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Evaluating the Astros’ primary competition

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Assessing the offseason acquisitions and losses of the Astros’ chief division rivals.

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

A tedious offseason is now in the rear view with spring training underway. A winter filled with inactivity early on culminated in its final weeks when baseball’s top free agents signed their new contracts.

Much has changed across MLB’s landscape, including the pecking order of one of its weakest divisions, the AL West.

The Seattle Mariners are well into a rebuild, while the Texas Rangers are still in the beginning stages of theirs. Needless to say, both clubs are expected to be two of the worst in the American League this year, and are extremely unlikely to challenge for the division title.

The Oakland Athletics, the 2020 division champions, saw key players sign elsewhere in free agency. The A’s managed to regroup right before spring training, but will nonetheless go into the 2021 season with dubious aspirations.

Over in Anaheim Los Angeles, the Angels performed a fairly extensive roster overhaul. It could be just a shuffling of chairs, but if nothing else, the Angels appear to have more talent this year than last.

With two of the league’s doormats in the AL West, this leaves the Astros with only two teams in the division to reckon with.

Los Angeles Angels

FanGraphs Division Odds: 21.9 percent

FanGraphs Playoff Odds: 33.6 percent

Notable losses: SS Andrelton Simmons, RP Hansel Robles, RP Cam Bedrosian, SP Julio Teheran

Notable additions: RP Raisel Iglesias, SS José Iglesias, SP José Quintana, SP Alex Cobb, OF Dexter Fowler, C Kurt Suzuki

The Angels made waves this winter with their slew of acquisitions via the free-agent and trade markets. While the significance of these moves is to be determined, the Angels’ aggressiveness was refreshing to see, as many other teams were content to sit and wait.

Raisel Iglesias has quietly been one of the league’s better relievers the past several years, and though he is now on the wrong side of 30, there’s yet to be any sign of decline. Simmons’ departure should be mostly negated by the other Iglesias acquired this offseason, José.

Quintana barely pitched in 2020. In 2019, he posted a 3.80 FIP in 171 innings and thus finished with a 3.4 fWAR, but it’s worth noting that his bWAR for that year was 1.4. In general, Quintana’s profile is mediocre, and his best years are almost assuredly behind him.

Cobb is another starter whose prime is a thing of the past. Though he and Quintana project to be no better than back-end starters, that’s an outcome the Angels may be satisfied with.

It could be argued that the Angels would be better served by starting top outfield prospect Jo Adell instead of Fowler, but their manager, Joe Maddon, still believes in Fowler.

If things break right for the Angels, they could legitimately challenge the Astros for the division title, but they’ll face an uphill battle in doing so, given the talent disparity.

Oakland A’s

FanGraphs Division Odds: 20.7 percent

FanGraphs Playoff Odds: 32.1 percent

Notable losses: RP Liam Hendriks, SS Marcus Semien, 2B Tommy La Stella, SP Mike Minor, OF Robbie Grossman, DH Khris Davis, RP Joakim Soria

Notable additions: RP Trevor Rosenthal, 1B/DH Mitch Moreland, SS Elvis Andrus, 2B Jed Lowrie, RP Sergio Romo, RP Adam Kolarek

This could have been a disastrous winter for the A’s, and it appeared to be merely a week ago. Prior to it, the A’s had lost their bullpen anchor and perhaps baseball’s best reliever in Hendriks. Then their quality middle infield combo — Semien and La Stella — officially left town as well.

But out of the blue last week, the A’s signed one of the top relievers on the free-agent market, Rosenthal, to a one-year deal worth $11 million. They then proceeded to snag Moreland, a left-handed slugger who’s capable of being a solid offensive contributor.

Andrus is a big name who makes big money, but he’s a clear downgrade from Semien. Lowrie may be able to provide some value if he’s healthy, but his time may be up. He turns 37 in April.

All in all, the A’s are a team that will still be competitive, but with questionable starting pitching and a downgraded lineup, they’re not expected to be serious contenders.

The heavy favorites

FanGraphs gives the Astros a 55.1 percent chance of winning the division in 2021, which is more than double the Angels or Athletics’ odds. Moreover, FanGraphs is quite confident that the Astros will make the playoffs in general, giving them a 65.9 percent chance. Only the New York Yankees have a higher percentage in the American League.

Despite the loss of All-Star outfielder George Springer and the likely absence of ace Justin Verlander, the Astros are still the class of the AL West, and could again be one of the top clubs in the AL overall.

Thanks to the Mariners and the Rangers, the Astros project to have one of the easiest schedules in the AL. This should aid them in their quest to play in October for the sixth time in seven years.