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November 12, 2013

One Move

American League West

by Ben Carsley

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This is the fifth installment in the One Move series. If you'd like to check out any of the previous editions in this series, you can find them here: AL Central, NL West, AL East, NL Central.

We’ve reached the end of the junior circuit portion of the One Move series, and what a ride it’s been. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve learned. We’ve argued about the relative worth of a two-WARP pitcher. And, we’re all the better for it.

The AL West is a fun division for this exercise, as it contains three teams with a reasonable shot of contention, each at a different point in their window of contention, and two rebuilding projects, too. That let’s us cover a wide swath of free agents and trade possibilities in the quest to improve each of these franchises for 2014 and beyond.

Houston Astros: Find upside without blocking prospects
We’re all familiar with where the Astros are in their rebuilding process. While they have one of the game’s better farm systems and are starting to integrate their building blocks with the MLB roster, they’re still a long ways away from anything close to contention. They might play well enough in 2014 to avoid landing the first overall pick for the first time in three years, but odds are they’ll be picking in the top three again.

With that being said, it falls on Houston to perform a delicate balancing act, giving their young players enough playing time to ready them for the future without needlessly wasting service time. To that end, the Astros are better off giving the likes of Chris Carter, Matt Dominguez, Robbie Grossman, and Jonathan Villar regular playing time to start the season, along with regulars Jason Castro and Jose Altuve. In the rotation, Jarred Cosart, Jordan Lyles, Brett Olberholtzer, and Brad Peacock should be given at least half a season of starts as well.

Other then that, the Astros should look to bolster their 2014 team with players who can be flipped for assets halfway through the year, or who could conceivably even play well enough to be given qualifying offers at the season’s end. On the offensive side of the ball, this could include players like Corey Hart, Jason Kubel, Franklin Gutierrez, and Chris Young. Starters like Josh Johnson, Gavin Floyd, Mike Pelfrey, and Ryan Vogelsong make sense, and relievers like Carlos Marmol, Joba Chamberlain, Frank Francisco, and Joel Hanrahan could end up as good buy-low candidates, too.

We’re going to start seeing the likes of Jonathan Singleton, George Springer, Mark Appel, Mike Foltynewicz, and Nick Tropeano this season, but they’re unlikely to play all season. Signing a small group of high-upside players could make the 2014 product more watchable without stunting the future, and while potentially adding to it as well.

Los Angeles Angels: Add pitching and don’t panic
Last season was tremendously disappointing for the Angels, who went from preseason division favorites in the eyes of many to a third place finish in the NL West, ending with a run differential of minus-four. The likes of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Howie Kendrick, Jered Weaver, Erick Aybar, and others were injured, underperformed, or both. There’s some sentiment that the Angles should blow the whole thing up, a la the 2012 Red Sox, and start over, but a closer look at Los Angeles’ roster shows that doesn’t need to be the case.

This is a team that finished seventh in the league in runs scored, fifth in OBP, sixth in slugging and 15th in stolen bases. Again, that’s with minimal contributions from about half of their lineup. I’m not suggesting that Pujols and Hamilton are going to return to their MVP day, but I’d put a good amount of money on them producing more than 4.1 WARP combined in 2014. This offense is fine, even if the Angels need to live with Grant Green or Chris Nelson at third base for now.

Yet what the Angels have in potential offense, they lack in pitching. Wilson and Weaver are solid atop the rotation, but you have to worry about the latter’s regression, and Garret Richards is a dubious no. 3 starter for a contender. The Angels bullpen could use some reinforcements as well, as only Ernesto Frieri and Dane De La Rosa are worthy of mention.

Los Angeles doesn’t have a lot of money to play around with by most estimations, but what they do have should certainly be allocated to a mid-rotation starter and to several mid-tier relievers. Despite his lack of star power, Bronson Arroyo would make a lot of sense for the Angels, as could players like Scott Feldman, Chris Capuano or a reunion with Jason Vargas. For relievers, non-closer types like Edward Mujica, Jose Veras, Joe Smith, and J.P. Howell would be solid, economically sound investments. Maybe the Angels will need to trade Trumbo or Kendrick to free up enough cash to pursue the names above, but this Angels team is better off making what pitching upgrades it can than it is trying to conduct a major roster overhaul.

Oakland Athletics: Sign Josh Johnson
One season after finishing fourth in the majors in runs scored and seventh in the league in ERA, the A’s find themselves sitting pretty, losing only Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour among legitimate contributors to their 2013 success. Adding an infielder with some pop or a right-handed compliment to Seth Smith would be wise, but Oakland has Michael Choice ready to add depth in the outfield and to the offense, and could get Scott Sizemore back as well.

The rotation is young and talented, but should Brett Anderson go down with an injury again—and we have to consider that fairly likely at this point—Tommy Milone would likely be next in line for starts. That gives the A’s a lot of pitchers who can log innings at a league-average rate, but not a lot of upside.

Enter Johnson, who has nearly always been a dominant pitcher when healthy. It’s that “when healthy” part that prevents him from stardom, of course, as the Blue Jays found out last year when Johnson threw just 81 1/3 innings. It’s tough to see a team giving him a long-term deal as a result, and Oakland would be a great place for Johnson to rebuild his value on a good team in a favorable ballpark as he attempts to seduce teams into a big free agent payday.

If Johnson stays healthy, the A’s are looking at someone who could anchor a potentially dominant rotation with Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, and Brett Anderson behind him. If Johnson isn’t healthy, Oakland isn’t losing anything but whatever money they spend on his (hopefully incentive-laden) deal. Johnson might be a little pricy compared to what A’s fans are used to, but if Oakland can make the money work this is a gamble worth taking.

Seattle Mariners: Be predictable, sign Jacoby Ellsbury
Yes, this is a boring one. Everyone in the world is predicting that Ellsbury will end up with the Mariners, who have some cash to spend, are in dire need of offense and are relative close to Ellsbury’s home state of Oregon. If baseball’s taught us anything in the era of the #mysteryteam, it’s that this move is too obvious to happen. But, despite the lack of creativity and despite the money involved, Ellsbury would be a wise investment for a team that finished with a minus-130 run differential in 2013.

The Mariners finished with the 22nd most productive offense in baseball last season, ranking 26th in OBP, 28th in steals, and 21st in stolen-base percentage. Two of their three best offensive players, Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, are free agents. Their outfield, as currently constructed, would likely consist of Abraham Almonte, Dustin Ackley, and Michael Saunders. You get the picture.

Ellsbury, meanwhile, picked an opportune time to have the second-best season of his career, hitting .298/.355/.426, going 52-for-56 in stolen base attempts, which partially accounted for his 4.1 WARP. Odds are he’s going to command a six- or seven-year deal worth somewhere between $17-20 million per year, and that’s going to scare a lot of teams off.

But, the Mariners have a hard time luring premiere offensive players to Seattle, have no blue-chip offensive prospects in their system and lack any impact offensive players on their current team as well, with the possible exception of Kyle Seager. Ellsbury is exactly the type of talent they’ve been unable to draft, sign or trade for, and exactly the type of player they need both in their lineup and in the outfield. Might he be an overpay in 2018 and beyond? Sure. But he gives Seattle a much better chance to compete over the next several years as their wave of young pitching and young up-the-middle hitters finally meet at the MLB level.

Texas Rangers: Trade a middle infielder
The Rangers have Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Jurickson Profar all locked up through at least 2017. Their best prospect, courtesy of the BP prospect team, is Rougned Odor, who is a second baseman and will likely be MLB ready at some point this season. This is a good old-fashioned glut, and it’s one the Rangers have neglected to address for over a year now.

In 2013, Andrus put up 2.4 WARP in 698 PA in what was a down year offensively. Kinsler produced 5.2 WARP in 614 PA, in what was the third-best season of his career. Profar produced just 0.1 WARP in 324 sporadic plate appearances, with the bulk of his time coming at second base. Nonetheless, he’s widely considered one of the most promising young players in the game.

In some ways, this leaves Texas in an enviable position. They can deal one of these players in an attempt to shore up their outfield, solidify their first base or catcher position or add to a rotation that could use another above-average arm. In another way, it’s difficult to settle on exactly which player Texas should trade. Kinsler just had the best season, but has the worst contract and is 31. He’d likely bring the worst return of the three. Andrus had a down year but could be an above average shortstop for the next decade, and is just 25 despite his years of experience. And while Profar hasn’t proven anything at the MLB level yet, he’d likely fetch the biggest return.

There’s rampant speculation that Profar will be included in a deal for Giancarlo Stanton or David Price this offseason, and those are really the only types of deals in which a player of his caliber should be included. That being said, Texas shouldn’t go into 2014 with Profar riding the bench again. If they truly can’t find a suitable trade for any of these players, the Rangers should strongly consider moving Kinsler to left field to shore up one weakness, letting Profar play at second and Andrus stay at short. The Rangers aren’t as deep as they’ve been in the past: they can’t keep viewing Profar as a spare part.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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