AL West: Searching in Seattle

Seattle Mariners

An inconsistent offense that crashed in September and finished middle-of-the-pack in both scoring and OPS gets most of the blame for the club's failure to make the 2023 postseason. And at least at this point in the winter, things look even bleaker following the potential loss of free agent RF Teoscar Hernández and trades of LF Jarred Kelenic and 3B Eugenio Suárez. The club got bottom-rung production all last season from its 2B and DH spots—and at least right now it has even more work to do in fielding the MLB-ready offensive depth that's needed to compete with the likes of TEX and HOU in 2024. Fortunately there's still some time before pitchers and catchers report.

Among those MLB-experienced names currently on the roster and penciled in at 2B and 3B respectively, Josh Rojas (.641 OPS, 4 HR over 348 PA) and newly-acquired Luis Urías (.636 OPS in 175 PA) don't exactly get fantasy manager blood pumping. Ditto in the corner OF spots surrounding CF Julio Rodríguez, where left-handed-hitting Dom Canzone—.267 xBA, 132 HctX, xPX in his 182 PA MLB debut—might have a chance if he can produce more commensurately with some of his peripherals and rediscover his Triple-A batting eye. Now 26, one-time prospect Taylor Trammell has long teased with his blend of power, patience and speed—and he put up fine numbers (.920 OPS, 21 HR, 17/4 SB/CS over 391 PA) in the offense-friendly PCL. But Trammell's career .168 BA and 57% ct% in 351 MLB PA over three seasons suggests he may have run out of opportunity in SEA, and our early playing time projections reflect just that.

Coming off his best minor league season between AA/AAA (.902 OPS, 22 HR, 55 SB), versatile new acquisition Ryan Bliss (SS/2B, SEA) could win playing time on this particular roster, as early as Opening Day with a decent March. But questions as to his power abound; be aware that the 23-year-old Bliss gets a low-upside 7B grade from our minor league evaluators and is held in similar esteem elsewhere. More intriguing longer term is 20-year-old top prospect Cole Young (SS/2B, SEA), who only has High-A experience—but whose advanced plate skills could fuel an MLB promotion faster than anticipated, if the Mariners need him. Right now this club has plenty of lineup holes, meaning opportunity for new names and fantasy managers paying attention.


Los Angeles Angels

Courtesy of a two-year, $13.5M deal from last offseason followed a fast 1H start (21 saves, 1.85 / 4.08 ERA/xERA over 34 IP), Carlos Estévez (RHP, LAA) will open 2024 as the LAA closer—but how long this might last is anyone's guess. Minus a GB% tilt that might cushion any damage, Estévez's HR 90% S% corrected in the 2H, fueling an 8+ ERA over the season's final two months. And beyond a career-best 28% K% and plus FB velocity, Estévezs underlying metrics are pedestrian at best. Now minus Shohei Ohtani and with plenty of questions, the Angels look like one of the division's least competitive clubs. Another fast start could make Estévez a trade piece, while any 2H carryover into the new season could bring a fast change. Either way, now in the final season of his contract, Estévez's days as LAA's—or anyone's—closer seem numbered.

A woeful pen and farm system offer no logical / dependable replacements. But while the ninth inning in Anaheim seems likely to become a committee at some point at least for a while, several big arms with some MLB experience should at least be monitored prior to Opening Day. Seemingly recovered from years of injuries, José Soriano (RHP, LAA) held MLB hitters to a .210 BA while posting a 30% K% (15.2  SwK) and a 51% GB% over 42 IP in his MLB debut. Soriano's plus velocity together with 15 holds and a 3.64 / 3.41 ERA/xERA in his MLB debut gives him a leg up in the early competition for late-inning bullpen work ... if he's healthy.

As advertised, Ben Joyce (RHP, LAA) averaged over 100 MPH in his MLB debut—but he struggled otherwise (9 BB, 6 runs allowed in 12 IP) and missed 93 days with elbow issues. Joyce is currently just a flyer until he evidences better health and command at the MLB level.


Texas Rangers

The defending WS champions have some lineup questions at DH and 1B, the latter of which is currently manned by Nathaniel Lowe, whose 17 HR and .775 OPS over 724 PA were a marked decline from 2022 and not particularly great at a premium offensive position.  As noted in the Baseball Forecaster, Lowe wrestled with some family issues for part of the season, isn't old at 28—and still projects as the 2024 starter on Opening Day. But his 2H woes and year-long scuffle vL (.642 OPS over 219 PA) hint that he could become part of a platoon minus an early season turnaround.

Which is where right-handed-hitting Sam Huff C/1B, TEX) begins to look mildly interesting. Following the departure of Mitch Garver via free agency, Huff projects as the backup catcher to Jonah Heim, but he also has plenty of professional 1B experience. He does most of his damage vL, and despite some holes in his swing, there's never been any question about his power (10 HR, 133/147 PX/xPX through 210 PA at the MLB level). Now out of minor league options, Huff could also be used more often at the club's rotating DH spot. Particularly in deeper leagues, both Lowe and Huff are worth watching this spring.


Houston Astros

The (much too) early word out of HOU is that Jake Meyers (OF, HOU) will be given every chance to win the club's long-volatile CF job this spring. The Astros have long been enamored of Meyers' top-shelf defense and speed in CF. But Meyers' offense has been unrosterable fantasy-wise since an intriguing 2021 debut (.761 OPS with decent power metrics over 163 AB) and labrum surgery that ended that season and kept him inactive for most of 2022. Last year, the club gave Meyers 341 PA in which he posted a .678 OPS with poor peripherals, all of which suggests that GM Dana Brown is blowing smoke and looking for a trade opportunity. Maybe he believes that another offseason will aid Meyers' recovery / development, but this spot still looks wide open.

Other holdover CF options from 2023 remain available, at least at this point in the winter. Though he projects early as the Opening Day LF, bat-first Chas McCormick (OF, HOU) logged 55 appearances in CF last year, where he wasn't at all bad defensively. Ditto bench utility Mauricio Dubón (OF/SS, HOU), who made 29 CF appearances and acquitted himself reasonably well both in the field and at the plate despite his lack of power. Both still reasonably project to get CF time; McCormick's deployment there would open up more OF time for DH Yordan Alvarez and at very least gives the club more offensive options at DH. A sub-par farm system doesn't project to help much here over the 1H of 2024. But this is obviously a position that fantasy managers should be watching during the pre-season.


Oakland A’s

Quickly without looking, can you ID the then-Yankee 3B who finished second in ROY voting to Shohei Ohtani back in 2018? None other than Miguel Andújar (OF, OAK), who posted an impressive .297/.328/.527 line that included 27 HR and 92 RBI that season. 2019 shoulder surgery subsequently derailed his MLB ascent and time at 3B—and finally his time in NY this past spring, after being yo-yoed by the Yankees for several years through more injuries despite good Triple-A production.

But the change of scenery apparently did Andújar some good and he was particularly impressive after leaving the organization. With PIT's Triple-A club in Indianapolis, Andújar posted a .338./404/.536 line through 465 PA, with better pitch selection than at any time in his career. He carried this over into a small-sample late-season flash with the Pirates, putting up an .879 OPS supported by an 85% ct% and 165 HctX over 57 PA.

Andújar's glove is suspect and a lofty GB% suggests that his rookie HR will always be a huge outlier. But a career MLB 82% ct% say that the bat-to-ball skills are legitimate, perhaps potent if his newfound patience is real. And now he's signed on with the A's, a team that finished at the bottom of most 2023 offensive categories, are expected to do likewise in 2024, and will have plenty of playing time to give anyone who produces. Right now, Andújar looks like a deep (DEEP) sleeper with the potential to emerge from spring training as something more.

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