With the regular season just around the corner and the post-lockout frenzy just about over, it’s time to assess the Mariners’ competition in the AL West. Instead of going team-by-team this year, we’re going to compare the three major player groups on each team to each other: the lineups, the starting rotations, and the bullpens. Hopefully, we’ll answer three questions for each of these teams: what’s new, what’s good, what’s bad. A lot has changed for these four division rivals, so make sure you read up on the opposition before the season starts.
Angels Projected Lineup
The Angels didn’t do a ton of adding to their lineup this off-season; their splash move, if you want to call it that, was locking up catcher Matt Stassi on a three-year contract. But you don’t really need splash moves when your lineup has two current or former MVPs, a two-time silver slugger, and the former #2 prospect in baseball. Oh, yeah, and that current MVP, who some posit could be even better than last year thanks to the new universal DH. In 2021, the Mariners got to see the reigning AL MVP take 84 at-bats against them, more than any other team in baseball; this year, they’ll get to see #ShowTani even more thanks to the “Shohei Ohtani rule,” which allows him to finish out games he pitches in the batting order even after his pitching appearance is done for the day. Good for the Angels and for baseball, bad for the Mariners, such is the order of things.
While this is largely the stars-and-scrubs approach we’ve seen from Angels teams of years past, there is some sneaky upside hidden among the scrubs. Jo Adell has struggled to get his strikeouts under control, but has shown signs of decreasing his whiffs and increasing his contact over the past season, when the Angels were able to slow-play him in Triple-A to start. He could be close, frighteningly close for Mariners fans, to leaping into that stars tier above. Brandon Marsh, too, has offered the Angels more than expected out of someone who never appeared on top prospect lists; like Adell, he also struggled with an exaggerated whiff rate, although unlike Adell, Marsh has generally commanded the zone well through the minors. Those who believe in a Marsh breakout point at his good underlying metrics: he barrels the ball up well above average (10.6%), in the sweet spot over 40% of the time, with an average exit velocity in the top 2% of baseball, and his launch angle is consistently in the ideal range of 10-30 degrees. On the opposite side of the barrel party, there’s also the possibility that David Fletcher’s miserable, barrel-free 2021 was an anomaly; at the least, his contact skills should rebound some of that value and provide a safe floor for the other stars to dance upon.
Stars and scrubs, as anyone who’s played OOTP can tell you, is a risky way to construct a roster, although less risky when your stars are quite this starry. Still, too many off-days or an ill-timed injury to the star tier, combined with disappointments from the maybe tier, and suddenly you’re looking at 1300 plate appearances’ worth of Taylor/Tyler Wade/Ward. Obviously the Angels had other needs to address, like the smoking crater where their starting pitching should be, but landing one of the shortstops in this free-agent class rather than depending on an unholy trinity of former Mariner Jack Mayfield, former Mariner Luis Rengifo, and somehow not-a-former Mariner Andrew Velazquez (the former two of which will probably put up a combined 5 wins against the Mariners because the Earth is a cold godless marble rotating in empty space) would have for sure taken this team from fringe-contender to playoff lock. —KP
Astros Projected Lineup
This is my second take at previewing the 2022 Astros, and though I’m mostly attempting to cross-promote my work I mention that because the crux of my statement on Houston’s lineup a few weeks ago is even truer now.
“As it stands, this is the weakest Houston lineup on Opening Day in a half decade, particularly with [Michael] Brantley and Yuli Gurriel doing an increasingly challenging battle with Father Time. It’s also still one of the most potent lineups in the entire American League.”
Since then, Carlos Correa signed with the Minnesota Twins in an absolute shocker that leaves Houston with a lot of chips in the pot, holding a hand with Jeremy Peña-high and hoping for healthy Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman on the turn and the river. It’s a risky move by way of inaction, something Houston has been defined by avoiding in recent seasons. The club that aggressively added and retained talented players at any cost to an already-playoff bound club like Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Roberto Osuna, and Michael Brantley. The lineup they bring into 2022 remains flush with both lofty floors and soaring ceilings, but there are at long last cracks pushing apart the caulk holding things together in Houston.
Three of Houston’s top six hitters are past age 30, with Jose Altuve at 32, Brantley at 35, and Yuli Gurriel at 38. Their battery duo is a platoon of 35 year olds in Martín Maldonado and Jason Castro, while their bench is also more veteran, set to rely on Aledmys Díaz and Niko Goodrum for utility work due in large part due to disappointments and departures in the farm system. The vets in the lineup are some of the sport’s most consistent performers and even if they see reasonable decline they should pace Houston for 90+ wins again. Arguably more variable is whether their stars can shine brightly and healthily enough to lift them once more to their sixth straight ALCS and beyond.
Despite losing Correa and George Springer in consecutive seasons, the ‘Stros have reason to believe in their remaining core. Alvarez is a monster masher still entering just his age-25 season, and while he will be relegated often to DH-only, anything that can keep his knees healthy and his bat in the lineup is a recipe for success in H-Town and trouble elsewhere. Kyle Tucker finally (mostly) arrived in 2021, with the long-winding Bellinger-lite basher finally crawling a bit further past platoon status. In a sense he may be “Jesse Winker, but with elite defense” in a corner outfield spot, but that is extremely potent for another 25 year old. Bregman’s nagging lower body issues kept him out for a month and change in 2021, but the soon-to-be 28 year old is just two years removed from being one of baseball’s most dominant bats. The de-juicing of the baseball likely hurt Bregman as predicted, but everything about his game screams excellence all the same. Moreover, the former standout shortstop could help ease the burden of Correa’s departure on occasions, though the reality is the club will likely put a great deal of responsibility on Peña.
That may be where this lineup rests its hopes, ultimately. Surprisingly, Houston neither made a move for a shortstop nor a center fielder, choosing instead to rely on a mixture of Chas McCormick and presently-injured Jake Meyers. In essence then, it’s plausible to envision a Houston lineup as intended featuring three below-average hitters for the first time in years. Progress! Peña’s reputation is rightfully earned as a brilliant defender, and while his bat has shown serious promise, he doesn’t have a power-filled track record. Houston is banking big on their next man up being the next big thing, but they need that next to be now. —JT
Athletics Projected Lineup
I resisted the urge to fill the table above with a list of question marks. Such is the status of the Athletics lineup after they traded their two biggest stars Matt Olson and Matt Chapman — as well as rotation mainstay Chris Bassitt — this offseason for a haul of prospects. Even more worryingly, there are now no Matts or Marks on their roster. There are still some holdovers from the Oakland rosters that put up back-to-back 97 win seasons in 2018 and ‘19 and won the division in ‘20. After serving the remaining 27 games of his PED suspension, Ramón Laureano will likely be the most recognizable name on their roster, though he ought to think about packing a go-bag because he’ll likely be traded this summer if things go to plan. In fact, anyone over the age of 28 should probably get ready to move this summer, especially if they have a good start to the season, because the teardown in Oakland is just getting started.
They will have a couple of core pieces of the next great A’s roster playing for them in 2022. Cristian Pache was one of the headlining prospects coming back from Atlanta for Olson. He’s an elite defender in center field and pushes Laureano into right field where his rocket arm will definitely play up. The problem for Pache is his bat. He hit just .265/.330/.414 at Triple-A in 2021 and really struggled in his limited time in the majors so far. He’s only 23 and the glove will carry him a long way, but if Oakland wants to build around him, his offensive contributions will need to sort themselves out in a hurry. Kevin Smith was one of the prospects that came over from Toronto and slots into Chapman’s old spot at the hot corner. He has some nice power but contact issues prevent him from getting to it all that often. He’s probably not a long-term solution at third base but will probably end up playing a Chad Pinder-esque role in the future as soon as the current-Chad Pinder is traded.
The rest of the A’s lineup is made up of veterans hoping to rekindle some production late in their careers in the hopes that they’ll be traded this summer to a contender for one last shot at a ring. Eric Thames is back on American shores again, this time returning from a one-year stint in Japan where he played for the Yomiuri Giants. Oakland also re-signed Jed Lowrie who had a bit of a resurgence down by the bay last season. They also reunited with longtime fan favorite Stephen Vogt on a one-year deal. The A’s farm system is ripe with catching prospects, especially after trading for Shea Langeliers, so Vogt is likely around for one last hurrah before the youngsters take over behind the plate.
It will be a while until the outline of the next group of prospects to carry the A’s back to relevance is formed. Until then, the common refrain when there’s an Athletic standing in the opposing batters box against the Mariners will be, “Who is this guy?” —JM
Rangers Projected Lineup
Eight years and one day ago, the Seattle Mariners signed a wayward giant, two days removed from his release by the Nationals and five months into his recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) surgery. Chris Young proved to be, per then-Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, “a godsend” for the team that season, pitching capably for 165 innings and winning Comeback Player of the Year. The Princeton alum extended his playing career until 2018, when he moved into the business side of baseball as MLB’s Vice President, On-Field Operations, Initiatives & Strategy. In December of 2020, Dallas-born Young returned to his Texan roots when the Rangers named him as their General Manager.
Young’s first season as GM was rough, but he’s been forthcoming about it. “We were a 102-loss team. We haven’t run from that. But we have a vision, we have a plan and this is how we’re going to accomplish it,” Young said. He brought it up to free agents this off-season and asked them “‘Does this scare you? Do you want to be part of this? Do you want to do something special that’s never been done in Texas Ranger history?’” The pitch seemed to work, because in the span of 48 hours, the Rangers signed Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Kole Calhoun and Jon Gray. They also signed ‘ol nemesis of athleticism Brad Miller and acquired catcher Mitch Garver in a trade that sent AL West pest Isiah Kiner-Falefa (and a prospect) to the Twins. All told, only two players on the Rangers’ projected starting lineup/bench were drafted/signed as an IFA by Texas.
FanGraphs projects the team overall to be just a hair better than the A’s this season, with a 74-88 record. PECOTA is more bearish on their record, but predicts a similar fourth-place finish. It is, to be fair, a marked improvement over last year, and though this may not be their year, in my opinion the Rangers’ offense has one of the sneakiest high ceilings of any team in the league. Then again, for all that broadcasters may gripe about the changing state of baseball, pitching is still required in games — but I’m getting ahead of myself in these previews…
It remains to be seen if Rangers fans will echo Lloyd McClendon’s description of Young, but I wouldn’t put anything past the man who earned his Ivy League degree in [no] politics after penning 61 pages on the integration of baseball and racial attitudes in America from the back of a minor league bus. With this powerful lineup and what many have referred to as the org’s best prospect depth in years, I’m cautiously petrified by the divisional havoc they may wreak.
(Side note: If you, like me, have your interest piqued by this inexplicable team, you’re in luck! Rangers fans are blessed to have an excellent SBN site and two exceptional reporters covering this beat: Levi Weaver, friend of the pod and son of a rodeo cowboy/preacher, and Kennedi Landry, fab Twitter follow. —IM
(Update: Added summary section)
AL West Lineup Summary
|Team||Runs Scored/Game||wRC+||Cumulative fWAR|
|Team||Runs Scored/Game||wRC+||Cumulative fWAR|
As you can see above, the Astros are projected to lead the division in runs scored, though the Angels, Mariners, and Rangers aren’t that far behind. Last year, each of those three teams posted below average marks per team wRC+ and each of them are projected for a massive improvement in 2022. The Mariners haven’t posted a team wRC+ as high as 110 since 2002, when they won 93 games but fell short of the playoffs anyway.