- Oakland Athletics (Last Year: 97-65): 37-23
Despite winning 97 games a year ago, the A’s finished 10 games out of first place in the AL West. This year, I expect that to change. Oakland shipped off Jurickson Profar but returns three players who hit at least 30 homers last year: Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, and Matt Olson. Chapman and Semien make up the best left side of the infield combination in baseball, with both guys garnering MVP votes after combining for over 17 WAR in 2019. Olson also received some down ballot votes, excelling in the field as well as at the plate. Defensive wizard and center fielder Ramon Laureano also broke out with the bat, slashing .288/.340/.521 with 24 homers in 123 games. Khris Davis did not hit .247 for the first time in four years and had a down season, but a bounceback year would not be unexpected considering his track record. Veterans Stephen Piscotty and Mark Canha remain reliable pieces in the outfield and Robbie Grossman can spell them as needed. The A’s brought in Tony Kemp to help fill the void at second base and former prospect Franklin Barretto will help in that cause. Sean Murphy and Austin Allen will do the catching, with Chad Pinder, Seth Brown, and Dustin Fowler as depth pieces.
Frankie Montas had an All-Star caliber first half last year before getting popped for 80 games for performance enhancing drugs, but he’ll be back in the rotation to start 2020. He’ll be joined by competent starters in Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers (the whistleblower in the Astros scandal), and Chris Bassitt. Manaea, in particular, was dominant over five starts after returning from injury last season, while Fiers and Bassitt both made at least 25 starts with sub 4 ERAs. Daniel Megden will begin the season as the team’s fifth starter, but it’s only a matter of time before top prospect Jesus Luzardo claims that role. Luzardo was made more important yesterday when it came out that prospect A.J. Puk will be sidelined for at least a few weeks with a shoulder injury. The A’s let closer Blake Treinen walk after a down 2019 but have a bunch of terrific arms in that pen. Liam Hendricks leads the way, but veterans Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit are no slouches themselves. Add in Jake Diekman, Lee Trivino, and other hard throwing arms and the A’s bullpen is once again a major strength as they try to overtake Houston in the West.
2. Houston Astros (107-55): 35-25
Despite a pretty tumultuous offseason in Houston (for a lot of reasons), the Astros’ offense remains mostly the same. Martin Maldonado steps into catch with Robinson Chirinos returning to Texas, but every other member of the starting lineup remains the same. Alex Bregman had an MVP level season, Jose Altuve continued his brilliance, and George Springer is healthy and in a contract season. Yuli Gurriel had his best career season and Michael Brantley was an All-Star in his first season with the club. Carlos Correa is also healthy again and is coming off of a very strong 75 game season. Josh Reddick is a better fielder than hitter, but can be spelled by guys like Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw. Tucker will start the season as the team’s DH with reigning AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Álvarez starting the season on the IL for undisclosed reasons.
Houston lost the second best pitcher in baseball when Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees, but they still have 2019 Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to carry the rotation. Verlander was terrific last season as his late career revival continues unabated. Veteran and potential future Hall of Famer Zack Grienke remains as the number two starter after a good season, but after him the rotation gets thin. Lance McCullers Jr. will open the season as the third starter and has had success in the past, but hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors in two years. 4th starter Jose Urquidy was placed on the IL for undisclosed reasons, so Framber Valdez (5.86 ERA last year) and Josh James (4.70 ERA last year) are slated to hold rotation spots, at least at the beginning of the season. Top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley is in the player pool and may take one of those rotation spots should the opportunity arise. In the pen, the Astros are solid. Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, and Chris Devenski anchor the bullpen with young guys like Bryan Abreu and Blake Taylor getting looks as well. Veteran Joe Biagini rounds out a fairly deep pen. The talent is all still there, so now we get to see how much of an impact the trash cans and (alleged) buzzers had a season ago.
3. Los Angeles Angels (72-90): 30-30
Angels owner Arte Moreno is not afraid to go for a big splash in free agency and this year was no exception. The Angels added Anthony Rendon to a $245 million deal to bolster an already strong lineup. Rendon joins a lineup built around the best player in the world, Mike Trout. There are countless stats to justify that, but I don’t think I need to defend that take at all. Justin Upton was a huge signing a few years back and has been very good, but really struggled during an injury plagued season in 2019. Andrelton Simmons regressed on offense as well, although his defensive numbers remained strong. Bouncebacks from both of them are vital for the Angels successes this year. Jason Castro was signed away from Minnesota to handle the catching, and Shohei Ohtani will DH on days when he doesn’t pitch. Tommy La Stella was an All-Star last season and a repeat performance is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Angels. David Fletcher also had a strong year playing multiple positions. Brian Godwin will likely start the season as the everyday right fielder but stud prospect Jo Adell is knocking on the door to take over. Albert Pujols is a legend but can’t be counted on to provide anything for LA this season. If he gives them an average offensive year, this lineup could be really dangerous.
While the Angels offense can mash, pitching seems to always be their downfall. They struck out in pursuit of Zack Wheeler and Gerrit Cole, so pivoted to signing Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy. Teheran was the Braves ace for a while but has been average to below since his All-Star season in 2016. He will also open the season on the IL due to the virus. Bundy was a very hyped prospect, but injuries and ineffectiveness have followed him throughout his career. Over the three full seasons he has pitched, his lowest ERA is 4.24. Andrew Heaney is this team’s number one, but threw just 95 innings with a 4.91 ERA last year. Former first round pick Griffin Canning has potential but needs to put it together while Jamie Barria pitched to the tune of a 6.42 ERA last season. Shohei Ohtani will return to the rotation after a terrific debut in 2018 and will pitch on Sundays, after not pitching at all in 2019. The Angels bullpen is not bad. Hansel Robles went from giving up the longest home runs you’ve ever seen in New York to shutting down opposing hitters in Anaheim. Ty Buttrey and Cam Bedrosian were overused a year ago, but both have potential to be very good relievers for this season. Throw in solid arms like Keynan Middleton and Noe Ramirez and the Angels bullpen should hold up in 2020. If the starters can be consistently competent, this team might make some noise.
4. Texas Rangers (78-84): 29-31
Texas let Hunter Pence walk and traded Delino DeShields and Nomar Mazara during a pretty busy offseason. Willie Calhoun was slated to become the primary left fielder after Mazara and DeShields were traded but will open the season on the IL with a hip flexor. The Rangers are confident he won’t miss more than a few days or a week and he’ll look to build on a breakout season where he popped 21 home runs. Joey Gallo will be the primary right fielder after an awesome start to last season that was cut short in June with wrist surgery. Gallo was a dark horse MVP candidate before the injury, so getting his bat back in the lineup is key. Shin-Soo Choo consistently gets on base out of the DH spot and Elvis Andrus had another fine season at short. Their consistency is key, because second baseman Rougned Odor in the definition of inconsistent. Odor has great pop but struggled to hit for average or get on base. Danny Santana will man center after a nice breakout season, and prospect Nick Solak will also receive time at several different positions, starting in left if Calhoun can’t play to start the season. Leody Tavares may also see some time as a depth option in the outfield.
The Rangers pitching was a surprising strength a year ago, with both Mike Minor and Lance Lynn having career best seasons, finishing 8th and 5th in Cy Young voting, respectively. Those two are joined by former Cy Young winner Cory Kluber, acquired from Cleveland for DeShields and Emmanuel Clase. Kluber struggled as he dealt with injuries throughout 2019 but had a 2.89 ERA as recently as 2018. If he can regain his form, the top of their rotation will be loaded. Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles were brought in to eat innings at the back of the rotation and Lyles is coming off of a strong second half with Milwaukee. However, underlying numbers are not kind to either of them. Joe Palumbo and Ariel Jurado will be depth options as needed. Jose LeClerc is a lock to close but struggled in 2019, nearly tripling his ERA from a stellar 2018. Around him are hybrid starters/relievers Jesse Chavez, Edinson Volquez, and Juan Nicasio, who can also serve as depth rotation options as needed. Nick Goody was added from Cleveland to the bullpen after a few solid seasons there, so he can help attempt to stabilize an unsteady pen. If the bullpen improves or adds some guys, the Rangers pitching could be enough to sneak them into the postseason.
5. Seattle Mariners (68-94): 22-38
This will not be a good season for Seattle, but the future is bright. In the present, however, the M’s are led by Kyle Seager, a one time MVP candidate who is now a stable veteran at third base. Seager is surrounded by young talent in Shed Long, Kyle Lewis, and J.P. Crawford. Long will be the starting second baseman after a promising rookie season. Dee Gordon is a safety net behind him. Lewis is a former first round pick who hit 6 homers in an 18 game audition last season, and Crawford did a decent enough job in 93 games as the starting shortstop. Daniel Vogelbach will DH after a good 2019 campaign and veteran Mallex Smith will man center. Tom Murphy had a decent season in Colorado and will take over behind the plate after Seattle traded Omar Narvaez. Top prospect Jarred Kelenic (as a Met fan, that hurt to type) is in the player pool but unlikely to debut this season, although he could force the issue.
Marco Gonzales will start on Opening Day after a very good season in 2019 and veteran Taijuan Walker will join him in the rotation after being signed from Arizona. Walker has thrown just 14 combined innings over the last two years, so Seattle is counting on him regaining previous form. Yusei Kikuchi had a brutal first season after being brought over from Japan but stays in the rotation and Kendall Graveman will be part of the rotation after not pitching in the majors for all of 2019 and most of 2018. Young, former trade acquisitions Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield, both top ten prospects in the organization, will slot into the rotation as well as the Mariners roll with a six man. The bullpen is composed of veterans like Carl Edwards Jr. and Matt Magill as well as young flamethrowers Erik Swanson and Austin Adams. Gerson Bautista has wipeout stuff but will be sidelined for the start of the season with a flexor strain. This season is not about results for Seattle so much as development and if a few of these young guys hit, it will be a success.