Athletics Could Hold Their Own in a Revamped West Division

John Hickey

One of the most intriguing plans to get Major League Baseball up and running, if the country can get a leg up on the COVID-19 coronavirus, is ditching American League and National League designations for the 2020 season and create three 10-teams division.

In what would likely be an approximately 100-game season, the AL West and NL West would be merged, as would the AL East and NL East and the AL Central and NL Central.

For the Oakland A’s, they would find themselves lumped in to a division with the two teams who won the most games in MLB last year – the Houston Astros with 107 and the Los Angeles Dodgers with 106.

That would make, almost by definition, winning the reformed West in 2020 the most daunting task in baseball.

And yet the news isn’t all bad for the A’s. After all, Oakland did win 97 games – third in the new West – last year, and the A’s prospects are, if nothing else looking up.

For one, the A’s didn’t lose any irreplaceable assets from last year. Yes, Brett Anderson won 13 games before leaving as a free agent for Milwaukee. However, the Oakland rotation is probably stronger this year than last.

Frankie Montas was on an All-Star track before losing half a season to a suspension. Sean Manaea is back in the rotation, too, after having missed all but September after returning from surgery. A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo are rookies, to be sure, but they have high-octane left arms and have the potential to be impact pitchers as early as this season.

The Astros lost their manager, A.J. Hinch, and their general manager, Jeff Luhnow, to a sign-stealing scandal and saw 20-game winner Gerrit Cole sign with the Yankees. On the upside, they’ll have Zack Greinke, a Cy Young Award winner a decade ago, aboard for a full season after picking him up last July.

The Dodgers have taken some losses, too, with starting pitchers Rich Hill, and Hyun-Jin Ryu leaving as free agents and Kenta Maeta having been traded to the Twins. Together those three started 68 games last year. It’s not all bad news for the Dodgers, however, because they added 2018 MVP Mookie Betts to the outfield and Betts’ former Red Sox teammate, David Price, to the rotation. Even so, the rotation looks to be a little light.

Only one other team in the new West finished over .500 last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who finished 85-77. It was the D-Backs who traded Greinke to the Astros last year, but Arizona used the off-season to reset its rotation with the addition of three-time World Series ring winner Madison Bumgarner as a free agent. And they added Starling Marte, who had career bests of 23 homers and 82 RBI with the Pirates last year, so the D-Backs are looking like they’re an improvement over 2019.

For the rest of the division, it’s going to be a struggle. The Rangers and the Giants both finished last year less than 10 games under .500, but only the Rangers seem like a threat to get to .500 in the new-look West.

Lance Lynn and Mike Minor combined to win 30 games for the Rangers last year, and the rotation could be dynamic if 2017 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber is fully recovered from the fractured arm that limited him in 2019 when he was with the Indians.

In San Francisco, manager Bruce Bochy has taken his leave, replaced by former Phillies boss Gabe Kapler. Hunter Pence is back after a year spent with the Rangers, so there are plenty of familiar faces from the World Series years – catcher Buster Posey, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt. The rotation is extremely problematic with Bumgarner having been traded and former first-round draft pick Tyler Beede out for the season following February’s Tommy John surgery.

The division’s other four teams each finished 18 or more games under .500 and generally shouldn’t be a threat. That being said, the Angels are lurking in the backgrounder. An underperforming 72-90 last year, the Angels get two-way star Shohei Ohtani back and healthy. He had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and leg surgery last year, but he’s healthy now, and with him being able to play in the outfield and start – he’s throwing bullpens a couple of times a week during the lockdown – things are looking up. It doesn’t hurt that the Angels added Anthony Rendon, the NL RBI champ last year with 126, to play third base.

Here’s a look at the 2019 finishes for the 10 teams in the proposed new West in 2020:

Houston 107 55

LA Dodgers 106 56

Oakland 97 65

Arizona 85 77

Texas 78 84

San Francisco 77 85

LA Angels 72 90

Colorado 71 91

San Diego 70 92

Seattle 68 94

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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