We’re almost through it. Today we head to the left coast, where the champs live…well, not actually. They’re in the middle, but they play in the division that’s ostensibly supposed to be about the left coast. Anyway, that’s not why you called! Let’s run through the division that had the best race last year, and as always, the Mariners lost.
Owner cheapness index: Used to be low, may be high now, wants a new park in a parking lot full of skateboards which lords over everything.
Outlook: Perhaps no team is having the abyss staring back into them than the Angels (no, I won’t call them “Los Angeles”) They’re going to watch the most unique player in baseball history just traipse out the door, after doing everything they could to make their last few weeks with him count and watching it be perhaps the biggest balls-up in the league last season. The Angels were the desperate dude who bought their increasingly unimpressed girlfriend a house and watched her leave with the personal trainer anyway. Now it’s just a big empty house where Boygenius will record their next album.
The Angels clearly are going to have to start over, but even doing that is tricky. This is the first time they’ve admitted they’ll look into trading Mike Trout, but what’s his market? The last time he played a full slate of games was six years ago. His power completely zapped last season (.630 slugging in 2022, .490 in 2023), and while it’s still MIKE TROUT, at age 33 there’s going to be more than one front office that wonders if his power ever comes back. To be fair, .490 is still a really good slugging percentage, and anyone trading for Trout is still getting a plus-plus player (reports of his demise in playing center have been greatly exaggerated). But they’re probably not getting MIKE TROUT, which will lessen what the Angels could get back. Combined with the $260 million he has left on the seven years on his contract.
They’ll also never be able to unload Anthony Rendon, who has revealed himself to be made of cardboard and twine since decamping for Orange County. Good start to a rebuild.
But the Angels have to do something, because there isn’t much in the minors, at least not much that will arrive in the next couple years and be a real difference maker. If you’re an Angels fan, first of all make yourself known to your nearest usher because most of us have never seen an Angels fan in the wild (and I’ve been to Angels Stadium!), what you’re probably telling yourself to get you through…well, not a cold winter, but maybe living in Orange County altogether, is that the Angels lineup is turning over pretty young next year.
Mickey Moniak, Logan O’Hoppe, Nolan Schanuel, and Zach Neto are all 25 and under and slated to be in the Opening Day lineup. Might as well, because there just aren’t enough free agents to make up the difference between the bowlful of gruel the Angels have been and a team worthy of 90-92 wins to get into the AL playoff scene.
The Angels were a middling team all over the board last year, even with Ohtani in both the rotation and the lineup. Some of that was Trout’s and Rendon’s injury problems, and some of that was young pitchers just not taking the next step that they were hoping for. Griffin Canning, Reid Detmers, and Patrick Sandoval are all back. They’d actually comprise an acceptable back end of the rotation, but they’re 1-3 here. Ouch.
Given the pretty brackish free agent pool this winter, the Angels may never get a better chance to even get 75 cents on the Mike Trout dollar (though the 2025 free agent outfielder class is also pretty hilarious). Maybe the time has come, though who would come to the park for a while after that may scare them off.
Ohtani meter: “Babe… baby, baby I’m gonna leave you.”
Owner cheapness index: Only slight, but more than you think. Name the last big free agent they signed.
Outlook: For a team that has made the ALCS its home for seven straight seasons, the holes are more obvious than you’d think. The rotation fell apart in the second half of last season, and the back half of the lineup isn’t all that good. The latter will improve a touch by turning over the catching duties to Yainer Diaz instead of proclaiming Martin Maldonado as the world’s most important scarecrow this side of Yadier Molina. The Astros will remain defense first at short and in center with Jeremy Pena and Jake Meyers.
Which means if they want to upgrade the offense in any fashion, it means convincing Jose Abreu to retire and finding something new at first. Which is unlikely, but worth considering.
The rotation is the bigger worry. Justin Verlander started to look like he was in his 40s, and somehow the Astros letting him walk to the Mets and then getting him back for at least one genuine prospect in exchange for the Mets taking on half his deal was seen as pretty genius. Hmm…
Verlander is still a very good No. 2 starter, to be fair. Even with his strikeouts deflating and his WHIP inflating, he still had a 1.13 WHIP and a 3.22 ERA. They’ll gladly take it.
More worrying was Framber Valdez’s collapse in the second half. His ERA ballooned to 4.66 and his walk rate jumped a third. A good portion can be chalked up to some rotten sequencing luck (65.1 left-on-base percentage) and an HR/FB rate that spiked. But he wasn’t alone. Christian Javier’s fastball lost a tick and his strikeout numbers went away with it. Hunter Brown had the strikeouts but he couldn’t keep the ball in the park. The Astros could definitely do with one more starter they can count on to just be there and serviceable to not have to count on a rebound from everyone who have thrown a ton of innings the past few years.
There’s also a ticking clock over this season, as both Altuve and Bregman are in the last year of their deals. Verlander has a player option in 2025. Tucker and Valdez will be in their last year of control next year. This might be the last time we see this version of the Astros.
Ohtani meter: 3. It’s hardly the worst idea, especially if they could figure out a way to get Yordan Alvarez to play left or first most days (or even Ohtani to do so in 2024, because he could). But this isn’t a team that pays big money for outsiders. They extended Altuve, Bregman, Alvarez, and Verlander once upon a time, but just tend to fill in around the edges in free agency.
Owner cheapness level: Sneaky high, which fits the GM just fine apparently
Outlook: While the Mariners definitely disappointed in not backing up their 2022 playoff appearance with another one, they did manage 88 wins, which came after two straight 90-win seasons. Going three straight years with 88 or more wins isn’t all that common in MLB, as sad of a statement as that is.
And it’s hard to find a glaring weakness. The Ms had a top-five rotation and pen in ERA, and an offense that was 12th in runs. Playing in the worst hitters park is always going to limit what the Seattle offense can do. Hell, they might even get Robbie Ray’s circulation-cutoff pants back for their #5 starter role, which says something about how good Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, and Bryce Miller are.
Still, the lineup has a lot of guys who’d be described as OK, and should the Mariners have more ambition they could try and upgrade on any of them. Eugenio Suarez was middling last year, and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll get back to his slugging best in his mid-30s. Mike Ford goofed a great half-season at DH, but is that going to continue? Ty France’s power plummeted last season, as his HR/FB rate cut in half from the previous season. He’ll bounce back a little simply due to baseball baseball’ing, but how much? Cade Marlowe had a great 30-game audition, but is that him, or are his meh numbers at AAA more to the point?
Second base has been the real vortex of puke for the M’s for a while. Sadly, the middle infielder batch of free agents is comically bad this term, so the M’s might have to get on the horn and trade from their wealth of pitching to find either a 2nd baseman or a shortstop to punt JP Crawford over (Baltimore’s Joey Ortiz, who is blocked everywhere?) Jorge Soler would help rotating between left and DH as well.
Ohtani Meter: 6. There has to be some attraction for the biggest Japanese star in history to go where the last biggest Japanese star in history played, and the M’s are one of the few teams who wouldn’t have to sweat Ohtani not pitching in 2024. They need all that thump too. But it’s hard to see them shelling out that dough, even if they’re $100 million under the threshold.
Owner cheapness index: The oil baron from The Simpsons would about sum it up
Outlook: They’ve got a trophy, so pretty rosy. And the Rangers are still going to be in that sweet spot where their high-priced acquisitions will be good (Semien, Seager) while their young players get another season to grow (Taveras, Jung, Duran). And they’ll get a full season of Evan Carter now. If there’s one spot they might look at to upgrade, it would be DH, where Duran is probably not going to replicate a .356 BABIP that only just got him over the line of average. But that’s about it for the lineup.
The rotation is a little more up in the air. Jordan Montgomery is going to get a big pay raise after his postseason heroics. Without knowing for sure that Jacob deGrom will make it back at any point in 2024, the Rangers were uneasy last season about their rotation being rounded out by Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, and Andrew Heaney. Max Scherzer is around still, but he’ll turn 40 next year, has had injury problems the past two seasons, and his walk rate nearly doubled in 2023. He’s not anchoring a rotation anymore. Even Nathan Eovaldi battled through injury woes the past two seasons. Even if the Rangers bring Montgomery back, one more solid starter would not be remiss for a team that didn’t win the division last year.
Also, bullpen arms. Dear god, bullpen arms. They have Jose LeClerc and John Sborz at the backend, but everything before that was giving Bruce Bochy an ulcer. Need a couple more out there.
Ohtani Meter: 2. Never underestimate their instinct to cause a stir, but even this feels like a bridge too far for them. Though Scherzer and Eovaldi could potentially come off the books in 2025, when deGrom would be rejoining the rotation. That’s $60 million freed. And they could use an upgrade at DH…stranger things…
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