When the Houston Astros captured their first World Series title last week, it was just the third time an AL West team had gone the distance in the last 28 years. Overall, the Astros and the Los Angeles Angels have each won just one World Series since their inception and the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers have yet to win a championship. The Oakland A’s are the oldest team in the AL West and have won four titles, though none since 1989 (The A’s also won five World Series when the franchise was in Philadelphia). Of the five teams in the division, the Mariners are the only team that has yet to win an AL pennant.
So what moves should these teams make to reach the ultimate goal, or in Houston’s case, repeat as champions? Here’s a look (TR = traded; FA = Free Agent):
AL West Hot Stove
Ken Giles (Demotion) doesn’t fit into the trade or free agent pile. As a matter of fact, the Astros’ incumbent closer should stay put, but he should be moved to a setup role. Greg Holland sits atop the list of available free agent closers and the remainder are nothing to write home about. The Astros should pursue a closer via a trade rather than use their money for Holland, and keep Giles out of that role.
Josh Reddick (TR) is coming off one of his best seasons in the Major Leagues and he was a key cog in the Astros’ title machine. The 30-year old outfielder produced career-highs in average (.314), on-base percentage (.363), slugging percentage (.484), and doubles (34) in 2017. Reddick recorded 540 plate appearances, just the third time he’s topped 500 PAs in his nine-year career.
Reddick also topped 130 games played in a season for just the third time due to a career plagued by injuries – he’s been on the disabled list seven times over the past five seasons. That being said, Reddick’s value will never be higher than it is right now. He has three years and $39M left on the free agent contract he signed with the Astros prior to last season. If he can stay healthy, that’s a pretty good bargain for a veteran outfielder. With former first round (2014) draft choice Derek Fisher knocking at the door for playing time, the Astros could use Reddick to add bullpen depth or pick up a catcher if they are unable to sign free agent Jonathan Lucroy.
Yunel Escobar (FA) had a decent season as the starting shortstop for the Halos, but it’s time to move on. On to Zack Cozart, that is. The Cincinnati Reds’ shortstop is a free agent as well and his bat would be a good addition to the Angels’ lineup. Like many free agents before him, Cozart had his best season in his walk year. He set personal highs of 24 home runs, 63 RBI (tied), .297 batting average, .385 on-base percentage, .548 slugging percentage, .933 OPS, and 62 walks.
Ryon Healy (TR) trade rumors began spreading as soon as the World Series started, and on Wednesday night the A’s made the rumors a reality. Healy will don a Mariners uniform next year after being traded for pitcher Emilio Pagan and infielder Alexander Campos. The move reportedly was made to allow Khris Davis to be the full-time DH in Oakland.
Yonder Alonso (FA) had a breakout season for the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners last season. Having never hit double digits in home runs before, the 30-year old hit 28 and drove in a career-high 67 runs. However, half of those home runs and nearly half of the RBI came in the first two months of the season. The Mariners should let Alonso walk, especially since they only gave up a middling prospect (Boog Powell) to acquire him from the A’s.
This now seems like a foregone conclusion after the Mariners acquired Healy Wednesday night.
Felix Hernandez (TR) aka “The King” will be 32-years old at the start of the 2018 season. It’s hard to believe that he’ll only be 32 since it feels like he’s been pitching forever. The past two seasons have been below Hernandez’s standards, and due to shoulder bursitis, he made only 16 starts in 2017. That came on the heels of his previous low for games started (25), which occurred in 2016.
At first blush, it appears that eight straight years of 200+ innings pitched and a pair of 190+ innings pitched in the two seasons prior to that have caught up to the right-hander. His strikeouts have decreased while walks have increased. Hernandez’s WAR for the past two seasons were at the Reserve Level (1.6, 0.8). Will Hernandez continue in a downward spiral or will he become “The King” once more? It’s a tough question to answer. Hernandez is owed over $54M for the final two years of his contract (there’s a $1M team option for 2020 should Hernandez have more arm issues down the road). Though he does not have value at the moment, the Mariners should try to deal him at the 2018 deadline.
Joey Gallo‘s (TR) power explosion (41 HR) in 2017 was what everyone in the organization and around baseball had been waiting for. The former first round (2012) draft choice out of Bishop Gorman HS (Las Vegas, NV) had put on tremendous displays of power in the minor leagues but was unable to get it to translate in his short stints in the Majors. Then it all came together for Gallo when the Rangers gave him a chance to get over 500 plate appearances.
Though he hit a mere .209, Gallo drew 75 walks for a .333 OBP and slugged .537, and he did it at just 23-years of age. Now for the drawbacks: Gallo drove in 80 runs, which is less than two runs per home run hit. Only 15 of his home runs came with men on base. He also struck out 196 times, and 34 of his home runs came against right-handers. Texas is in desperate need of starting pitching and Gallo could be the guy to get them a top-notch starter. At the very least, the Rangers’ office should explore and listen to deals.
Shin Soo-Choo (TR) must love the number 22. After all, he hit 22 home runs this year, the third time in his career that he has accomplished this feat. His .780 OPS and 78 RBI were a nice bounce back from an injury-plagued 2016 season when he appeared in just 48 games. However, Texas will have to eat some salary to move Choo, should they choose to do so. Then again, it was Texas that foolishly gave Choo a 7-year, $130M deal, a pact that still has three years and $62M remaining on it. By trading Choo, the Rangers can plug prospect Willie Calhoun, acquired at the trade deadline for Yu Darvish, into the DH spot.
So, there you have it. The early American League Hot Stove report. Things are starting to heat up more with the General Managers’ meetings and will continue to do so through November and December. Stay tuned for more Hot Stove.