It’s been a pretty quiet Hot Stove season so far in the American League West, but that figures to change soon as the Winter Meetings begin on Dec. 8 in San Diego. General managers typically get things cooking in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Here’s a look at the best asset each of the five AL West teams have to offer this winter as they make their moves. Four of the five clubs appear deepest in the same area -- the outfield -- which could make things competitive on the trade front.
Jo Adell is the No. 5 overall prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, and the 20-year-old is expected to make his debut this coming season. But the Angels’ next two top prospects -- Brandon Marsh and Jordyn Adams – are also outfielders, so they could look to trade either for much-needed pitching help this offseason. Of the Angels’ top 11 prospects, five are outfielders and Jahmai Jones has experience in the outfield as well.
The defending AL champions don’t have many assets they’re looking to deal these days. Their window of contention is still wide open -- so they’re not about to trade away any key players on their big league roster -- and they’re pushing the payroll, perhaps past the luxury tax threshold.
The Minor League system has been stripped of talent in trades for Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, with 12 youngsters -- including eight present or former MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospects -- getting sent to other clubs.
So what’s the biggest asset for GM Jeff Luhnow? Opportunity. The opportunity for a player -- a pitcher -- to join the club this winter with a chance to contribute immediately to a World Series contender. Houston needs starting pitching and a couple of relievers, so there’s innings to be had on a winning club.
Outfield depth is the A’s strength as a healthy Ramón Laureano and Stephen Piscotty should return to their spots in center and right field, while Mark Canha’s breakout 2019 likely earned him the bulk of playing time in left. Robbie Grossman, who finished last season a finalist for the Gold Glove in left field, also returns.
Super utility man Chad Pinder and Jurickson Profar, who both saw a good amount of time in the outfield last year, are also still around. You can also add in rookie Seth Brown, who came out of nowhere last August as a callup to replace the injured Piscotty and became an impactful bat down the stretch. Dustin Fowler, once considered Oakland’s center fielder of the future, is also still down in the Minors working toward his next shot back in the big leagues.
That outfield depth sets the A’s up nicely to perhaps put together a package that could address another area of need, like the bullpen or second base.
GM Jerry Dipoto’s biggest asset also appears to be his outfield flexibility, assuming Mitch Haniger and Domingo Santana are now healthy. The Mariners have some of the best young prospects in MLB with Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez rising quickly through the Minor League ranks, while Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley and Braden Bishop already debuted last season.
Mallex Smith, who led Major League Baseball in stolen bases last year, returns in center field, and Haniger is expected back in right field now that he’s overcome a ruptured testicle and ensuing back issue that wiped out much of his 2019. Lewis was impressive as a September rookie callup and pencils into left field, so that leaves little room for Santana, who doesn’t seem to fit into the rebuilding plans.
Haniger clearly is the biggest trade chip if Dipoto decides to go bold in his pursuit of young starting pitching. The 2018 All-Star has three years of team control remaining, and he is very affordable as he’s just beginning his arbitration years. But it’s more likely that Santana and/or Smith get moved to open a path for Fraley and eventually Kelenic and others who fit the long-range plans.
As Texas general manager Jon Daniels puts together the team that will cut the ribbon on a new Globe Life Field next season, his biggest trade chip also is an outfield group that has five returners currently vying for four spots, including the designated hitter role.
Willie Calhoun, Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo and Shin-Soo Choo are all left-handed hitters who play in the corners, while Delino DeShields is a right-handed batter who is the team’s best center fielder and speed component. The Rangers also have depth with the versatile Danny Santana, a switch-hitter who can play infield and outfield and is the second-best center fielder of the bunch.
The 37-year-old Choo has one remaining season at $21 million on his contract and would be difficult to move, but the Rangers could certainly be interested in trading either Mazara or Calhoun for young pitching.