Angels flawed, but still could take AL West

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If nothing else, the AL West should be very interesting to follow. There are reasons to be optimistic about each squad, but I couldn’t help but grow more pessimistic with regards to each team as the spring went on. The Rangers may well have the most talent in the division, yet theirs is a squad with the potential to be decimated by injuries and the funds might not be there to bring in replacements. The A’s know that feeling well, so they made increasing their depth a priority over the winter. Unfortunately, while their fallbacks are better, they currently have Ryan Sweeney, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki comprising the heart of their lineup.
The Mariners, for all of their positive moves, still have obvious holes in their rotation and lineup, though if they get a working Erik Bedard back in June and a legitimate DH in July, there’s the chance they could run away with the division. They’re the one team capable of doing so, in my opinion.
The Angels, though, are still the favorites for the moment, even with John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins all having departed. The lineup, while lacking a superstar, is pretty strong throughout and the team has five solid pitchers to fill its rotation. Also, let’s face it… the Angels are pretty much always better than expected. Credit Mike Scioscia and/or the team’s ability to do the “little” things. The Angels typically wins several more games a year than the computers say they should, and it’s not all because of summer acquisitions like Mark Teixeira and Scott Kazmir.
In 2010, the Angels look worse on paper than they have in several years, perhaps since before their World Series victory in 2002. It’s the rotation that scares me more than anything. While the Angels have their five proven starters, no one in the group is likely to dominate.
As part of my 2010 projections, I had 57 AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, including all five Angels starters. Here’s how their ERAs ranked in that group:
Jered Weaver – 14th (3.96)
Joe Saunders – 22nd (4.07)
Scott Kazmir – 32nd (4.20)
Joel Pineiro – 35th (4.25)
Ervin Santana – 53rd (4.65)
It’s a group with some upside, particularly when it comes to Kazmir and Santana. But I’m not overly optimistic in regards to any of them. Plus, there’s no 220-inning workhorse here. Kazmir is a weak bet to make 30 starts, and I also wouldn’t put any money down on Santana doing so. The Pineiro signing was extremely important for the Angels, but I think they’ll come to regret not bringing in a Chad Gaudin-type to function as a swingman. Matt Palmer did the job better than anyone could have imagined last year, but the league clearly caught up to him and he was dreadful this spring. The Angels have no quality alternatives unless prospect Trevor Reckling develops quickly.
Of course, the lack of an extra starter is something that can and probably will be addressed in July. But I worry that Palmer may cost them several games before then.
The Angels will score runs, though not as many as they could if they’d simply commit to Mike Napoli over Jeff Mathis. I think the bullpen will be adequate, in part because I expect Kevin Jepsen to turn into a force in a setup role. The defense is strong, particularly aside from the outfield corners. That’s a big reason why the projections for Weaver and, especially, Saunders are as kind as they are.
My guess is that enough will go right for 86-88 wins and another trip to the postseason. Still, this is a team that could finish under .500 if only a few things go wrong.

Braves sign Bud Norris to one-year contract

Bud Norris

Bud Norris has found a home for his attempt at a bounceback season, signing a one-year deal with the Braves. Jon Heyman of says it’s worth $2.5 million, which is a huge cut from his $8.8 million salary this year.

Norris had established himself as a solid mid-rotation starter from 2009-2014, but had a brutal 2015 season split between the Orioles and Padres with a 6.72 ERA in 83 innings and a late-season move to the bullpen.

In announcing the signing the Braves referred to Norris as a starting pitcher, so joining the rotation for a rebuilding team gives him a chance to get his career back on track with an eye on hitting the open market as a free agent again next offseason. And if he fares well, the Braves could use him to add a prospect or two at the trade deadline.

The Cubs acquire Rex Brothers from the Rockies

Rex Brothers Rockies

The number of people who, if you held a gun to their head, would say that “Rex Brothers” was a game show host and/or local TV news personality from the late 1970s or early 80s is not insignificant. But if you’re a Rockies fan or if spend all day thinking about baseball you know that he’s a reliever who has played in Colorado for the past five years. Now you know him as a reliever for the Cubs:

Brothers — a former Best Shape of His Life All-Star — was pretty good until he hit a brick wall in 2014 and spent most of 2015 in Triple-A. He had something of a bounceback after being called up when rosters expanded in September, but that’s not the sort of thing to excite anyone. He could be useful for the Cubs or just spring training cannon fodder and organizational depth.

Cabrera just turned 18 a couple of weeks ago and pitched a grand total of 14 games in the Dominican Summer League. He’s young and was a $250,000 signee from the Dominican as a 16-year-old so, by definition, he’s a project. Worth giving up Rex Brothers for him if you’re the Rockies, worth risking for some depth in the pen if you’re the Cubs.

Diamondbacks hire Dave Magadan as hitting coach

Dave Magadan Rangers
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Steve Gilbert of reports that the Diamondbacks’ new hitting coach is Dave Magadan, who “parted ways” with the Rangers last month after three years filling the same role in Texas.

Magadan also previously was the Red Sox’s hitting coach and his teams have generally done pretty well, including the Rangers scoring the third-most runs in the league this year.

He’ll have plenty of talent to work with in Arizona, as the Diamondbacks scored the second-most runs in the league led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta. Turner Ward, who had been Arizona’s hitting coach, chose to leave the team two weeks ago.

A’s reacquire Jed Lowrie in trade with Astros

Jed Lowrie

Jed Lowrie, who was traded from the Astros to the A’s in 2013 and then re-signed with the Astros as a free agent last offseason, has now been traded back to the A’s.

Lowrie got a three-year, $23 million deal from the Astros with the idea that he’d play shortstop in the first season and then move to another position whenever stud prospect Carlos Correa arrived. Instead he got hurt right away, Correa became an immediate star, and the Astros weren’t so keen on paying him $15 million over the next two seasons.

He could resume playing shortstop for the A’s, who watched rookie Marcus Semien make an absurd number of errors there this year. Lowrie hit .271 with a .738 OPS in two seasons in Oakland, which is similar to his career totals and makes him a solidly above-average offensive shortstop. There’s a decent chance the A’s will have a Lowrie-Lawrie double-play duo in 2016.

In return the Astros get minor leaguer Brendan McCurry, a 24-year-old right-hander who split 2015 between high Single-A and Double-A with a 1.86 ERA and 82/17 K/BB ratio in 63 relief innings. He was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 and doesn’t have exceptional raw stuff, but McCurry’s numbers are incredible so far.