Ahh, home sweet home. Even though I still occasionally think of the National League Central as Houston's home, the AL West is growing on me. You know, in that Patty Hearst, Stockholm Syndrome kind of way.
In our final divisional preview, we get a chance to check in on the teams Houston will be seeing most frequently. I'll save you the suspense. The Astros are picked last in this division. But, there's plenty more to discuss.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, I'm going to link back to all the excellent previews our writers have done in the past month before wrapping up with a few more notes on the division.
The Mariners signed Robinson Cano this offseason to a 10 year, $240 million contract. His new representation, Jay-Z and Roc Nation Sports, may have overplayed their hand in hopes of squeezing every dollar out of the Yankees. But, Cano is in Seattle now. The Mariners brought in a bat that ranked twelfth in WAR* across the league and has been a consistently around a 6.0 WAR for the past four seasons. As a team, the Mariners had a collective offensive WAR of 4.5 last season. The simple fact is Cano will help make large strides toward the playoffs by himself. That said, Cano himself has come out and said this team has holes.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will win between 84 and 88 games--I'll pick 86--and finish second or third in the AL West. They will miss the playoffs once again, affirming that there's really no substitute for young, cost-controlled talent. Sometime before the All-Star Break, Pujols will hit his 500th career home run, a fleeting sparkle in an otherwise disappointing year. Manager Mike Scioscia will once again keep his job through September, though the front office will reevaluate him as soon as the regular season ends.
The best end-of-season news for the Halos? Mike Trout will win his first MVP award.
When you consider that all they lost in free agency was a middle reliever, a catcher they no longer needed and an inconsistent outfielder they easily replaced, it's hard not to think of Oakland's offseason as a rousing success. Losing Choice hurts a bit, but with such an incredibly balanced, deep team, with above-average players at almost every position on both offense, defense and the mound, the A's are stacked.
Texas should be their main competitor, but their pitching is highly suspect outside of Yu Darvish, and while the Angels' rotation looks a little more stable, the Pujols and Hamilton questions remain as valid concerns. Even if all goes well for those two clubs though, they simply can't match Oakland in terms of stability, health, youth and depth in all aspects of the game. The division title is Oakland's to lose.
The Rangers, who play in a very hitter friendly home ballpark, were somewhat disappointing on the offensive side in 2013, and the front office took aim at fortifying the offense in 2014---even if it came at a very high monetary cost. The Rangers signed free agent outfielder Shin Soo Choo, and traded for slugging first baseman Prince Fielder. Sabermetrics tells us to follow the OBP, and the Rangers added a ton of OBP to their lineup (Choo had a .420 OBP last year and Fielder has a career OBP of ;389). You could also say that the Rangers added a ton, period; but then, again, the Fielder jokes write themselves. The Rangers may have to pay the piper down the road with the huge multi-year contracts for Choo and Fielder, but it's hard to blame the front office for making bold moves during the window of playoff contention.
Improvement on a massive scale still leaves Houston mired in a 90-loss season. That frustration may manifest itself with an urgency to promote young guys. George Springer is already hearing the calls after his near-40/40 season in the high minors last year. Mark Appel, the polished college righty who was picked No. 1 overall in the 2013 draft, could be expected to join the team by mid-season by impatient fans. If that loss total dips to 100 again, Jeff Luhnow may lose his halo.
Fans can be frustrated. But, they should remember this. The talent is coming. Rescue is coming. It may take some time, but the Astros have a bright future in the near future. Maybe that's enough to wait a little bit longer.
Mike Trout, Angels - Hey, look at it this way. He may not win the league MVP, but he can still win the division one. That's pretty much the same thing.
Best offseason move
Mariners sign Robinson Cano - This is weird. I expect Robinson Cano to disappoint this season from sky-high expectations. His projected WAR between Steamer, Oliver and ZiPS averages to 4.6 fWAR this season. That's a very nice player, but closer to Jason Castro than Mike Trout than the M's probably want from Cano's huge contract.
Still, if the Mariners were going to spend money, getting Cano is pretty great. He's maybe the best free agent to hit the market since Albert Pujols. Hopefully, his contract will work out better for Seattle than Pujols did.
Worst offseason move
Angels trade Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk to Cardinals for David Freese and Fernando Salas - This one may not be as inexplicable as the Tigers trading away Doug Fister, but it's right up there. The Angels had a pretty undervalued asset in Peter Bourjos, who didn't have a place in their outfield but was still a starting-caliber player. He's a defense-first guy, but he can hit enough to play every day. Who do they get for him? A reliever and an overrated third baseman who turns 31 at the end of April. The A's traded masher Michael Choice to the Rangers for a worse version of Bourjos in Craig Gentry. This was just not a good move, which means Freese will become Mike Trout and Salas will become Mariano.