Texas teams to tangle to the top

AL West Preview

The AL West Preview is the second in a series of divisional previews for the 2016 MLB season as viewed through the eyes of the indefatigable Jed Rigney.   NL EAST

AL West preview
Houston’s Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are the best 2B-SS combo in baseball. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

I’m going to be very honest with you – which I am not usually – that last divisional preview was a lot more work than I thought it would be. Sometimes I am amazed at my capacity to spout words of varying relevance about things.

I’ve got a hot tip for you: It doesn’t get any less wordful for this next one. This is partly due the fact that I want to be fair and balanced, but is primarily due to my writing philosophy of throw enough bull crap at the wall and some of it’s going to stick – though admittedly the smell can be somewhat overwhelming.

Okay, so let’s get back to these previews. To review: we’re doing a look at the positives and negatives for each team going into the 2016 season. I guess I didn’t have to explain that it’s for 2016, because why the hell would I do a preview for 2015? Only some kind of dummy would do that. What the hell do you mean it wouldn’t surprise you if I did?! How dare you. You know what, you’re banned from reading this article.

Next up is the American League West division – keeping with the yin and yang thing because we did the NL East and the AL West is like the opposite of that in a way, I guess. I don’t know. This sounded a lot more profound when it was caroming around inside my head, but I now can see that I’ve clearly overestimated my philosophical abilities.

houston astros logoHouston Astros

Do you know that thing they do in movies where they have some ugly nerdy guy or girl who everyone thinks is too ugly or nerdy to be around, and then by some totally realistic and not at all irrational sequence of events that guy or girl is transformed into one of the best-looking and coolest amongst their peers? That’s what happened to the Astros.

1 UP – Carlos Correa

The missiles being launched by this Correa are landing in the bleachers of Minute Maid Park. He’s not even played a full year and he’s the best shortstop in the league. His double-play partner is Jose Altuve, who just happens to be the best second baseman in the league.

1 DOWN – Evan Gattis

Ten years ago, a player like Gattis would be desired by just about every team in the league because of his impressive ability to hit home runs. However, teams are getting smarter and his equally unimpressive ability to make lots and lots of outs significantly reduces his value. But it’s the Astros, so don’t worry. They have a couple different prospects who could step in and improve this position in A.J. Reed and Tyler White.

2 UP – The Outfield

George Springer is on the brink of stardom and, last year, Colby Rasmus finally put all of his skills together to very nice results. [Note to editor: Hey, Jon, can we put up that photo of Colby Rasmus celebrating in the playoffs last year? Try Google searching Colby Rasmus crazy/sexy celebrating.] [Editor’s note: Um, sure, Jed.] And the Astros are loaded with outfield prospects as well, with Daz Cameron and Kyle Tucker a couple years away. Oh, crap. I forgot about Carlos Gomez in the outfield, too. Wow. Lots to get excited about.

2 DOWN – Tal’s Hill

“Hey, I’ve got an idea! I was watching the TV show ‘Wipeout’ and what if we build a small hill in center field and stick a flag pole in it? It will be a delight to see world-class athletes risk injury as they maneuver around this obstacle course,” said whatever idiot created Tal’s Hill.

3 UP – Dallas Keuchel

Last season, the Astros eventual ace and Cy Young Award winner started off as a good starting pitcher who needed to make an adjustment to move to the next level. Adjustment made. Next level achieved.

3 DOWN – The Other Starting Pitchers

Lance McCullers is an exciting young pitcher for the Astros, even if he’s a little injured right now. Beyond him and Keuchel, the rest of the starters are not that great. They’re not that bad, but when you’re playing big-boy playoff baseball, you need something better than “not that bad.”

los angeles angelsLos Angeles Angels

As a person who lives in actual Los Angeles, I have a certain amount of disdain for the Anaheim Angels jacking our swag (as the kids say). I do take some pleasure in the Angels getting closer and closer to collapsing into same black hole that has recently consumed Tiger Woods, Lindsay Lohan and Mike Myers.

1 UP – Mike Trout

It almost seems disrespectful to list Mike Trout just once, since he is the best player in the universe. It’s unfortunate that he’s stuck on a terrible team. But that’s how Alex Rodriguez started out with the Mariners and the Rangers, and things worked out pretty good for him (kind of). Sorry. Sorry. Let’s focus on the positive. Trout is great. Every team’s fans should enjoy watching him.

1 DOWN – The Farm System

It almost seems disrespectful to list the Angels’ farm system just once, since it is the worst farm system in the universe. Yes, even worse than the farm system of the last-place Galactic Transmitters located on Vega. Ha ha! Can you tell I just watched the movie Contact? “I’m okay to go! I’m okay to go!”

2 UP – Andrelton Simmons

The Angels traded for Simmons from the Braves who have an excess of good shortstops. Simmons is one of the best defensive players in the game today and the last decade or so. He immediately makes all the pitchers better, even if he doesn’t really hit that much at the plate. The Angels had to trade away their one good prospect to get him, but this is one of the few moves the team has made that actually makes them better.

2 DOWN – Owner Artie Moreno

Speaking of terrible team moves, let’s talk for a minute about Moreno. He’s not a terrible owner in the vein of Jeffrey Loria, he just pushes the team to make bad acquisitions that he thinks are good for “business.” The Albert Pujols signing was a dumb baseball move. But it got them a better TV deal and more money. That they spent on Josh Hamilton – who they gave away to the Rangers. Artie, let the baseball people do the baseball stuff and you can focus on trying to pretend your team is actually in Los Angeles.

3 UP – Garrett Richards

Not much to love about this team’s pitchers, except when it comes to Richards. Man, this guy had filthy stuff. Even the filthy stuff of other pitchers are like, “man that stuff is nasty.” Now, he’s added a change-up to his repertoire. Sorry, opposing batters.

3 DOWN – Left Field

Granted, this is an issue that could be addressed by the time this article goes up. It should be addressed by then. I used to manage a softball team and with everyone’s schedules in Los Angeles being constantly in flux, it was essential to have back-up players who I could have come out on short notice and get on the field so we had enough not to forfeit. We called these players “pylons” because they just needed to stand there. The Angels’ starting left fielder? Pylon.

oaklandOakland Athletics

Last year, no team was more unlucky than the Athletics. After a rough first six weeks, I wrote that they still had a shot to win the division. [Note to Editor: No need to put a link to that article – I’ve already admitted to everyone that I was wrong.] Oakland has consistently been the hardest team for me to predict. When I think they’re bad, they do well. When I think they’re good, they stink.

1 UP – GM Billy Beane

For all of the front office turmoil that exists in the league, the one constant is Billy Beane. He’s never put together a championship team for the Athletics, but year in and year out he puts together a better team than you would imagine a team could with their financial limitations. Though it’s probably redundant to mention “financial limitations” and the City of Oakland.

1 DOWN – Josh Donaldson

Well, even the best make mistakes. Trading Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays was a big whiff for Beane. It was supposed to be a clever move to maximize Donaldson’s trade value and avoid his salary increase. Then Donaldson won the AL MVP. As fictional rock stars Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins once opined, “There’s a fine line between stupid and clever.”

2 UP – Sonny Gray

In a starting rotation that is almost all question marks, Sonny Gray stands out as an exclamation point. Oh, man, that is some hacky writing. You know what? I’m not even sorry. You’re reading this for free and it’s not like you could do much better. [Editor’s note: Don’t listen to Jed. I’m sure quite a few of you could do better.]

2 DOWN – The Stadium

One way to make your ballpark stand out from all the other gorgeous state-of-the-art stadiums in the league is to present fans with basically the baseball equivalent of a post-apocalypse coliseum. Come on out for an A’s game. Turn left on Fury Road and park next to Thunderdome.

3 UP – Can’t Have Worse Luck

In gambling, there is something called the gambler’s fallacy, which essentially states that sometimes gamblers think that the odds change on a coin flip depending on what the last coin flip was. If the last one was heads, the next one is more likely to be tails. This is not accurate. At all. Coins don’t remember. They are coins. Baseballs don’t remember either. They are baseballs.

3 DOWN – Sean Doolittle

Crap, I want to have Doolittle as one of the UPs. He’s such a fun player and with his electric fastball, he’s a thrill to watch mowing down batters … like some kind of … electric mower. Doolittle is recovering from an injury and it’s a work in progress. He doesn’t have his velocity all the way back, and he may head back to the disabled list at any time. So, he’s kind of like one of those mowers that isn’t electric and you have to push it all around. [Editor’s note: Seriously, you guys. We are looking for additional writers.]

seattleSeattle Mariners

Do you guys even remember the last time the Mariners made the playoffs? Jeez, it feels like all the way back to Griffey, Buhner, Randy and Edgar. And I don’t think they’ve really even been close since. What a bummer. Well, I guess bad management and questionable owners can do that to a team.

1 UP – Pitching

I really like the Mariners pitching this year. That ballpark tends to favors pitchers anyway, but they’ve got a collection of starters and relievers that could be quite good at suppressing runs. I don’t know if you guys heard, but it’s a lot easier to win games when the opponent doesn’t score. #Science

1 DOWN – Felix Hernandez

King Felix should not be one of the DOWNs. He’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball for so many years now that his demise does seem a bit inevitable. You know what? I’m changing him to an UP. He just had a few bad games last year, but the rest of his season was pretty great.

2 UP – Platoons

My wife probably doesn’t want me to admit this publicly but one of my hobbies is partaking in simulated baseball strategy games like Diamond Mind Online. You compete in a league where each owner selects players from the past, and then the newly assembled teams compete against each other in computer simulated games. I can assure you it’s a lot more nerdy than it sounds. Anyway, one strategy that saves money while building the team is using platoons – where you have a guy who only bats against lefties and a guy who only bats against righties. All of this to say that’s what the Mariners are doing at a couple positions this year and I like it.

2 DOWN – Robinson Cano

I can never fault the previous management for signing Cano to a huge deal. He’s a superstar and some team was going to pay him. He was great in 2013, then solid in 2014 and less so in 2015. He’s doing a reverse Benjamin Button thing. [Editor’s note: Do you mean that instead of aging from old to young, he’s aging from young to old?] [Note to Editor: Yes, I’m surprised a guy as smart as you wouldn’t get that right away.]

3 UP – GM Jerry Dipoto

After he was fired or he quit or resigned or whatever drama went on down in Anaheim with Mike Scioscia, Dipota has now settled in with the Mariners. This is a good thing. The guy before him was a mess. I am not even going to say his name – but that has more to with me not being able to spell it than any feelings I have about him. Dipoto made solid moves in Anaheim – not counting the garbage signings and trades Arte Moreno made. And in case you were wondering, Dipoto means “of the Poto.”

3 DOWN – No Prospects

One other special turd left in the punch bowl of this organization is the depleted farm system. They have one player kind of worth mentioning in Alex Jackson, but they’re probably better served trading him away for a proven asset midseason once the team sees what it needs.

texasTexas Rangers

I know these guys won the division last year, but that was a bit flukey. Frankly, it was surprising to not see a Rangers team flame out at the end of the season; but when you factor in Ron Washington’s absence, it makes more sense. I’m sure Washington is a swell guy and fun to party with (wink, wink – snort, snort), but he wasn’t a good manager.

1 UP – Cole Hamels

Last season, the Rangers made the seemingly odd move of acquiring Hamels from the Phillies. They paid a lot in prospects, but the Rangers have a lot of prospects to pay. The plan was to get Hamels to pair him with Yu Darvish for one-two punch that would make them contenders. Well, they wound up winning the division last year and Hamels was a big part of that.

1 DOWN – Starting Pitchers

Yu Darvish is coming back from Tommy John surgery. We all think of this as a somewhat commonplace endeavor and just assume players will return on a certain timetable and be 100 percent. So, maybe Darvish will make it back in time to help this year. Maybe not. Either way, besides Hamels, the rotation is a bit of a garbage fire.

2 UP – Rougned Odor

I love great baseball prospects. Sure. We all do. But, oh boy, do I love prospects with weird names. Coco Crisp. Joey Pankake. Boof Bonser. Even Mike Trout. Ha! It’s a fish. And of course there’s the reigning champion: Albert Pujols. You have to figure it’s inevitable that Pujols and Odor will play together.

2 DOWN – Adrian Beltre

At a certain point, Beltre has to fall apart for good, right? I can’t even believe the team is talking about giving him a contract extension. They have an awesome third baseman ready to take over in Joey Gallo. Beltre’s skills are diminishing and he’s missing more time to injuries. Let him walk away at the end of the season, take the compensation pick and thank whichever all-powerful entity, or nothingness in which you find comfort, while he struggles for his next team.

3 UP – Yes Prospects

The Rangers have so many good prospects and some of them are very close to helping out the big league club. Gallo, I mentioned, but then there’s the outfield duo of Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson. Damn, those guys already sound awesome. I want a TV show called Brinson & Mazara – two vigilante lawyer doctor baseball players fighting crime.

3 DOWN – The Current Outfield

While we’re all waiting for the arrival of Brinson & Mazara, LLC, the current outfield is weak. Shin-Soo Choo is probably better as a designated hitter, but Prince Fielder has that position. I think Delino DeShields is going to be a bust in center field. And giving away a draft pick to sign Ian Desmond to play left field is weird for a lot of reasons, but mainly because he’s a shortstop. Not a left fielder. They’ve assembled a Frankenstein’s monster of an outfield. See how I called it “Frankenstein’s monster” and not “Frankenstein”? You’re welcome, nerds. [Editor’s note: Ha ha! You just called someone else a nerd.]

And the winner is …

This division seems like it’s going to be a battle between the two Texas teams for years to come, but this year, I’ve got the Houston Astros with the edge. (So, that means the Athletics will win.)

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