There will be baseball in 2020. Barring another spike in coronavirus cases, we are looking at a 60-game season with a ten-team playoff structure. For the sake of the players and their families, I hope MLB is able to provide them with safety regulations to keep them on the field and out of the hospital.
The world is a completely different place than it was when I wrote this division preview back in March. Rosters have not been shaken up as much, but there will certainly be some major shakeups come Opening Day. In a similar fashion to the NBA, some players will likely opt out of playing this season due to being at high risk for the virus, or one of their loved ones being high-risk. This will likely make rosters look somewhat different than what you would expect in a regular season. Due to this, I have no standards set for minimum or maximum players on the rosters below. Hopefully, this refresher will get you excited for a brighter world than we were living in before.
2019 Record: 107-55 (.660 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
Additions: The honor of being the most hated team in baseball
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 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.
|Spot in Order||Player||Projected wRC+||Position|
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 deserving more plate appearances. Their offense is going to mash regardless of what happens this season, and I pegged Yordan Alvarez as my 2020’s decade HR leader in the MLB Vault challenge. Alex Bregman is the best third baseman in the sport, and Jose Altuve is still an elite second baseman. 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.
Abraham Toro has been popping up on people’s radars in recent months, and if there is an injury anywhere in their infield, it is easy to see him getting regular PAs. He has above-average regular potential, but this roster is just so stacked it is hard to see him getting significant playing time. 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.
|Lance McCullers Jr.||SP||3.74|
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.
Nothing new and interesting here for the Astros. Ryan Pressly is the best pitcher in this bullpen, and maybe if Roberto Osuna goes down injured, 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-hand dominant bullpen. Enter Framber Valdez, a former starter who has proven he can get both righties and lefties out. That is especially important considering the implementation of the three-batter minimum rule for this season.
This is a great team, and even in a 60-game sample size, they should remain 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. This is without a doubt the best team in this division, but the shortened season might open the door for the Angels or A’s to slip ahead of them in the standings despite being a worse team.
2019 Record: 97-65 (.599 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
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 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. In a shortened season, if the A’s get off to a slow start, they might begin dealing their big pieces for younger prospects and look towards the future.
|Spot in Order||Player||Projected wRC+||Position|
Despite this lineup not being as flashy as the Angels or the Astros, they have eight hitters who are league average or better in their lineup. Mark Canha had a sneaky good year in 2019 and has been popping up 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. The Matts are arguably the best first/third base duo in the game. This lineup is dangerous, and opposing teams are going to need to watch out.
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 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.
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. A.J. Puk and Luzardo look really solid at the top of the rotation in a shortened season. The two of them have durability concerns over a long season, but in a limited sample, they have a chance to shine for the A’s. Chris Bassitt is interesting and projects to be one of their better starters if he gets a 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.
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.
A shortened season is to the benefit of the weaker teams in every division. The A’s have all the makings of a playoff team, 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.
2019 Record: 72-90 (.444 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
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 most nights. Having to watch Albert Pujols‘ swift and sharp decline has been considerably less fun. Anthony Rendon filling in the hole at third base 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.
|Spot in the Order||Player||Projected wRC+||Position|
Joe Maddon’s lineup should look similar to this if all is well. The presence of Ohtani and Rendon makes me believe Maddon will load Trout into the #2 spot to maximize his plate appearances and scoring potential. If I were managing, 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, as the shortened season could prompt teams to play their top prospects to get them some kind of playing time in 2020. 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.
|Tommy La Stella||106||INF|
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 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.
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 brings an extra layer of depth the Angels have sorely needed for some time now. Shohei 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 IL. He has ace potential, and the suspension of the season allowed him to heal without worry of missing any games. Considering the shortened season, this group is actually quite deep and could make their bullpen even better with some of their starters moving there.
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 the 2020 season.
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 atop the division come the end of the season.
Also, Mike Trout.
2019 Record: 78-84 (.481 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
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 that pairing, their options at the plate are severely limited, and that does not make me too optimistic about their 2020 outcome, even in a shortened season.
|Spot in the Order||Player||Projected wRC+||Position|
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 as a key lineup piece is not ideal. 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.
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.
The Rangers have a solid rotation. Scanning through their depth charts, I quickly realized that these are essentially their only five options. Lance Lynn and Mike Minor both shocked us all last year by making a run at 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, they could derail incredibly fast. If Texas over-performs in this small-sample season, it will likely be due to their excellent rotation.
Texas 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 an opener if one of the starters hits the IL.
Unlike the Angels and the A’s, I do not see the Rangers as playoff contenders even if the cards swing in their favor. There are too many holes in the lineup and the depth behind their top five 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.
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. If they call up some of their top prospects, such as Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, we might have more reasons to watch them.
|Spot in the Order||Player||Projected wRC+||Positions|
|1||Shed Long Jr.||93||2B|
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 on the way in the near future (whether it is this year or in the following 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.
If he can ever catch a break, Mitch Haniger is primed to take over regular duties at one of the corner outfield spots. Braden Bishop is also interesting as an 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.
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.
|Carl Edwards Jr.||RP||4.46|
|Austin Adams*||Late Innings||3.27|
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 Bautista if you are interested in a saves sleeper in your fantasy league. He’s got good stuff and could be closer come the end of the year.
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).
Above, you can see my predictions for the AL West this season. Projection systems have the A’s and Angels rather close, so I would view the two of them as equals. The Astros should win this division, 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)