AL West preview: The Rangers are drunk on TV money

Back in 2010, the Texas Rangers signed a new 20-year TV contract that was worth an estimated $1.6 to $3 billion. In 2020, they opened up a new ballpark in the middle of that pandemic shortened season. And prior to the MLB lockout that began on December 2nd, the Rangers went fucking nuts in the free agent market.

Texas will be spending $78.2 million on free agents they signed prior to the lock out alone this season and in nearly $600 million over the life of the four contracts. It was a huge splash for a squad that finished dead last in the AL West with 102-losses. With a farm system that’s ranked 11th in baseball, this investment feels mistimed at best. But they’ve done it and it’ll be interesting to see what happens one the season starts.

This off season is going to generate a ton of fan interest which will put butts in seats for the first couple months of the season. Which should mean more buisness/activity in the entertainment district the Rangers built next to Globe Life Park — not Globe Life Field, their former home. So it makes sense, but I just…I struggle to see the long term vision for the franchise at this point.


The division

Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim

2021 season summary: The Angles finished the 2021 season with a record of 77-85 thanks to a shit-ton of injuries. In particular their position players seemed to spend more time on the injured list then off it; and that’s why LAA finished with only 13.1 fWAR from its bats with a wRC+ of 94. The pitching staff earned 15.4 fWAR despite the fact that the Angles bullpen was incredibly shaky at times throughout. Fortunately for Los Angeles, Shohei Ohtani finally found his stride as both a bat and a starting pitcher — he was worth 5.1 wins on offense and 3 as a starting pitcher for a combined 8.1 wins in 2021.

Off season acquisitions: Anaheim’s biggest move was the decision to sign right handed pitcher Noah Syndergaard for $21 million. Bullpen arm Michael Lorenz was also brought in on a one-year deal, for $6.75 million, to shore-up the Angels leaky bullpen. Another bullpen arm that was signed was Ryan Tepera to a two-year, $14 million deal. Matt Duffy was another bullpen arm that was brought in on a two-year contract (this time for $1.5 million).

There was a ton of activity at the minor league level, but no one really left that was important to the Angels in 2021.

2022 Outlook: If Joe Maddon’s squad can avoid injuries in 2022, which is a big if, then the Angels should bounce back. The big question is going to be the health of center fielder Mike Trout. If the future Hall of Fame outfielder bounces back solidly — and is managed appropriately — he will make a huge impact on LAA’s season; the offense wasn’t the same without him and it showed. This is a squad that could easily be in the 85- to 90- win range this season and has a really good shot at snagging one of the three Wildcard spots.

Houston Astros

2021 season summary: It’s starting to feel like the current Astros core is running out of time; the 2021 squad won 95 games and reached its third World Series since its move to the American League (fourth including their lone NL pennant). Houston’s success last season was primarily on the backs of the 33.9 wins its position players were worth — with a wRC+ of 116. It’s pitching staff earned a solid, but not spectacular, fWAR of 16.9 with a FIP of 4.12.

Off season acquisitions: Signed reliever Héctor Neris to a two-year contract worth $17 million with a third-year club option. Niko Goodrum, an infielder/outfielder, was signed to a one-year deal worth $2.1 million.

Carlos Correa was lost in free agency to the Minnesota Twins.

2022 Outlook: Losing Correa is going to be a huge hit to the Astros offense. While they still have Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, and Yuli Gurriel (the three other players who posted more than 3 fWAR last year), the age of those players is going to be a factor going forward. Since the pitching staff is intact, and the core is still a couple years away from aging out, this is still the most complete roster in the AL West. Houston should be in that 90- to 95-win range yet again and win the division fairly comfortably.


Oakland Athletics

2021 season summary: In what turned out to be the last hurray for the Athletics’ core, the A’s finished with 86-wins which was good enough for a third place finish in the unexpectedly hyper-competitive AL West. Oakland’s offense was one of the more impressive ones in its division last season as they had a wRC+ of 102 and earned a total fWAR of 22.8 over the course of the season. And it’s not like the A’s pitching was bad either, with a FIP of 4.10 and a collective fWAR of 15.1 they were a solid unit. Unfortunately , they just didn’t have the luck and extremely dominate bullpen Seattle did which left the Athletics in third.

Off season acquisitions: The Athletics received right handed pitcher Gunnar Hoglund, southpaw Zach Lohue, Kirby Snead, and infielder Kevin Smith in their trade with Toronto for third baseman Matt Chapman. Oakland also traded away first baseman Matt Olson for outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher Shae Langeliers, along with right handed pitchers Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes. They also signed Sam Selman to a one-year contract and then optioned him down to Triple-A. Also, as of Sunday morning, the Athletics traded away Sean Manaea for two of San Diego’s prospects.

2022 Outlook: Oakland’s offense and defense took a huge hit when it traded away Chapman and Olson. While the pitching staff is still anchored by several studs, it’s going to be a tough season offensively. It’s widely believed that the A’s are starting to shed salary as their previous core hit arbitration and we’ll probably see most of the starting staff moved at the trade deadline as well. While the A’s are going to struggle this season, I have a lot more faith in their bullpen and starting staff than I do in the Rangers; which is why I firmly expect the Athletics to be between 70- to 75-wins.

Seattle Mariners

2021 season summary: The 2021 Mariners were arguably the luckiest team in the history of Major League Baseball and easily the luckiest 90-win team. Seattle went an insane 33-19 in one-run games last season, and that was on the backs of the bullpen — which was collectively worth 7 wins with a FIP of 3.72. To put that 7 fWAR in perspective, Seattle’s entire pitching staff was worth 14.3 fWAR in 2021 (starters and bullpen arms). That bullpen success came despite the fact that Andrés Muñoz and Ken Giles missed practically the entire season. As for the M’s position players, they put up an fWAR of 11.4 with a wRC+ of 93.

Off season acquisitions: Traded for infielder/outfielder Adam Frazier from San Diego for a pair of minor league prospects. Signed reigning AL Cy Young award winner Robbie Ray to a five-year contract worth $115 million – with a player opt-out after the third season. Seattle also traded for Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez from Cincinnati with a bit of minor league pitching depth. And finally, the M’s signed Sergio Romo to a one-year deal as well.

Seattle let Kyle Seager and Yusei Kikuchi walk in the off season. While Seager retired from baseball after 11 seasons; Kikuchi agreed to a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.

2022 Outlook: With Winker and Suárez (especially if he bounces back) this is a much better line-up than it was a year ago. And while it would be fun to think that the bullpen could come somewhere near its production last year, that is highly unlikely; which means that the M’s are expected to see less wins than they did last year. Matt Brash has locked up a spot in the starting rotation, along with Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen, and Logan Gilbert; it’s a rotation with a potential to be excellent and dangerous stuff. I think Seattle is also in that 85- to 90-win range depending on if some of the young guys can take that next step — and if Julio Rodriguez is any where near his ZiPS projections — this line-up will be explosive.


Texas Rangers

2021 season summary: Last season the Rangers were absolutely atrocious. Texas earned a combined 12.1 fWAR from its position players last season as they collectively posted a wRC+ of 84. As for its pitching, that group was somehow worse with a FIP of 4.76 and a fWAR of 4.5 over 1,424.1 innings pitched. Joey Gallo’s 3.3 fWAR was the most on the roster and the Rangers most valuable pitcher was Kyle Gibson at 1.9. I am completely and utterly flummoxed as to how that squad even won 60 games in 2021.

Off season acquisitions: The Rangers signed SS Corey Seager to a 10-year, $325 million deal with $140 million of that coming in the first four-years of the contract. That was followed up by signing Marcus Semien to a seven-year, $175 million deal — Semien is 31 years old. To fix the pitching staff, right handed pitcher Jon Gray was signed for four-years and $56 million. Oh, and infielder/outfielder Brad Miller netted a two-year, $10 million contract as well.

Meanwhile, the Rangers really didn’t lose anyone. They shuffled players around the farm around to make room for their new off season signings. But no one of note was let go or departed the organization this past off season.

2022 Outlook: With the additions of Seager and Semien the offense is going to be better, and Gray is automatically their best pitcher as we head into 2022. But I find it highly unlikely that this squad has enough talent around the free agent signings to seriously threaten for one of the three Wildcard spots; let alone a .500 finish. This season is a huge success for Texas if they get around 70 wins.

Predicted standings and record

TeamsRecordGames back
Y-Houston Astros94 – 68
X-Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim87 – 757
X-Seattle Mariners85 – 779
Oakland Athletics73 – 8919
Texas Rangers 68 – 9426
Y- division champ; X- wildcard spot

Fangraphs projections

TeamRecordWin divisionClinch byeClinch WCMake playoffsWin World Series
Houston Astros90 – 7271.1%49.3%13.7%84.8%9.4%
LA Angels83 – 7918.3%10.1%24.1%42.4%2%
Seattle Mariners79 – 838%3.7%14.4%22.4%0.7%
Texas Rangers75 – 872.2%0.8%4.7%6.9%0.1%
Oakland Athletics70 – 920.4%0.1%1.3%1.7%0.0%
It should be noted that I rounded up or down for the decimal point on the predicted records for Fangraphs

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