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MLB offseason: Astros headline AL West offseason preview

Editor’s Note: With the Winter Meetings just a couple of weeks away, will be previewing every division and identifying each team’s offseason needs. First up, the top-heavy AL West, where one team (Seattle) is already committing to a rebuild.

Houston Astros

How They Finished: 103–59, lost in ALCS to Boston Red Sox

What They Need: As a 103-win team with a relatively intact core, the Astros don’t need much—but there’s always something to be done. Houston’s rotation was the best in baseball in 2018, but two key members (Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel) are now free agents. Another (Lance McCullers, Jr.) has already been announced out for the season with Tommy John. The team’s starting pitching, then, will likely be the biggest focus for the winter. The other key positional need is catcher. Brian McCann, who had been the club’s primary backstop for the last two seasons, is now a free agent; Martin Maldonado, who was picked up at last year’s deadline, is, too. That leaves a roster with just Max Stassi—who filled in capably at the position last year, but Houston will still probably be looking to add on there.

How To Get It: The Astros could potentially be in the conversation for the best starter on the market, Patrick Corbin. But there’s not a whole lot of depth out there behind him—though there’s certainly some, including names like Nathan Eovaldi and J.A. Happ, which could be on the table—and instead, a trade might be in play. Houston has had to dip into its farm system for deals in recent years, but there’s still enough there to make a splash, if desired. If Cleveland decides to go forward with putting up Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco, or if Arizona shows interest in moving Zack Greinke or Robbie Ray? The Astros could be right there. As for the catcher’s spot, they’ve been linked to J.T. Realmuto—which would solve their problems there, considering that he’s the best backstop available.

Oakland A’s

How They Finished: 97–65, lost in AL Wild Card Game to New York Yankees

What They Need: The A’s made it to the playoffs last season despite their tattered starting pitching, not because of it. (Edwin Jackson and Brett Anderson high on the depth chart in the Year of Our Lord 2018!) Adding a little rotation depth should be a prime focus, then. They’ll also likely need a new second baseman, as Jed Lowrie is a free agent.

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How To Get It: Given Oakland’s modus operandi, look for inexpensive veterans and reclamation projects. Starters like Tyson Ross or Doug Fister seem like the type of pitchers Oakland would sign. (The A’s goal is mostly to bulk up as protection against the injuries that ravaged their rotation in 2018, after all, rather than to build a quality rotation from scratch.) At the keystone, Daniel Descalco looks like a potential fit—a utility guy with multidimensional value who’s still in Oakland’s price range, thanks to the fact that he’s a 32-year-old with recent offensive improvements that are questionably sustainable.

Seattle Mariners

How They Finished: 89–73

What They Need: The Mariners were right on the brink of contention; so far, though, their winter indicates that they’re interested in temporarily dialing back for a minor rebuild, rather than going for it. They’ve already sent away James Paxton, Mike Zunino and Guillermo Heredia, but several other prominent trade chips remain. Reports indicate that two of their most valuable options, closer Edwin Diaz and outfielder Mitch Haniger, will be staying put—but that leaves other possibilities such as shortstop Jean Segura, second baseman Dee Gordon, third baseman Kyle Seager, starter Mike Leake and reliever Alex Colome. From the team’s earlier trades, it seems clear that the front office isn’t looking to delay its window of contention for more than two years or so. In other words, they’re not dealing for teenage prospects. They’re going after players who are just about ready for the major leagues, or close to it.

In terms of what they’ll actually need on the field to get through 2019? A catcher, now that they’ve traded Zunino. The roster’s existing option, David Freitas, finally broke through last season as a 29-year-old rookie—which is reason enough to pick up someone else.

How To Get It: Some of the players above will be easier to move than others. Segura and Leake’s names have already circulated in rumors, but each has a no-trade clause to waive. Gordon and Seager are on rather weighty contracts. But Seattle should certainly be able to get traction with something, and given the variety of its options and the fact that it’s not looking to target a specific hole, it seems like there should be plenty of possibilities.

Los Angeles Angels

How They Finished: 80–82

What They Need: The Angels have a legitimate shot at contending in 2019, despite last year’s finish in fourth place. One Mike Trout’s still here, after all, along with Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton. But they have several areas that they’ll need to address first, and the rotation is the big one. (Sensing a theme here?) Shohei Ohtani is out after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Garrett Richards is now a free agent. Of the remaining starting pitchers on the roster, there are several with lackluster health records—in other words, stocking up on rotation depth should be a priority. The bullpen could use some help, too; last year’s edition was fair-ish, but it could use an upgrade. Apart from that, they’ll need a catcher. After trading Martin Maldonado to Houston at the deadline last year, they don’t have any particularly compelling backstop choices in-house.

How To Get It: The market has more to offer for the bullpen than for the rotation. The Angels need to add to both, but it might be more likely for them to aim for a big splash in relief, which can be complemented by a more modest starting addition or two. Think Adam Ottavino, Craig Kimbrel or David Robertson. At catcher, there could be a reunion with Maldonado, or a free agent pick-up like Wilson Ramos.

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Texas Rangers

How They Finished: 67–95

What They Need: The Rangers aren’t looking to contend just yet, nor do they look like players on the trade market, but there should still be a little bit of activity here. The rotation was remarkably bad in 2018. A 5.37 ERA was worse than that of every team but the Orioles, and a 6.28 K/9 was worse than that of every team including the Orioles. Weirdly enough, however, that’s not the hard part of their situation. Nope. The hard part is that six of the seven pitchers from that terrible rotation are gone to free agency. (Mike Minor is the lone man left.) The Rangers may not be trying to make a run, but they still need someone to pitch—and there isn’t much help immediately available from the farm, they’re not in a spot to hit up big free agents, and they don’t have the resources for trades. It’s a relatively normal situation for a team looking to fill one or two spots. But a whole rotation? Yikes.

How To Get It: Time to check out the list of starters who aren’t making much noise on anyone else’s radar. Ervin Santana, who was sidelined by injury for almost all of last season? James Shields, who’s somehow still a workhorse at age 36? Josh Tomlin, who was finally undone last year by his trademark high HR/9? Come on down!

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