DIVISIONAL OUTLOOK: AL West—Andrus extension fallout

Texas Rangers

The Rangers extended Elvis Andrus (SS, TEX) last week to an eight-year $120M deal. While providing for a mid-course player opt out, it potentially links him to TEX for the next 10 seasons. The signing itself wasn’t unanticipated, given the 24-year-old Andrus’ age, health and solid overall skills. But it leaves the Rangers with issues that fantasy owners also need to consider.

For one, the extension could move uber-prospect Jurickson Profar’s (SS/2B, TEX) future to 2B, given that he isn’t quite Andrus’ defensive equal. Or it could even lead to a future with another club, as part of a trade that helps the Rangers address their corner OF vacancies after 2013. The near-ready Profar has begun the season at SS for AAA Round Rock, but speculation about a position change began this spring. A move to 2B was discussed—Profar even took some OF reps—as the Rangers considered options in case they wanted the MLB-ready Profar on the club's Opening Day roster.

Profar remains a top-shelf middle infield prospect who many evaluators think profiles best at 2B, but AL-only owners looking for SS help in their keeper leagues can’t be too happy. NL clubs looking for SS help (STL) and/or salary relief (MIA) have been among the rumored trade matchups, though it would conceivably take names like Oscar Taveras and Mike Stanton to make it happen. And in spite of his upside as a 20/20 MI with solid plate skills and BA potential, a move out of hitter-friendly Arlington isn’t likely to help Profar’s MLB offensive numbers.

If he stays with the Rangers, the team will need to determine where to play Ian Kinsler (2B, TEX), who was just recently extended through 2017. Rangers management has already discussed with Kinsler the possiblity of moving to 1B, though he’s reportedly not thrilled with the idea. Fantasy owners wouln't be too happy either, since Kinsler’s offense at 1B doesn’t play nearly as well as at his current spot. Just a .258 career hitter vs. RHP, Kinsler hasn’t always provided his trademark power, slugging less than .400 vs. righties in two of his past three seasons. And finally as a potential trade candidate, the 31-year-old Kinsler won't automatically be viewed as a defensive plus, suggesting that Kinsler's extension is one that the Rangers may come to regret.

If a move isn't made soon, even owners of Mitch Moreland (1B/OF) should be a little concerned, given Kinsler’s most likely next position. In spite of 2012 numbers (.281/.328/.470 with 12 HR in 281 AB) indicating that Moreland is a superior option vs. RHP, Mgr Ron Washington has previously exhibited a willingness to ignore the numbers and trends to stick with his long-time vets. Exhibit A for this can be found in 2012, when Michael Young saw 452 AB vs. righties in spite of a .257/.291/.352 line.

Profar’s initial playing time and position will more likely be determined by Rangers injuries. Kinsler, Moreland, Nelson Cruz and Lance Berkman have always been decent bets to spend time on the DL in recent seasonsand in Cruz' case, a PED-related suspension remains a live rumor. With good positional versatility on its current roster, TEX may not be forced into a move over the near-term. But fantasy owners of Profar, as well as the others mentioned here, should consider all of the angles, monitor the tea leaves and act accordingly.

 

Seattle Mariners

The potential SEA rotation issues were on full display during the season's opening week, as the #3-4-5 starters—Joe Saunders (LHP, SEA), Brandon Maurer (RHP, SEA) and Blake Beavan (RHP, SEA)—combined to cough up 15 earned runs in 15 IP from April 4-6. Obviously we don't expect these names to be this consistently awful together, but their BPIs—and in Maurer's case, inexperience—suggest that they aren't likely to be particularly reliable either. It's just one start in each case, but if anything close to this performance continues, changes will result before the end of April.

And if a quick move is necessary, the immediate solution is not clear. Erasmo Ramirez (RHP, SEA) has begun his season on the AAA-Tacoma DL, with an injury that sounds like continued triceps soreness that bothered him for most of the spring. Working off first-game impressions, Danny Hultzen (LHP, SEA) looks like the best bet (6 IP, one earned run, 8/2 K/BB), particularly with James Paxton (LHP, SEA) yet to make his first minor league appearance as of Saturday following a miserable spring.

Obviously Super Two date considerations are in play with both Hultzen and Paxton, and SEA could turn to a diminished Jeremy Bonderman (RHP, SEA) to bridge any gaps between now and June. But fantasy owners looking for rotation opportunities should stay on top of the Mariners pitching situation, as well as that of their Triple-A and Double-A minor league affiliates.

 

Houston Astros

The acquisition of Travis Blackley (LHP, HOU) and his immediate placement on the DL with a shoulder strain speaks to the condition of HOU's MLB-ready pitching options. With Alex White (RHP, HOU) now out for the season pending Tommy John surgery, soft-tosser Dallas Keuchel (LHP, HOU) was recalled to fill the void.

Keuchel's best asset is a strong GB-tilt.  He has also displayed solid control throughout his career—at least until his 2012 85 inning MLB debut (4.1 Ctl), when too many of his strikes were tattooed in a 5.27/5.24 ERA/xERA debacle. A starter in the minors, the 25-year-old Keuchel was able to post just three PQS-DOMs in16 HOU starts, which has now helped put him in a long relief / swing-man role. Even with improvement, Keuchel's inability to miss bats and a bad supporting cast leave little to recommend. The bright side for fantasy owners is that there could be pitching opportunities all season long in HOU.

There's little good early news, as the HOU offense is dead last in AL runs scored through Sunday, while racking up strikeout counts that are the talk of baseball.  With most of the HOU OF and corner infielders contact-challenged, manager Bo Porter doesn't have a lot of options. But if this continues, expect some new and perhaps surprising names to show up in the Astros' new AL DH slot soon.

 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Visibly limping following the Angels' Friday opener in TEX, Albert Pujols' (1B/DH, LAA) plantar faciitis issues could result in more DH time this seasonparticularly if his two HR performance Saturday fuels confidence that he can thrive in that role. Pujols wasn't effective in his 2012 DH introduction, as suggested by his .246/.299/.433 line with just 4 HR in 134 AB from that spot. Pujols has never embraced the DH, but things can change quickly with success, especially if more pain or even a DL stint are the alternatives.

Another Angel who could see time is Hank Conger (C, LAA), and not just against the RHPs against whom he posted a .300 career BA in the minors. If Josh Hamilton's scuffles vs. LHP continue, expect more of his days off to come when they're on the mound. With RHB Vernon Wells gone and the Angels bench thin offensively, the switch-hitting Conger is a prime candidate to pick up a few extra AB, particularly if he can somehow jumpstart his potent bat in a part-time role. Conger's ability to at least not allow base-runners to run at will have a say in whether he remains on the roster in his primary role as #2 catcher. But if he can stick, his AB potential in a strong Angels lineup vs. LAA's alternatives should keep him watchable for owners with #2 catcher needs. 

 

Oakland Athletics

As projected here last week, Dan Straily (RHP, OAK) was optioned immediately after his first starta solid 6 2/3 IP 11 K, 2 run performance Friday vs. the sorry Astros to make way for Bartolo Colon's (RHP, OAK) return from a PED-related suspension. Colon pitched unspectacularly while holding on for six innings and picking up the win in his first start of the season Saturday, also vs. HOU. He's marginally rosterable in deep leagues for now, but at age 39 with other issues, he's a better than even bet not to last the entire season. Straily will likely get another rotation shot with the A's sooner than later. Owners needing pitching who value his experience and can look past legitimate questions surrounding his 2012 improvement might want to hold on for a little while. 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.