Here’s the last of the notes columns, this one covering the AL West. I’ll probably have something else in coming in this space in the second half of next week, though I’m not quite sure what that will be yet. I’ll also be doing some writing about our new project, The Greatest League.
- Besides the Yankees, the Astros probably rate as the biggest beneficiaries of the delayed start to the season. By the time things get started again, most will be too busy cheering the return of baseball to remember to boo the cheaters. The Astros will also get Justin Verlander back from groin surgery, and they won’t need to ask for as many innings from Lance McCullers Jr., who is returning from Tommy John surgery, and Josh James, who is likely moving from the bullpen back to the rotation. Plus, Yordan Alvarez is getting more rest for his bad knee. That’s a lot of plusses.
- The shorter season probably won’t benefit Kyle Tucker, who needs to overtake Josh Reddick in right field if he’s going to receive regular playing time. I was more optimistic about his chances before Dusty Baker was hired. Even if Baker’s fondness for veterans is probably overstated, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll rock the boat initially. While I imagine Tucker will be an upgrade, the Astros offense should be just fine either way.
- Do people realize that Carlos Correa hit .279/.358/.568 while healthy last year? He homered 21 times and drove in 59 runs in 75 games. Correa has gotten hurt each of the last three years, so his price tag is way down. However, there’s nothing to suggest last year’s back problem has lingered into this year. He’s a second- or third-round talent with an ADP of 98 in Yahoo and 103 in NFBC this year, which seems nuts to me. He’s No. 44 on my board.
- It’s still infuriating to think how much good Ross Stripling and Joc Pederson would have done the Angels. Luis Rengifo, the expected return in the trade with the Dodgers that Arte Moreno backed out of, was a nice little scouting coup for the Angels, someone who wasn’t ranked among the Rays’ top 30 prospects when he was acquired in exchange for a soon-to-be non-tendered C.J. Cron two years ago. He’s going to be a very good utilityman or maybe even a decent starter in the middle of the infield. Still, he was certainly expendable in exchange for two significant upgrades. Anthony Rendon will give the Angels quite a lift, but they needed more and they passed on two really good opportunities in that deal and in the Corey Kluber discussions.
- Some would say the Angels didn’t need Pederson because Jo Adell is pretty much ready. To that I would say they’d still have plenty of room for Pederson anyway and that I’m not so sure Adell will be an asset this year. Adell hit .264/.321/.355 with no homers and 43 strikeouts in 131 plate appearances after moving up to Triple-A Salt Lake last year. Mediocre plate discipline is an issue he’ll likely overcome in time, but I wouldn’t bank on him being an instant success in the majors.
- I didn’t have any Angels’ among my top 60 starting pitchers until the delayed start moved Shohei Ohtani up to 58th. Andrew Heaney and Dylan Bundy are in the 70-75 range (as was Griffin Canning before he got hurt). There’s hope for an average-ish pitching staff here; Patrick Sandoval is interesting and Felix Pena, who is returning from a torn ACL, could exceed expectations again. Julio Teheran is at least reliable, a quality the Angels pitching staff is always lacking. Still, I’m not drafting any of these guys in mixed leagues. I’d be more optimistic about Heaney, who I’ve liked in the past, if the baseballs get de-juiced some.
- The A’s picking up Tony Kemp as a 26th man made some sense. The A’s picking up Tony Kemp to become their primary second baseman really doesn’t. Still, the chatter before the shutdown was that he was the favorite to start there against righties ahead of Franklin Barreto and company. Kemp is just a .233/.314/.367 hitter in 749 MLB plate appearances, and he’s probably a little below average defensively. If the A’s really didn’t trust their youngsters, they could have gone out and gotten Brian Dozier or Eric Sogard or Yolmer Sanchez or Brock Holt cheap. Heck, Scooter Gennett is still out there. Maybe Kemp will prove me wrong -- he was a nice OBP guy in the minors -- but I’m not really seeing it.
- Another one of those second base options is 24-year-old Jorge Mateo, the extremely rare “top prospect” who used up all his options without ever getting a callup. No, Mateo isn’t a top prospect these days, but he did make Baseball America’s top 100 list three times from 2016-18, and after an ugly Triple-A debut in 2018, he put together a superficially impressive .289/.330/.504 line with 19 homers and 24 steals for Nashville last year. It seemed likely that Mateo would wind up traded or on waivers before the end of the spring, and he would have been worth taking a chance on for a rebuilding team like the Orioles or Tigers. Now, with rosters being expanded, he’ll probably make the A’s initially. He doesn’t look like a future starter at this point, but he still might have some untapped potential, and even if he doesn’t, his speed and ability to play short should make him a decent bench piece.
- A.J. Puk’s shoulder strain appeared to solve Oakland’s rotation dilemma, but he should be back when play resumes, again giving the A’s six starters for five spots. That could result in Chris Bassitt logging some bullpen time, though things would have to go really well for the A’s to keep him there for any length of time. They might need a six-man rotation initially anyway, and of their starters, only Mike Fiers has displayed much in the way of durability. Bassitt was useful in mixed leagues last year, going 10-5 with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in his 25 starts, so it’d be disappointing to see him consigned to relief work.
- The Mariners will be breaking in a number of young hitters this year, with Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Jake Fraley and Shed Long all expected to find spots in the Opening Day lineup. The only one I’m rather fond of for fantasy purposes is Fraley, and he’s probably the player most vulnerable to losing time if Mitch Haniger pulls off a successful return from back surgery. Fraley hit .298/.365/.545 with 19 homers and 22 steals in just 99 games between Double- and Triple-A last season. I don’t know that he’ll be much of a basestealer in the majors, but modest numbers in that category could be enough to make him mixed-league worthy at some point.
- In something of a surprise, Long didn’t even have to compete with Dee Gordon for the starting job at second base. The Mariners want to move on from Gordon, of course, but he’s not going to generate any trade value sitting on the bench. Of course, there’s a good chance he wasn’t going to generate any trade value as a starter, either, considering that he’s finished with OBPs of .288 and .304 the last two years. Gordon’s stolen base ability still gives him more fantasy upside than anyone in the Mariners’ lineup, but it probably won’t amount to much this year.
- I thought Yoshihisa Hirano should serve as the Mariners’ closer anyway, and when Matt Magill came down with a sore shoulder at the beginning of the spring, it seemed to settle the matter. Magill, though, should be healthy when the season starts, perhaps making him the early favorite for saves. Austin Adams could also be a threat to enter the picture then or not long after Opening Day; he was expected to miss the first couple of months after ACL surgery. Adams is still a relative unknown, but he was looking like closer material before getting hurt last year.
- That Willie Calhoun suffered a broken jaw was an awfully unfortunate way to settle the Rangers offense, but it looks like he’ll be ready to go when things start back up, which again leaves Nick Solak on the outside looking in. That makes me feel worse about drafting either Danny Santana or Rougned Odor. There’s an awfully lot to like about Santana for fantasy purposes, but he doesn’t project as a very good regular at all. Odor also remains interesting as a fallback middle infield option. Solak could overtake one or the other at some point. Fortunately, the Rangers never did go grab a starting first baseman, so Santana could return to that spot if the team wants to use Solak in center.
- I thought the Rangers should have gone out and gotten C.J. Cron for first base, but while they didn’t displace Ronald Guzman at the top of the depth chart, they did give themselves some other options in adding Greg Bird and Sam Travis. Everyone seems to have given up on Bird after another season wrecked by injury, but he’ll hit some homers if he gets a chance and he’s able to stay on the field. Travis isn’t as interesting, though he could do a decent job against lefties if needed.
- I dropped Kluber from 19th to 27th in my SP rankings after the trade to Texas. That probably isn’t going to surprise anyone, given that Texas is traditionally a difficult place for pitchers, but it didn’t have much to do with ballparks and defense (the Rangers’ new stadium figures to be better for pitchers, though that might be irrelevant this year). What did concern me was that hardly anyone seemed all that interested in landing Kluber in trade. My feeling was that his velocity drops had gotten too much attention; he was down a tad in 2018 and then a little more last year, but given that he only pitched in April last season, it’s not at all surprising that his velocity was down some; it traditionally comes up some as the season goes on. I can only infer that a bunch of teams are more worried than I was, given the modest price paid by Texas. In this case, anyway, I thought it was worth adjusting.