Erik Swanson is the most interesting option for them this year: He started eight games at the big league level last year and posted a 4.29 SIERA.

Projected Bullpen

Player Role Projected ERA
Dan Altavilla Closer 4.10
Matt Magill RP 4.20
Yoshihisa Hirano RP 4.60
Brandon Brennan RP 4.14
Carl Edwards Jr. RP 4.46
Yohan Ramirez RP 4.52
Austin Adams* Late Innings 3.27
Gerson Bautista RP 4.62

 I did not expect their bullpen to be good, but I also did not expect it to be this bad. Dan Altavilla looks like their best option late in games, but chances are he will not have too many opportunities to close out wins. Watch out for Gerson Bautisita if you are interested in a save’s sleeper in your fantasy league. He’s got good stuff and could be closer come the end of the year.

Final Thoughts

The Mariners are not going to be good in 2020. They might end up being the worst team in the league. However, their future looks very bright with Julio Rodriguez and Jared Kelenic looking like the future faces of the franchise. Watch out for the Mariners (just not right now).

 

Predicted Standings

Team W% Record
Astros .617 100-62
Angels .537 87-75
Athletics .525 85-77
Rangers .488 78-84
Mariners .370 60-102

Above you can see my predictions for the AL West this season. Projection systems have the A’s and Angels rather close, but I believe the Angels have more depth and star power than the A’s. I would not be surprised if the two were flipped come the end of the season. The Astros should win this division most of the team even in a shortened season. Verlander and Greinke’s health will be critical to their success. The Rangers could sneak around .500 after their improvements this offseason, but their bullpen is going to need to get hot if they want a chance at a playoff spot. The Mariners will be bad, but 2021 and beyond look quite promising.

 

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)

Joseph Garino

Joseph is an Analytics and Economics student at Marquette University graduating in 2021. He's been an Angels fan since the days of Vlad Sr. and is looking to present complex analytical concepts in a digestible manner.

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