A new year in MLB with new hopes. Every team has turnover. AL West teams appear to have had more turnover in all of baseball this offseason.
Welcome to the AL West in 2022. Where there was once a domination of NL West teams in the region, this division is set up to be the powerhouse of the two divisions. Yes, the AL West is indeed, the wild wild west.
In Order of 2021 Finish
Houston Astros (95-67 World Series Runner Up)
What does a team who has reached at least the AL Championship Series every year since 2017 have to do to prove they are more than garbage cans and ear pieces for their legacy? Last year they proved that losing George Springer to free agency was no big deal. This year, they will have to prove that another huge free agent loss in Carlos Correa, Zack Greinke, Kendall Graveman and more won’t impact their reign atop the AL West. They’re doing this with the return of Justin Verlander (and his repaired elbow), newly acquired Hector Neris and promoted SS Aledmys Diaz.
Kyle Tucker hit .294 with 30 HR in 2021. He knows he can be even better. Staying healthy for any player is key and Tucker knows this. If he stays healthy he’ll be in the top half of the batting order for the whole season. Diaz will see his time increase now that he is the everyday SS. He’s not the power hitter of Correa, but he does have a lower K%. Fewer K’s have translated into nearly identical AVG’s and exactly identical xBH% (extra base hit percentages). Diaz won’t have to worry about the power as Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve are still in the line up. It will once again be hard for opposing pitchers to find a way to pitch around the lineup that was the best hitting lineup in 2021.
Starting Rotation has Questions
Rotation ace Lance McCullers Jr. is out rehabbing an injury; thankfully not a re-injury of his UCL. This will leave a huge hole at the top of the rotation while placing more pressure on former ace Verlander. Jake Odorizzi, Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia are going to split filling the huge hole of McCullers. Can Peter Solomon make the roster coming out of camp to help the rotation depth? Will the front office seek a trade or signing one of the few remaining free agents? Whoever fills the suddenly open 5th spot, they will need to contribute immediately in order to keep the 2nd best starting rotation in the AL in 2021 at the same level.
Seattle Mariners (90-72)
The 2021 edition of the Seattle Mariners was a study of two different teams. Both teams were a surprise to experts and fans alike. By the time August turned into September, T-Mobile Park was rocking nearly as much as Beast Quake rocked Lumen Field (formerly CenturyLink). How could a team this far above .500 could have a run differential of -51? Yet, for every blowout the team endured there were just as many 1 run and extra inning wins. The “Fun-differential” originators were the best in baseball with 14 bonus baseball wins and 33 wins in 1 run games. For success in 2022, the fun-differential needs to increase while the run differential needs to be positive.
Pitching Gets Better
Every year teams try to improve their pitching staff. Most teams build through free agency and trades. The Mariners have done just that by adding defending Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray to the front of the rotation and newly signed Sergio Romo to the back end of the bullpen. But, the biggest addition to the fourth best bullpen in the AL comes from within the organization. Andres Munoz and Ken Giles are both returning from Tommy John surgery and are looking to pick up where they left off before their UCL injuries.
Hit the Ball, Score More Runs
Clutch hitting wasn’t a problem for the Mariners in 2021 – see 1 run game record. What confounded everyone in MLB and fans alike was their inability to hit early in the game. That inability only produced 450 runs in the first six innings – bottom ten in MLB. They had the worst batting average the first two months of the season. In the eyes of Jerry Dipoto, the only way to fix it is to start dealing. That dealing netted two quality bats with power in Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez from Cincinnati and pure hitter Adam Frazier from San Diego. The hope is the offense improves as long as Ty France, Mitch Haniger and J.P. Crawford can reproduce their 2021 season. Also needed is improvement from Cal Raleigh and Jarred Kelenic as they prove their September improvement wasn’t a fluke. Here’s to more fun and an end to the 20 year playoff drought.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) April 1, 2022
Oakland Athletics (86-76)
Hopes were high as the Athletics entered 2021. How drastically different things look entering 2022. Finishing 3rd in the division last year set the tone for a rebuild. Be it by trading veterans or losing those veterans to free agency, just 3 starters remain from Opening Day 2021. Yes, this season is looking to be a very long season. However, there is some good news in all of the doom and gloom of a rebuilding team.
Youth Will Reign Supreme
Anytime a rebuild begins, it’s usually with a youth movement. Oakland is no exception. Entering the season, the average age of the 40 man roster is 26.5. The bulk of that youth will be displayed with the pitching rotation. Veteran Sean Manaea is the elder statesman in the rotation at 30. Frankie Montas and Cole Irvin (29 and 28 respectively) are the other 2 regulars still anchoring the rotation. Looking to round out the starting 5 are Daulton Jefferies and Brent Honeywell Jr. with a combined 4 career starts entering the year. Waiting in the wings should they need called upon (or when they are called upon) is Colin Peluse (#12 prospect in AA) and Zach Louge (#22 prospect in AAA). There is going to be many offers to part ways with some of these guys, but hopefully the front office builds around the strength of the team.
The Sell-Off Will Continue to Happen
Despite the rosy outlook for the pitching staff, management/front office will continue to look for ways to get younger and more cost efficient. Think of it as Moneyball 3.0. If the age of Moneyball was replaced by the age of metrics, then the Athletics are taking it to a new level of youth combined with metrics married with a Moneyball cost analysis. Essentially, older and more expensive veterans like Elvis Andrus Stephen Vogt, Stephen Piscotty and Eric Thames (non roster invite currently #1 on depth chart at 1B) will probably have a new home once the trade deadline arrives. Youngsters like Shea Langeliers (#2 prospect in AAA), Zack Gelof (#3 prospect in AAA) and Kevin Smith (#16 prospect entering rookie year backing up Andrus) will be called upon sooner rather than later. Things may not look promising on the field currently. But, Athletics fans can look forward to a youth movement that will be better in a couple short years. Oakland fans hope that future remains in Oakland and not in Las Vegas.
Los Angeles Angels (77-85)
When you have a player like Mike Trout on your team, you expect to win. Then you add a two-way player like Shohei Ohtani, those expectations increase. Not only was Angel Stadium of Anaheim home to these two players, but Anthony Rendon and Albert Pujols called the stadium home in 2021. Unfortunately, Trout and Rendon got hurt early in the season while Pujols couldn’t keep up with desired production. The hopes and expectations quickly collapsed and looking at younger guys became the modus operandi. Thankfully, those looks at the youth leads the Angels to renewed expectations of getting back to the playoffs. Not hurting those expectations is the return of both Trout and Rendon from their 2021 injuries.
Bats Will Be Fine
Surprise breakout of 2021 Jared Walsh returns and is looking to improve on his .277 AVG and .335 BAbip (batting average on balls in play) while making a return trip to the All-Star Game. HItting behind Rendon, Ohtani and Trout will give him plenty of opportunities to break the 100 RBI mark. But the Angels have more offense than just the top four at the top of the order. David Fletcher returns and Matt Duffy arrives in town with both being asked to be guys that keep the line-up going in the middle of the order. Jo Adell is looking to get in regular work as he gives the regular OF guys their days off. In short, there will be a better offense on the field this year. Reliance on one guy won’t be necessary. Of course that all hinges on everyone staying healthy. Here’s to hoping for perfect health.
Money Well Spent on Arms
Another focus study on how to not rely on one guy. Angels management understood their assignment this offseason as they spent $92+ million on the bullpen. If you listen to Joe Maddon, Raisel Iglesias, Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and Archie Bradley are not just well worth the investment, but the guys that will put the Angels over the top. It wasn’t just the bullpen where the Angels spent money. Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen both get 1-year prove it deals. Lorenzen is looking to make the full time transition and bolster the bottom of the rotation. Despite the money spent on the arms, the biggest question remains, will Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez (or any of the other potential starters) be able to produce enough to put the Angels into the top half of the suddenly competitive AL West.
Texas Rangers (60-102)
Were there any expectations last year? Losing more than 100 games in a season could lead one to believe there were limited expectations. Fans still showed up in full force as the Rangers led the AL in attendance with 2,110,258 going through the turnstiles. An argument could be made that Texas had zero COVID restrictions and people just wanted to go to a live sporting event. However, the Rangers annually draw in excess of 2 million fans, so post-COVID anxiety wasn’t a determining factor. Going into 2022, Globe Life Park should see another year with 2.5 million plus. With all the star power they have brought in, those in attendance should see a return to more wins than losses.
What Can Money Buy
For starters, it can buy a lot of power, some defense, and an at least 7 year window to get to the top of the AL West. Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Kole Calhoun and Brad Miller lead the remodeled offense for the Rangers. Joining the star power is Mitch Garver via trade and Jake Marisnick – trying to make the club after signing a minor league deal. Between these six guys, the Rangers acquired 2 All-Stars, 2 Gold Glovers and 3 Silver Sluggers. Combined, these arrivals signal the front office’s desire to improve across the board in an immediate way. Their ability to bring in the star power signals an end to the losing that saw the Rangers finish 5th in the division 3 of the last 5 years.
Seags vs his former team. 👀 pic.twitter.com/N3rN39Wb4U
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) March 31, 2022
Money Also Buys Pitching
Jon Gray, Martin Perez and Garrett Richards are also enjoying the fruits of the front office’s spending spree. Gray signed a 4-year deal while everyone else signed the ever popular 1-year prove it deal. It also helped that the Rangers had the second worst ERA in the AL for starters with a 5.33 ERA and a third worst team ERA of 4.79. All three of these guys look to help lower that ERA for the starters. Richards could start or work from the bullpen. Joe Barlow moves into the closer role after converting 11 saves in 12 opportunities in his rookie campaign last year. With all the money spent, the Rangers are looking good. Getting closer to an even .500 seems realistic for the Rangers. But, in order for that to happen, relying on Gray, Perez and Dane Dunning cannot be the key to success for the starting rotation.