Moving to the AL West, there are two obvious choices in my mind as play-off contenders go. Most everyone has the Astros ranked first overall and it is a hard position to argue. Certainly, they are first in the AL. Their very deep rotation is now not so deep, as they lost Verlander and Odorizzi. The Astros had a lengthy stretch through free agency without a general manager this winter, and failed to replace either pitcher. McCullers won’t start the season on time this year due to injury recovery. That leaves Urquidy, Valdez, Javier and Garcia as the first four, with the potentially huge talent of Hunter Brown as the most likely fifth starter. There is no denying the talent in that rotation, but the Astros won’t likely be as lucky with pitcher injuries this year, so starter depth will be a question mark. There isn’t much change in the bullpen, which is a good thing. This is a formidable and balanced relief corps.
On offense, the Astros lost Gurriel at first base, but replaced him ably with Mr. Consistency, Jose Abreu. A good number of the Astros stars are on the older side of prime; Bregman, Altuve, Brantley and Abreu to name four. Not that they aren’t still a formidable group, but more frequent injury is a concern. Houston also has their share of young and formidable players. Pena at shortstop put rest to any concerns about losing Correa in 2022. Alvarez is the real thing, with Tucker not far behind. There isn’t a lot of offense out of Maldonado at catcher, but the Astros have a pair of highly rated catching prospects in Lee and Yainer Diaz. Diaz could also see some reps at DH. Speaking of which, the DH is a one of the only question marks for the Astros. Brantley will be used, otherwise it may be “designated hitter by committee”. Talking about another oldster, Dusty Baker is in his seventies, but is back for another season. I’d keep Baker until he was in his eighties, if he were willing.
Can the Astros repeat? The potential is there, and there are no real weak spots in the line-up, but age, and consequently roster depth, are the biggest concerns.
The Seattle Mariners aren’t likely to catch the Astros, but look to have the pitching (starting and relief) to make the play-offs two times running. The question remains: did they add enough on offense to go deeper into the post season this year? Picking up Castillo down the stretch last year gave Seattle a legitimate ace, but he is not the only talented starter. Ray took his time but finally produced last year, Gilbert and Kirby have more than stepped up, and the Mariners have fine potential in Miller and Brast. Unlike the Astros and most other teams, Seattle has plenty of additional quality depth starters. The bullpen was terrific last year, and even trading Swanson, it is still very deep on paper.
On offense, Seattle traded for some badly needed outfield offensive power in Teoscar Hernandez, and a plus second-baseman in Kolton Wong. The Mariners didn’t pursue Winker or Haniger. They have the crown jewel in Rodriguez in center, a potential MVP. They are by and large a very low team in batting average, but have home run power in Rodriguez, Hernandez, and Suarez, plus 30 dinger power from their catcher. There are questions in left field and DH. The Mariners gambled on AJ Pollock after a very bad season last year and are banking on Kelenic to finally produce in the big leagues. So, not the line-up of the Astros, but great pitching depth.
Are there other American league teams who’ll challenge? No doubt. Watch for the Twins. We will see when it is all over..