Who will win the American League West? A compelling argument can be made for at least three clubs. We gathered a group of MLB.com experts to discuss:
Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter, moderator): The AL West has a chance to be one of the most interesting divisions this season, mainly because the two top contenders -- the A’s and the Astros -- both took steps back in some areas and weren’t all that aggressive in adding to the roster. Does this open up the race to the other teams (ahem, I’m looking at you, Angels), or will this still be a two-team race?
Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand, executive reporter): Absolutely. As good as the Astros and Athletics have been in recent years, this was not a good winter for either team. Losing George Springer has to hurt Houston, not to mention the fact that Justin Verlander won’t pitch in 2021. Oakland lost Liam Hendriks, Marcus Semien and more. I didn’t like the winter for either of these teams.
Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart, Astros beat reporter): I think it will be a one-team race. I think the Astros, despite losing Springer, are head and shoulders better than anyone in the division. They're certainly better than the A's, who suffered many key losses with Hendriks, Semien, Robbie Grossman and Tommy La Stella and haven't made many additions of note. I'm not buying the Angels until they improve their pitching and Shohei Ohtani can stay healthy.
Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger, Angels beat reporter): The Angels have enough offense to be in that mix, but like always, their biggest question mark is pitching. They addressed it in the offseason by acquiring starting pitchers José Quintana and Alex Cobb. And they also traded for Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. But they never made a big splash for a starting pitcher and lack a true ace, which has been an issue for years.
Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos, A’s beat reporter): I think the AL West will once again be a two-team race with the A's and Astros. Though much has been made of Oakland's lack of upgrades this offseason, they did manage to salvage the offseason a bit with the addition of Elvis Andrus, who if healthy is a much better upgrade than anything they were going to find on the free-agent market at this point. You also still have to consider that the A's won the division last year with Matt Chapman out for half the season and Matt Olson going through a down year. With the Angels, it still comes down to do they have enough pitching, and I don't know that the moves they made to address that issue this offseason will be enough.
Feinsand: I’m not about to argue that the Angels should be the favorites, but new GM Perry Minasian has put together a legitimate big league rotation. Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, José Quintana, Andrew Heaney -- these guys have potential. I liked the Raisel Iglesias acquisition, too. Oh, and the Angels still have two of the 10 best players in the game.
McTaggart: It just seems I buy into the Angels every year and I'm let down. But even if they win, say, 86 games, that's not going to be nearly enough to track down the Astros.
Feinsand: I’m not so sure that’s true, Tags. And for what it’s worth, I am not a guy who has bought into the Angels every year. I just like what they’ve done this winter.
McTaggart: But I do agree, the Angels will give Houston its biggest challenge this year instead of the A's, who won the AL West by seven games last year.
Bollinger: The problem with the Angels is that they have so many ifs. Health will again be key, especially with Ohtani. But the lineup is strong and they have a pretty solid all-around defense, which should help their pitching staff.
The Angels also did seem to start to get into a groove late season and they were convinced they would've turned it around in a normal season. Slow starts have also been an issue for the club, so they need to get out of the gates strong and establish themselves as contenders right away.
Feinsand: I think almost every team in the AL has some major ifs. You also have to consider it was a 60-game season last year. I just don’t love the Astros’ rotation behind Zack Greinke. That’s the biggest reason I’m not buying them as runaway favorites in the division.
McTaggart: The biggest enigma surrounding the Astros is what happened to the star offensive players last year? Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, José Altuve and Yuli Gurriel -- their entire starting infield -- had down offensive seasons, though Correa, Bregman and Altuve caught fire in the playoffs [and eliminated Oakland]. Will they bounce back? Plus, the return of 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner Yordan Alvarez can't be underestimated. He's a force and could replace Springer's production
Footer: I don't think the Astros are runaway favorites, but I do think they can win the AL West with 90-92 wins.
Feinsand: Houston’s lineup is still a force, even without Springer. I think Verlander’s absence is a bigger deal than Springer’s departure. And losing him for one-third of a shortened season was less damaging than being without him for a 162-game season.
I could probably make an argument for any of these three teams to win 90 games.
McTaggart: No doubt, Mark, losing Verlander is a blow. They only had him for one start last year and others stepped up nicely, but he was the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.
I think Greinke is Houston's third-best starter right now. Framber Valdez was terrific last year, and Lance McCullers Jr. had a very solid year coming off Tommy John surgery. They're set up well with youngsters Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy at the bottom, but I do question their rotation depth -- in a year where pitchers will be asked to triple their workloads from 2020.
The Astros have a top five lineup and top 10 starting rotation. The bullpen? They've added enough to where it should be better. It's a solid club. It's not the 2019 Astros, but still the best in the division I think.
Feinsand: Top 10 rotation in the AL, perhaps.
McTaggart: I wouldn't put them higher than ninth, but in the 10-12 range is fair.
Feinsand: I’m not saying the Astros can’t or won’t make the playoffs. I just think they’ve taken a step back and will have to really work for it.
Bollinger: For what it's worth, some of the early computer projections are out and they seem to favor the Astros as the heavy favorite with the Angels behind them and the A's as the third-best club in the division.
Gallegos: The A's still have a very good lineup, and the rotation could see a big upgrade if No. 1 prospect A.J. Puk can stay healthy and join rotation mates Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Jesús Luzardo. The biggest hole is obviously in the bullpen, where they not only lost Liam Hendriks, but also a solid set-up man in Joakim Soria. But as we've seen in recent years, the A's often seem to find a way to piece bullpens with lesser-known arms that end up exceeding expectations, and they'll look to do that again this year.
Footer: Agree, Martín, when it comes to pitching, it’s not smart to bet against the A’s. They know how to crank out the arms.
Gallegos: Look for the A's to add a veteran relief arm or two in the days leading up to Spring Training. The cash from the Andrus trade gives them a little extra to spend.
Footer: The Astros beefed up their ‘pen, which was vulnerable after some losses last season. Was it enough?
McTaggart: The three relievers the Astros lost from their 2020 bullpen -- Roberto Osuna, Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock -- were hurt for much of last year anyway. I think they pitched in a combined nine games.
Feinsand: I would like to see Houston add at least one more bullpen arm -- and there are plenty still available in free agency.
McTaggart: Adding one more reliever -- Trevor Rosenthal? -- would be a huge boost. As it stands, they have added Pedro Báez, Ryne Stanek and Steve Cishek. And let's not forget veteran reliever Joe Smith is back after sitting out last year. The bullpen should be improved. But who will close?
Feinsand: Cishek has some closing experience. He’s been a very solid reliever throughout his career.
McTaggart: Yes, he has 132 career saves, which is double the amount of the Astros' 40-man roster combined. But most of those were six, seven years ago. I still think Rosenthal would cap a really solid offseason for the Astros, despite losing George. I don't think anyone expected him to be back.
Footer: The A’s rotation has a real chance to be the best in the division. I've been waiting for them all to be healthy at the same time with some experience under their belts. Where does this put them in the race?
Feinsand: Oakland is yet another team with a bunch of ifs. The rotation -- despite having a ton of upside and potential -- is one of them. If things go their way, that rotation might be the difference between playing and watching in October.
McTaggart: Ain't it always?
Feinsand: Luzardo, Manaea and Montas all had ERAs over 4.00 last year. That can’t happen again.
Gallegos: I think the A's rotation tops the division, especially if A.J. Puk enters the equation and stays healthy. Jesús Luzardo should be more comfortable after getting through his first "full" season in the Majors and we all know the potential he carries. Chris Bassitt came out of nowhere to finish with some Cy Young votes, and while it is hard to see him replicating that dominance, I think he could still have a very good season. Frankie Montas -- their Opening Day starter -- started off hot the first month and went into a bad stretch to end the season. Manaea was the opposite, starting off very bad before finishing the year strong.
McTaggart: If the A's have the best rotation, the Astros are a close second. And Houston's offense should be much better. And that's just on banking on their four star infielders playing at career levels.
Footer: Angels starting pitchers combined to post the second-worst ERA in 2020 in the Majors, better than only the rebuilding Tigers. You like the upgrades they made. I don't think it's nearly enough. Change my mind.
Bollinger: Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney are coming off solid seasons and they love the upside of Griffin Canning. Quintana has been underrated throughout his career, while the Angels hope that Cobb's move west will be similar to Bundy's last season. Jaime Barria and Patrick Sandoval add depth. And of course, the biggest wild card is Ohtani, who is currently healthy and expected to start once a week. If he can pitch like he did in 2018, it would be a huge boost for the Angels.
McTaggart: As I said earlier with the Angels, I'm not going to believe it until I see it.
Feinsand: I liked Alex Cobb a lot during his days with the Rays. He got his money to sign in Baltimore, but being part of a rebuilding project like that can’t be fun. I think he gets a boost going to the Angels. Quintana isn’t many years removed from being a very good pitcher, and both Bundy and Canning had solid 2020 seasons. Heaney is also a legit starter. The Angels aren’t going to be confused with the Dodgers any time soon, but for the first time in a long time, they have a MLB-level rotation. I love what they’ve done. Is it enough? We’ll find out.
I didn’t even include Ohtani because, well, I’ve learned my lesson. If they get anything from him on the mound, that’s even better.
Gallegos: I've just seen too many similar pitching additions the Angels have made the past few offseasons not work out (Cahill, Harvey, Teheran, etc.). Maybe Cobb and Quintana are different, but like Tags, I gotta see it to believe it.
McTaggart: Exactly, Martín. I've thought, for years, the Angels should be better than they are, but then they let me down like a bad transmission.
Bollinger: It'll also be fun to see what a full season will look like from Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon hitting back to back. Last year in the shortened season, they never really seemed to click at the same time.
McTaggart: It's amazing how the shortened season adversely affected so many hitters. The Astros were the poster child for that.
Feinsand: I don’t see the Rangers or Mariners competing in the AL West, but I think they’ll be tough outs in general. I don’t see any of these teams winning 15 or 16 games against them.
Footer: Let's wrap this up...rank the AL West standings, one through five.
Feinsand: I’m sure this is going to come back to haunt me with “This take didn’t age well” tweets, but: Angels-Astros-Athletics-Mariners-Rangers.
Footer: The king of hot takes!
McTaggart: 1. Astros (92-95 wins); 2. A's (85-88); Angels (81-84) … Rangers, Mariners
Bollinger: I'll go with Astros, Angels, A's, Mariners, Rangers with the Angels in the hunt for a Wild Card spot.
Gallegos: 1. A's 2. Astros 3. Angels 4. Mariners 5. Rangers
McTaggart: This will be fun to revisit in seven months.