2021 MLB Offseason Grades: AL West Edition
After a long but exciting offseason, Spring Training is finally underway for all 30 Major League Baseball clubs. Although this year’s Spring Training feels different, Opening Day is slated for its normal April 1 date with a full 162-game schedule and the return of fan attendance.
While many teams had tighter budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the offseason was not without its big contracts, surprising trades and teams looking to make a push for a World Series title in 2021.
While the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and other teams stockpiled star players in hopes of playoff runs, other clubs made solid acquisitions towards rebuilding or rebounding after a tough 2020 season.
This is part three of my offseason grades series and the focus is all on the American League West division, one that is up for grabs in 2021, and had its teams make some intriguing winter moves.
Houston Astros: C+
Additions: OF Michael Brantley, RP Ryne Stanek, RP Pedro Baez, C Jason Castro, OF Steven Souza, RP Steve Cishek, SP Jake Odorizzi
The Astros finished 29-31 and snuck into the postseason in 2020, yet somehow came up one win shy of its third World Series appearance in four years. Unfortunately, Houston was relatively quiet this offseason, especially when compared to offseasons prior. Like many other Houston sports teams, the Astros lost their superstar George Springer, arguably the face of the franchise, this offseason. Houston was able to retain the services of outfielder Michael Brantley, who’s continued to give the Astros solid middle-of-the-order production. The Astros made the effort to bolster their bullpen by adding Ryne Stanek, Pedro Baez and Steve Cishek into the mix. Baez has been nothing but consistent since debuting with the Dodgers in 2014 and appears to be one of the most reliable arms coming out of Houston’s pen. Stanek, who struggled with control over the last year and a half with the Marlins, has an electric arm and is a decent low-risk, high-reward signing for Houston that may need to learn on its bullpen to reach the postseason in 2021. The Astros worked out a Houston homecoming with catcher Jason Castro, who spent 2010-16 with the club and was named an All-Star in 2013. Castro has never been one to hit for average, but he provides the occasional home run and has plenty of experience behind the plate to form a nice platoon with Martin Maldonado. With Justin Verlander continuing to rehab, the Astros inked a two-year deal with Jake Odorizzi to join their rotation. The Astros have an assortment of young pitching in Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and Forrest Whitley, any of whom could take steps back in 2021. Odorizzi gives the Astros a middle-of-the-rotation arm that grants the club more time to develop its young guys. This season will be an interesting year for an Astros team that could make another playoff run or be forced to tear down shop soon.
Los Angeles Angels: C+
Additions: SS Jose Iglesias, RP Raisel Iglesias, RP Alex Claudio, C Kurt Suzuki, SP Jose Quintana, SP Alex Cobb, OF Dexter Fowler, OF Jon Jay, RP Jesse Chavez
Will Mike Trout ever make the playoffs again? The outlook is grim in 2021 for the Angels, who have failed to produce a winning record in any of the last five seasons. New general manager Perry Minasian made steps in the right direction this past offseason, but his additions were for aging veterans, not superstar free agents. The Angels' best move of the offseason may have been their first one as they acquired shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Orioles. Iglesias has always been lauded for his defensive abilities, but his bat has impressed over his last two seasons. It’s hard to tell what Iglesias will do offensively in 2021 after recording a .373 batting average last year, but you could make an argument that he’s an all-around upgrade from Andrelton Simmons and could be the firecracker in the Angels clubhouse that his nickname suggests. Raisel Iglesias appears poised to be the Angels closer this season, and Alex Claudio is a durable left-handed arm in the bullpen. Angels manager Joe Maddon is now reunited with some of his previous Cubs players in Dexter Fowler and Jose Quintana. Although Fowler continued to regress in St. Louis, he is a great clubhouse personality and could help prospects like Jo Adell in their developments. Quintana was hurt for most of 2020, but he’s good for around 170 innings or so when healthy and gives the Halos an additional lefty in their rotation. Los Angeles acquired Alex Cobb, who is in the last year of a four-year $57 million deal, whose time in Baltimore never panned out. If Cobb can give the Angels an ERA below 4.50 or better, it would be a good stopgap trade for Los Angeles. Kurt Suzuki is one of baseball’s best veteran backup catchers and could aid the Angels’ pitching staff, much like he did in Atlanta and Washington. The Angels have some terrific players in Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani, but Los Angeles still lacks an ace and a deep pitching staff that will likely cost them a playoff berth this season.
Oakland Athletics: D+
Additions: SS Elvis Andrus, INF Jed Lowrie, RP Adam Kolarek, SP Mike Fiers, RP Sergio Romo, RP Yusmeiro Petit, RP Trevor Rosenthal, 1B Mitch Moreland
The defending AL West champs lost a number of key contributors and bench pieces that could cost them a second straight title this season. The Athletics were practically silent until February when they finally made a flurry of moves. Oakland never appeared like they were in the mix to re-sign Marcus Semien at shortstop, and instead agreed on a trade with the Texas Rangers to acquire Elvis Andrus for Khris Davis, whose power was beginning to fade in Oakland. Andrus spent the first 12 years of his playing career in Texas where he was a two-time All-Star and became the Rangers all-time stolen base leader. Andrus, who was getting pushed back into a bench role in Texas, now has another opportunity to play every day. Andrus’s defense has never been the best, and he is an average to below-average hitter at this stage in his career, he can still swipe some bases and is a good clubhouse leader. The A’s also lost their closer Liam Hendriks this offseason but added Trevor Rosenthal, Sergio Romo and re-signed Yusmeiro Petit. Petit, one of the most underrated relievers over the past four seasons, led the A’s in appearances with 80 in 2019 and produced a 1.66 ERA in 2020. He’ll be an excellent set-up man to new closer Trevor Rosenthal, who had a terrific comeback season with the Royals and Padres last year after struggling with injuries and control issues since 2017. Rosenthal posted a 1.90 ERA with 11 saves last season and commands an upper-90s fastball and solid slider to wipe out batters. Look out for Adam Kolarek as well, who had an ERA under 1 for the Dodgers in 20 games last year and could be the most underrated bullpen acquisition of any team this offseason. To replace the aforementioned Davis at DH, the A’s signed Mitch Moreland to a one-year deal. Moreland was terrific in Boston last year, but his production declined when he was dealt to the Padres at the trade deadline. Moreland can fill in at first base when necessary, and Oakland will hopefully get close to 20 home runs out of the lefty slugger. Oakland still has a solid young core frontlined by Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. With the AL West looking weaker in 2021, we could see the boys in green and gold repeat as division champions once again.
Seattle Mariners: D
Additions: RP Rafael Montero, RP Keynan Middleton, SP Chris Flexen, RP Drew Steckenrider, SP James Paxton, RP Ken Giles
The Mariners actually won’t be receiving an F based on their offseason moves. While nothing stands out, the Mariners' lack of moves is actually going to allow them to continue to start their young core of batters and pitchers, who seemed to be taking steps forward towards the end of last season. While there were a multitude of teams linked to James Paxton this offseason, the Mariners reunited with one of their former aces on a one-year $8.5 million contract. Now back in Seattle, Paxton has an opportunity to rebound from an injury-plagued 2020. Chris Flexen is another guy who the Mariners signed this offseason, who is trying to revitalize his Major League career. After struggling with the Mets, Flexen signed to play for the Doosan Bears in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). After posting impressive numbers overseas, Flexen now has a second chance to prove himself as a starting pitcher for the next two years in Seattle. Like many of Seattle’s young arms, Flexen will learn from pitching coach Pete Woodworth and try to establish himself as one of Seattle’s starters going forward. The Mariners filled their closer position this offseason, trading for Rafael Montero from the Rangers. Montero failed to pan out as a starter in New York but found his form as a reliever in Texas, posting a 4.08 ERA with 8 saves. If Montero is unable to nail down the closer’s role, the Mariners have Ken Giles and Keynan Middleton available to take over. Middleton has pitched sporadically due to elbow issues and Tommy John surgery, but his high-90s fastball and career 3.48 ERA cannot be overlooked. Giles was phenomenal with the Blue Jays in 2019 and was the Astros closer in 2017 when they won the World Series. As long as Giles is healthy, he’s a high strikeout reliever who could easily bounce back in the pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park. The Mariners' postseason drought most likely continues this year, but the Mariners have a reason to be excited with top prospects Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez and Logan Gilbert set to break into the Majors soon.
Texas Rangers: C
Additions: SP Dane Dunning, 1B Nate Lowe, RP Jimmy Herget. RP Edubray Ramos, OF David Dahl, SP Kohei Arihara, INF Charlie Culberson, C Drew Butera, OF Delino Deshields Jr., RP Nick Vincent, DH Khris Davis, SP Mike Foltynewicz, INF Brock Holt, RP Josh Sborz, SP Tyson Ross, RP Ian Kennedy
The Texas Rangers were one of a few X-factor teams headed into 2020. With expanded playoffs and a brand new stadium in Globe Life Field to play in, the Rangers were ready to play spoiler. By the end of the 2020 season, Texas finished with an AL-worst 22-38 record. The Rangers have a good group of young players they are hoping will help rebuild the ballclub, but Texas needed to find some players who could hopefully help them in 2021. Texas failed to trade Lance Lynn at last year’s trade deadline but finally shipped him to the White Sox in return for Dane Dunning and others. In seven starts with Chicago last season, Dunning went 2-0 with a 3.97 ERA. He is a young arm that the Rangers will likely slot in the rotation this season and hopefully become one of its mainstays. The Rangers added to their rotation by signing a two-year deal with Kohei Arihara, a 28-year-old who previously played in Japan’s Pacific League. Impressed with his durability and pitching arsenal, the Rangers now have another pitcher that will eat innings with Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. Mike Foltynewicz also looks like a lock for Texas’ rotation if he pitches well in Spring Training. A former All-Star, “Folty” dealt with injuries the first half of 2019 before becoming Atlanta’s best starter down the stretch. He was designated for assignment after one start in 2020. Though he has experienced a loss in velocity since 2019, Foltynewicz is still young and had a lot of time last season to work on his stuff. Josh Sborz was acquired from the Dodgers and is projected to fill a role in the Rangers’ bullpen. Nick Vincent was a key member of Miami’s bullpen in 2020, but it remains to be seen whether he will make the opening day roster. Outfielder David Dahl was signed to a one-year contract after being non-tendered by the Rockies. Dahl was an All-Star in 2019, but his main issue was staying healthy in Colorado. If Dahl remains on the field in 2021, the Rangers will have added a consistent bat to their lineup. The Rangers traded for the Rays’ Nate Lowe to become their new first baseman. Lowe is still unproven but has the potential to be a big power bat. Another power bat, Khris Davis, was acquired in the Elvis Andrus trade and will split time at DH and left field with Willie Calhoun. Though Davis’ power has declined since 2019, if he can hit anywhere from 30-40 home runs in 2021, it would be quite beneficial to a Rangers team that was tied for 23rd in home runs in 2020. Like many other AL West teams, don’t expect the Rangers to contend this season as they attempt to build upon Joey Gallo and other young players.