Houston Astros: After jumping up 35 wins from their total just two years ago, Houston’s sporting an impressive collection of talent around the diamond with game changers at second base (Jose Altuve), shortstop (Carlos Correa), center field (Carlos Gomez), and right field (George Springer). The club also has solid complementary-type players at third base (Luis Valbuena), left field (Colby Rasmus), DH (Evan Gattis), and catcher (Jason Castro). The team’s biggest offensive question, as it stands now, is first base – or at least until A.J. Reed has finished bashing through the minor leagues.
The rotation is sporting reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel and a solid supporting cast: Collin McHugh, Mike Fiers, Doug Fister, and Lance McCullers, once he makes his way back from the DL. The pen looks strong with Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson forming a potentially dominant late-inning tandem.
So, can the Astros improve upon their 86-win campaign from a season ago?
Having full seasons – assuming they stay healthy – from Carlos Gomez and Carlos Correa will more than offset any modest regression any of the other bats might undergo. Dallas Keuchel will like take a step backward in production – merely because it’s hard to repeat a 6.0-win season from year-to-year. Beyond Keuchel, McHugh, and McCullers, there weren’t that many impressive innings from last year’s rotation that needs replicating.
Bottom Line Record: 89-73
Texas Rangers: This isn’t your father’s Rangers of the late 1990s/early 2000s. Gone are the big boppers like Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez, and Alex Rodriguez. Instead, the club’s offense swung around to the opposite end of the spectrum: just three players last season – Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, and Shin-Soo Choo – slugged more than 20 homeruns, though none topped more than 23.
The Rangers remain solid around the diamond – particularly the infield – with aging veterans, but it’s certainly a less-than-imposing group. And that’s before you factor in their respective ages: Moreland (30), Fielder (32), Choo (33), Adrian Beltre (37), Robinson Chirinos (32), and Ian Desmond (30), who’s likely going to prove to be a wild mismanagement of funds as a left fielder in 2016.
Second baseman Rougned Odor will simply be among the most exciting players in 2016. After getting off to a poor start last year (he batted .144/.252/.233 before a mid-season demotion), Odor slugged .292/.334/.527 over his final 91 games. Bold prediction: he’s going to garner some MVP consideration this season.
The rotation, which only had two starters (Colby Lewis and Yovani Gallardo) throw more than 125 innings last season, continues to have some question marks swirling about. Cole Hamels certainly had his moments following the trade, but prorating his performance with Texas over a 200-inning season comes out to about 3.3 wins above replacement, which would easily be his worst showing in any big league season in which he’s made more than 28 starts. Co-ace Yu Darvish isn’t slated to join the team until late May/early June, and even then his innings will be closely monitored as he puts time between himself and Tommy John surgery. Lefty Martin Perez has never last more than 124.1 innings in his four seasons in Arlington. Derek Holland’s barely topped replacement level over his previous 90+ innings. And Colby Lewis is the quintessential league average starting pitcher hovering around two wins above replacement.
The bullpen is loaded with a ton of fire-ballers: Shawn Tolleson, who had a career year as the club’s closer last season, Sam Dyson, Keone Kela, Jake Diekman, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Matt Bush. But it’s a group that either going to slam the door or poor gasoline on the fire.
Bottom Line Record: 82-80
Seattle Mariners: It’s easy to dismiss the Mariners as non-contenders – particularly in a division with the Angels, Astros, and Rangers – but Seattle has a surprising amount of talent sprinkled throughout the roster.
The offense should see a modest uptick in performance. Chris Ianetta replaces incumbent starter – and first round bust – Mike Zunino, who batted .174/.230/.300 last season. And while the upgrade won’t be tremendous, Ianetta does offer up added on-base skills. And Adam Lind takes over Logan Morrison’s spot at first base.
Robinson Cano, who got off to a terrible start in 2015 season, showed his true-performance level over his final 82 games (.330/.383/.536). Kyle Seager is as steady as they come. Nelson Cruz, who proved that Safeco Field wasn’t too big to bash in, will likely see a decline from his MVP-like campaign as he spends the season at the age of 35. Nori Aoki is a solid upgrade. And baby-faced rookie Ketel Marte should have no issues exceeding Brad Miller’s 0.9 fWAR total as the team’s starting shortstop.
The club’s biggest offensive question mark is center fielder Leonys Martin, who is coming off of .219/.264/.313 campaign with the Rangers last season, though a healthy Franklin Gutierrez would be a boon.
The rotation is remarkably solid – and underrated – with Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma, Nate Karns, and Wade Miley. The latter two – Karns and Miley – represent an improvement from arms such as Roenis Elias, J.A. Happ, and Mike Montgomery, whom the club ran out to the mound from more than 300 innings last season.
King Felix, who finished last season with his first sub-3.0-win total since 2005, is a candidate for a bounce-back season as his homerun issues should prove to be nothing more than a blip. Walker and Iwakuma will likely throw a combined 50- to 60-innings more in 2016.
The bullpen could be problematic as Steve Cishek looked like a shell of his former self in 2015. Joaquin Benoit will be 38. And Tony Zych has all of just 18.1 big league innings under his belt.
Bottom Line Record: 81-81
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: With a payroll that ranks among the top seven or so in baseball one would expect a more…complete team. And while the Angels of Anaheim sport one of the two best players in baseball (Mike Trout) and a strong smattering of complementary players (Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons, Yunel Escobar, Garrett Richards, Huston Street, and Joe Smith) this is deeply flawed team.
Pujols, who’s now entering his age-36 season, slugged 40 dingers last year but topped the league average offensive production by just 16%. C.J. Cron, Yunel Escobar, and Calhoun are league average-ish bats. Andrelton Simmons and Johnny Giavotella are couple ticks below that.
The rotation is loaded with question marks as well: Garrett Richards is a solid #2. Andrew Heaney is nice mid-rotation arm. And then there’s the injured C.J. Wilson, enigmatic, quickly declining Jerad Weaver, and a litany of replacement level or slightly better arms (Hector Santiago and Matt Shoemaker).
And the bullpen is…
It basically comes down to this: How much better can one of the best players in game be in 2016?
Bottom Line Record: 77-85
Oakland A’s: They’re stuck in another one of their quasi-rebuild seasons in which they put together a handful of interesting pieces – Khris Davis, Josh Reddick, Sonny Gray, Stephen Vogt, Billy Burns, and Sean Doolittle – but it’s just not enough to push them past mediocrity.
Davis, who was acquired from Milwaukee for a pair of minor leaguers in February, is an upgrade over last year’s (part-time) starter Sam Fuld – probably on the order of at least one full win. Reddick remains a solid 3.0-win player when he’s healthy. Gray is simply one of the best young arms around. Vogt was an absolute terror the first month-and-a-half of last season, but struggled to hit his weight over the final 101 games (.238/.311/.375). Burns is a speedy little slap hitter who will oscillate between fourth outfielder/starting caliber outfielder depending upon his defense in any given year. And Doolittle came back from shoulder woes relatively strong down the stretch in 2015.
After that there’s not a bunch of hope.
Billy Butler, the club’s big free agent signing two years ago, has been a league average bat since 2014 as he’s tallied -1.3 fWAR. Jed Lowrie’s relatively productive – when he can stay healthy, which rarely happens. Marcus Semien is a good starter on a non-contending team (like Oakland).
Behind Gray, the rest of the rotation – Rich Hill, who hasn’t been a starter since 2009 and a good starter since 2008, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, and Jesse Hahn – are mostly backend fodder, though Hahn has the potential to turn into a league average regular.
The pen looks solid with Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Marc Rzepczynski, and Co.
Last year’s club was incredibly unlucky – they lost nine won games then their runs allowed vs. runs scored would suggest – so they’ll likely see a dramatic uptick in 2016, though it’ll just be from regression.
Bottom Line Record: 76-86