As former Rockies General Manager and current MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd said during the 2020 MLB Draft telecast, “Baseball is a hard game to predict the future.”
He’s correct. But I’m going to try and do it anyway.
This is part five of a six-part series where I take a look into my crystal ball (or shiny sphere for a play on words with my last name) and try to predict the next time each team will be ready to contend for the postseason. (This is not necessarily when each team will make the postseason, because there could be more teams that are contenders than playoff spots, whatever that number is going to be going forward.) It’s going to be when can I look at a roster and say, “that team can make the playoffs.” This is obviously a complete shot in the dark because new players will be drafted and trades and free agent signings will happen over the years, but I’m looking at this mainly with the personnel currently in each organization.
We’ve completed the central and east divisions. Now let’s take a look at the AL West.
I don’t like the Astros. You don’t like the Astros. And you may not want to hear this, but they are still a good baseball team. Carlos Correa was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft for a reason. As was Alex Bregman at No. 2. Jose Altuve was there for many losing years and was a star before any cheating scandal was a thing. Michael Brantley has always been able to rake and getting Yordan Alvarez back this year was huge. These guys are good baseball players. I expected a monster year from Correa especially in a contract year. Speaking of contract years, the two big horses in their rotation in Verlander (out with Tommy John) and Greinke will be free agents after this season and while they have some nice depth with Lance McCullers (re-signing him will prove to be a big move), Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia, and Jake Odorizzi, they’d be lacking that No. 1 guy moving forward.
There is no denying this team is trending downward. Losing first and second picks in back-to-back drafts will really hurt them in the long-term, though I liked their approach to chase upside last June in over-slotting Alex Santos. The farm system as a whole, however, is rather barren. Forrest Whitley will be out until at least mid-2022 with Tommy John and is honestly an enigma at this point. Pedro Leon was a big international signing this winter and, at 23, could be their George Springer replacement in center field sooner rather than later, though he has hit tool concerns. But there’s not a lot of impact coming. They are what they are and how long they will be able to keep the band together will determine how long their competitive window can remain open.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
Los Angeles Angels
Wasting Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani on a roster that has been dysfunctional for half a decade because it can never accumulate any pitching. There’s really not much else I need to add here.
As far as the future goes, I am a big Jo Adell believer and, as we saw with Trout, sometimes guys need to go back to Triple-A to make some adjustments. He currently leads all minor leaguers in home runs. He’ll be fine. Brandon Marsh is slumping this year but I think he’ll be okay as well. Those two, along with Trout, will make for an exciting outfield. Jordyn Adams might be the best athlete in baseball but is extremely raw as a hitter. Kyren Paris is really the only bright spot offensively, in terms of prospects, in their system. (Adell is technically no longer a prospect.) They need Reid Detmers to come quick but one guy in the rotation is not going to save this mess and I really don’t know what will. Forever mediocre.
Projected playoff contenders: Maybe 2023? I really don’t know
The A’s are one of those teams that are hard to figure out. Some years they are at the top of the division and some years they look lost. This year appears to be the former and Matt Olson is a big reason why. Always a power threat and a gold-glove caliber first baseman, he’s hitting for average this year and should be in the MVP conversation at this rate. Though his counterpart at the hot corner, Matt Chapman, is having a down year, you figure he’s going to get hot at some point. Mark Canha and even Jed Lowrie are having solid years as well. There’s plenty of offense here.
Their pitching is getting the job done, though for me, Jesus Luzardo was the x-factor and he was essentially a non-factor bouncing back and forth between the rotation and bullpen before being sent down. But they’re getting nice years from Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, and Cole Irvin and their bullpen has been excellent (even without having Trevor Rosenthal after signing him in Spring Training). It’s also good to see former Yankee first rounder James Kaprielian healthy and having success. A.J. Puk is really an I don’t know at this point, probably a reliever at best which is a shame.
As far as the future goes, it’s a similar situation to Houston where there’s not much immediate help coming. Tyler Soderstrom and Robert Puason can be big players for them, but they’re at least three years away. I like Nick Allen as a defensive wizard at short but he won’t have much offensive impact. I do think Luzardo making it as a starter will be important for the A’s long-term, as they don’t have much young starting pitching coming aside from Daulton Jefferies, who profiles as a back-end guy.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
This may be the easiest review I’ve written. The Mariners are going to dominate the division this decade and it’s really not difficult to foresee. An outfield of Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic (he’ll be fine), and Julio Rodriguez (best hitting prospect in the game) is going to be absolutely insane. Noelvi Marte somewhere in the infield with Evan White winning gold gloves at first and Cal Raleigh behind the plate. Most of the pieces are already in house.
You want pitching? They have that too. Logan Gilbert, Emerson Hancock (second best player in the 2020 Draft), and perhaps the best command in the minors in George Kirby will make for one of the top rotation trios in the game. Some combination of Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Juan Then, Brandon Williamson, Connor Phillips, Isaiah Campbell, and Sam Carlson will round out the rotation and could factor into the bullpen.
This is how a rebuild is done. But not only is Seattle loaded, they are timing their window perfectly with the declines of the Astros and A’s, the perpetual mediocrity of the Angels and the Rangers are yikes. There’s really no competition here once they get going and won’t be for a long time.
Projected playoff contenders: 2022
This team is a mess. I think I can confidently say the Rangers will be the worst team in baseball this decade. They’re that bad. There’s literally nothing on their current roster that I would want on a contending team. Maybe Dane Dunning as a back-end arm. But that’s it. There’s not even anything here to sell this summer except Ian Kennedy and Kyle Gibson, who are having nice years. But what are they realistically going to get you? And Joey Gallo has zero value because every hitter in the game has become him. They waited too long on that one.
This rebuild essentially started with the 2019 Draft when they selected Josh Jung, who I like more than Andrew Vaughn because I don’t think the bats are all that different and he can play third base. Sam Huff could be an answer behind the plate. Cole Winn seems to be righting the ship after a lackluster 2019 season and I think Hans Crouse can remain a starter. But what really puzzled me, and a lot of people in the game, was their 2020 Draft strategy. They under-slotted Justin Foscue at 14 to take Evan Carter at 50, who wasn’t on the Baseball America Top 500 list. They then proceeded to over-slot Tekoah Roby, Dylan MacLean, and Thomas Saggese in Rounds 3-5. They obviously like these players and felt they would’ve gotten more attention had there been a full season last spring. But the extremely early returns on those picks have not been great (though Carter has a high on-base percentage and MacLean has yet to pitch in a game). They’re picking second next month, will likely be top three again next year and I’d bet they’re going to be a fixture near the top of the draft for years to come. Hats off to Chris Young for taking this GM job. He has his work cut out for him.
Projected playoff contenders: 2027