We covered the AL East and the AL Central already, let’s hit up the AL West. With three contending teams in this division, there’s not much free loot to pick up. Still, let’s jump in to see where the opportunities are arising for the Rangers and Angels, and who misses out for the Astros, A’s and Mariners.
Angels – Though the Angels have fallen by the wayside in the Wild Card hunt, they didn’t do a complete teardown. They have been crushed by pitching injuries – Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, JC Ramirez, Keynan Middleton are all out for the year, as are a few lesser pitchers that might have been asked to help fill the breach, and Shohei Ohtani has been limited to DH duty and won’t likely pitch again this season. But given the development of Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney, plus the promise of Ohtani, I can see why the Angels didn’t do a complete teardown.
Instead, they flipped a couple of disposable parts. Martin Maldonado is a good receiver behind the plate, but is hitting just .215/.279/.321 on the season and will be a free agent. In his void steps in Francisco Arcia, who toiled in the minors for 12 years before getting his chance with the Angels after the trade. He had 10 RBI in his first two games. He might not have 10 more the rest of the season. Jose Briceno is the backup.
Ian Kinsler was having a frustrating season with the Angels, hitting .239/.304/.406 there after beginning the year on the DL. He too will be a free agent at the end of the season. With the trade of Kinsler and with Zack Cozart out for the season, the Angels will fill the two spots between David Fletcher, Luis Valbuena and Kaleb Cowart. Fletcher appears to be getting the most playing time between the three, and well he should, as he’s the least-known commodity and has some palpable upside. A sixth-round pick in 2015, Fletcher really hit his stride this year at Triple-A Salt Lake, hitting .350/.394/.559 with seven stolen bases in 58 games before getting the call. So far he hasn’t gotten that green light on the basepaths with the Angels, with only one stolen base. Valbuena is a favorite target of mine on the podcast, thanks to a combination of his name, his lack of hustle and his styling on those plays where he isn’t hustling. He’s also having a horrible campaign, hitting just .199/.253/.335. Cowart was a first-round pick way back in 2010, but the 26-year old has never really gained much traction with the big club and looks to be a disappointment at this point, even though he has been receiving more playing time lately.
Rangers – The Rangers were noteworthy this past offseason for not doing much – either as a seller or as a buyer. That changed at the deadline, as they traded their ace (Cole Hamels), their closer (Keone Kela) and their top set-up man (Jake Diekman).
That leaves a rotation spot and the closer job remaining. They just called up prospect Ariel Jurado when Hamels was dealt and they seem pretty content to leave him in the rotation going forward. Jurado stumbled at the Double-A wall last year but was at least cosmetically better there this year, posting a 3.28 ERA and 1.23 WHIP there. I say “cosmetically” though because he was striking out only 5.16 batters per nine innings, which bodes ill for what could happen in the bigs, especially in that ballpark. Jurado induces a decent amount of ground balls with that sinker of his, and got another win Friday, but it was against a watered-down Orioles squad and he was working with a huge lead. I think that he’s a bit of Fools Gold.
Meanwhile, manager Jeff Bannister said that he expects to use a committee of sorts to replace Kela as the closer, but I think that it’s a pretty good bet that Jose Leclerc, who got the save Saturday night, will get the majority of the chances. Chris Martin and Cory Gearrin were also mentioned by Bannister as potential alternatives. For what it’s worth, Gearrin pitched the eighth on Saturday to set up Leclerc.
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Astros – A consequence of the Maldonado trade is that Max Stassi no longer gets his chance at being the first-string catcher while Brian McCann is out, and might even lose his roster spot once McCann returns. It also likely eliminates any chance that Evan Gattis will qualify at catcher next year – Gattis has just two games behind the plate this year.
Roberto Osuna is eligible to return from the suspended list Sunday, and he’ll probably close games in short order after his return, thus ending Hector Rondon’s run as the closer. Rondon had one horrific outing on July 28, but has otherwise been nails as the closer, converting 11 saves while posting a 2.27 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, along with a 49:11 K:BB in 39.2 innings.
A’s – The A’s made just one trade, acquiring Jeurys Familia from the Mets. Familia will work in as the set-up guy for Blake Treinen and likely closer whenever Treinen isn’t available. They also sent down Dustin Fowler, who has really struggled, in a concession that they are in win-now mode rather than developmental mode. Nick Martini and Ramon Laureano are replacing Fowler in center field. Would it be surprising to see the A’s trade for someone like Andrew McCutchen for the stretch run? I understand that’s two teams now that have been suggested as suitors for him, which makes it less likely that it’ll happen.
Mariners – I wonder how the playing time will flesh out in Seattle once Robinson Cano’s suspension is over. Clearly his bat will be a big improvement over the M’s replacements, but he also can only play second base, with Nelson Cruz locked in as the DH. But the M’s have also committed to keeping Dee Gordon at second, as Cano is ineligible for the playoffs. Would they dare stick him out in left field, or make Cruz play the outfield? I suppose first base is also an option – Ryon Healy has 21 homers, but he also has a putrid .269 OBP. At the very least they could fashion some sort of platoon between the various positions.