- The Astros added another top pitcher in Gerrit Cole while the Angels added Shohei Ohtani. Who had the best offseason of any of the AL West teams?
The offseason is over, spring training is in full swing, and despite a few notable names still available on the market, most if not all teams have called it quits in terms of signings and trades. So it’s time to look back on just what every squad did this winter and hand out grades for the moves made—or, in some cases, for those they failed to make. Next up: the American League West.
Players with an asterisk next to their name were re-signed as free agents.
2017 Record: 101–61, first place in AL West; won World Series
Key Additions: RHP Gerrit Cole, RHP Hector Rondon
Key Departures: DH Carlos Beltran, RHP Michael Feliz, RHP Mike Fiers, RHP Luke Gregerson, OF Cameron Maybin, RHP Joe Musgrove
Fresh off their first championship in franchise history, all the Astros did was go out and trade for a 27-year-old former No. 1 overall pick who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2015. That’s a bit simplistic when it comes to Cole, who has been more enigma than ace with Pittsburgh the last two seasons, but he still gives Houston a frighteningly powerful rotation to go with Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander, and Lance McCullers, especially if the data-savvy team can give his stuff a boost. Not to be overlooked is the under-the-radar signing of Rondon, who languished in the Cubs’ bullpen last season and lost Joe Maddon’s confidence but boasts tremendous tools. The players lost, meanwhile, won’t be missed, save perhaps Beltran’s clubhouse leadership. The best team in baseball got better, and at not much cost.
Los Angeles Angels
2017 Record: 80–82, second place in AL West
Key Additions: 3B Zack Cozart, RHP Jim Johnson, 2B Ian Kinsler, RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani, C Rene Rivera, OF Chris Young
Key Departures: 1B C.J. Cron, 3B Yunel Escobar, RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Bud Norris, RHP Yusmeiro Petit, 2B Brandon Phillips, RHP Huston Street
Tired of wasting the career of the greatest player most of us will ever see in our lifetimes, the Angels finally went out and made moves designed to help Mike Trout. The headliner is the 23-year-old Ohtani, the two-way Japanese wünderkind who can pitch, hit and play Van Halen’s “Eruption” without missing a note. That the Angels got him without having to pay fair price—his signing bonus was just $2.3 million, and his 2018 salary will be the major league minimum—is due to the league’s absurd restrictions on international amateur free agents, but at least Los Angeles took advantage of those savings to add potential impact players. Cozart and Kinsler, in particular, should help improve an infield that was average at best last year and is mostly gone with Escobar and Phillips walking and Cron being dealt. The rotation and bullpen still look like potential issues, and who knows how Ohtani will perform, but the Angels made an effort, and a mostly successful one at that, to build a true wild-card contender.
2017 Record: 78–84, tied for third place in AL West
Key Additions: RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Doug Fister, RHP Tim Lincecum, LHP Mike Minor, LHP Mike Moore, RHP Edinson Volquez
Key Departures: RHP Andrew Cashner, OF Carlos Gomez, 1B Mike Napoli
The theme of the Rangers’ offseason was quantity over quality. Striking out on Ohtani despite being one of seven finalists for him and opting against pursuing high-end starters like Jake Arrieta or ex-Ranger Yu Darvish, Texas instead shopped in the bargain bin, ending up with several flawed yet intriguing arms. The most notable name is Lincecum, who looked to have washed out of the league after a dreadful 2016 but has returned after a winter spent training at Driveline that has him throwing harder and looking less like Mitch Kramer in Dazed and Confused. But he’s far from a sure bet; the same goes for Fister, Minor (who was excellent in relief with Kansas City but hasn’t started a major league game since 2014), Moore (awful with San Francisco), and Colon (finally showing his age at 44 in a terrible year split between Atlanta and Minnesota). If a couple of those guys hit, Texas will get top production for little cost. If they bust, the Rangers will look back on this winter and the cheaper-than-expected contracts that Arrieta and Darvish signed and wonder if they should have done more to give a weak rotation a sure thing. From here, it feels like they should have.
2017 Record: 78–84, tied for third place in AL West
Key Additions: OF Dee Gordon, 1B Ryon Healy, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma*, RHP Juan Nicasio, OF Ichiro Suzuki
Key Departures: 1B Yonder Alonso, OF Jarrod Dyson, RHP Yovani Gallardo, 1B Danny Valencia
Did someone kidnap Jerry Dipoto this offseason? MLB’s most manic executive was oddly quiet over the winter, completing only a handful of trades and staying almost entirely out of free agency. The moves he did make were fine: Gordon, if he can make the transition from second base to centerfield, should give the team a dynamic option both there and in the lineup, and the return of Suzuki will, if nothing else, sell some extra tickets. But the patchwork rotation that sunk Seattle’s hopes last season wasn’t addressed at all, save re-signing the venerable yet declining Iwakuma. You almost get the sense that Dipoto had put all his chips on landing Ohtani, who had the Mariners as one of his finalists but ultimately went to the division rival Angels. Once that fell through, it seems like the famously transaction-happy GM couldn’t figure out a backup plan. As a result, it’s hard to see the M’s as anything other than an also-ran this year unless they get far better health and performance than expected from their starting five. For once, it’s fair to say that Dipoto didn’t make enough moves.
2017 Record: 75–87, fifth place in AL West
Key Additions: LHP Ryan Buchter, C Jonathan Lucroy, OF Stephen Piscotty, RHP Yusmeiro Petit
Key Departures: RHP Jesse Hahn, 1B Ryon Healy
It’s hard to know what, if ever, the plan or future is in Oakland, where Billy Beane’s team seems to function more as a baseball thrift shop than as a major league franchise. But some late-season breakouts and surprises last year—namely Matts Chapman and Olson—have the A’s looking friskier than usual, and this offseason’s additions may have turned them into, if everything breaks right, a team with wild-card chances. Trading for Piscotty was the best move, with Oakland buying low on him after he fell out of favor in St. Louis. The former first-rounder slumped badly last year but was stellar the two seasons previous and is still only 27 years old. Likewise, Lucroy is amid a baffling career downturn, but at his price (just $6.5 million for one year), the A’s can afford to see if he can turn it around. A lot will need to go right for Oakland to be a real contender, and the odds are against it. But this winter’s moves, while low-key, served to add talent at minimal cost, which is better than what the offseason usually entails in the Bay Area.