2016 Contenders and Pretenders: American League

Yesterday, I took a look at the 2016 hopes of the ten National League teams left out of the postseason. Now, I will be looking at the ten American League Teams that did not make the 2015 postseason and discussing their prospects for contention in 2016. It may be a long time away but there is no better time to look at the contenders and pretenders for the 2016 season. 

American League West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Even after falling only one game short of a one-game playoff to get into the AL Wild Card game, the Angels still have a lot of work to do in the offseason to be able to compete with the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers in the American League West next year. The only three free agents for the Angels this offseason are Huston Street, David Freese, and Chris Iannetta. None of these players have had good years and the Angels don’t seem too concerned to re-sign all of them, and may not sign any of them.

The Angels still have arguably the best player on the planet in Mike Trout, and quite a few strong young pitchers in Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs to go along with veterans Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. The main problems for the Angels going forward is their anemic offense and their depleted farm system. In order to compete in 2016, it seems likely the Angels will need to do some free agent spending to acquire more outfield production and depth as well as perhaps some offensive help for the infield. Beyond that, the Angels also may be in need of a few more arms to solidify the backend of the bullpen. If the Angels can improve their offense even a little bit, they will once again be in the hunt for an AL West crown.

2016 Status: Contender

Seattle Mariners

Like the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles, the preseason AL West favorite Seattle Mariners floundered miserably and finished with the second worst record in the division ahead of the equally miserable Oakland Athletics. With a new general manager in Jerry Dipoto at the helm, and most likely a new coach to the lead the team, the Seattle Mariners are in for a fresh start in 2016.

If there’s one thing the Mariners have going for them its the fact that they have no shortage of stars to lead the team such as Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. The issue for the Mariners has been building the right pieces around these stars in order to field a cohesive team. For the offseason the Mariners biggest focus should be creating a more well rounded offense, with Ketel Marte as a good start, as well as finding a few more arms to add some more depth to the pitching staff. The Mariners certainly had a lot of problems in 2015, but they should be able to bounce back under a new general manager and/or manager to field a contending team in 2016.

2016 Status: Contender

Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics have had an abysmal season all around. Worse than what was expected given the preseason projections, the Athletics seemed to struggle with clutch performance and clubhouse chemistry throughout the season. The Athletics relegated themselves to a last place finish when they became deadline sellers, dealing off expiring contracts in Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist, and Tyler Clippard for a decent return overall. Looking forward, the Athletics have a lot of young players on their roster still under contract or team control for the next two to three years.

For next year, the Athletics look to bounce back from the worst record in the AL West, and should do so rather easily. They still have a lot of good young talent on the roster and have more coming up from a relatively strong farm system. It seems unlikely the Athletics will compete for a divisional crown as early as next year, given the sudden depth in the division with Houston, Anaheim and Texas all returning in force, but the Athletics should field a much cheaper and much more respectable team overall in 2016 with an outside chance at a Wild Card run.

2016 Status: Pretender

American League Central

Minnesota Twins

Similarly to the Astros, the Twins competed in 2015 a year earlier than expected. Riding a wave of young talent this year, the Twins surprised everyone by hanging in the Wild Card race until Game 161. Many had written off the Twins as a fluke by the All Star Break, but timely performance and outstanding team chemistry kept the Twins in the playoff race all the way until the end of the season. The Twins may have not finished the job in 2015, but the future still looks bright for a team that is expected to compete for years to come.

In terms of young talent, the Twins saw an influx of it in 2015 with the promotions of Miguel Sano, Aaron Hicks, Byron Buxton, among others. For 2016, the Twins could be even better with top pitching prospect Jose Berrios and top hitting prospect Max Kepler both ready to contribute. The Twins only real notable free agent is Torii Hunter, who will likely come back to the team should he not retire. Beyond Hunter, the Twins still have a lot of young talented players under team control for years to come as well as plenty of money to spend in the offseason should they want to improve their various weaknesses, which includes a shaking pitching staff. Regardless of what they decide to do in the offseason, the Twins should make some noise in the AL Central in 2016.

2016 Status: Contender

Cleveland Indians

Like the Washington Nationals in the National League, the Indians were picked by many to play in the World Series, and to win it by some. Obviously these assumptions were wrong given the Indians dismal position at the All Star break. Despite one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory, the Indians still have a strong young core of talent as well as one of the smartest coaches in all of baseball in Terry Francona.

In terms of free agents, the Indians don’t really have much work to do in re-signing any important pieces. With both Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco already under long term contracts, and Francisco Lindor just reaching the majors this year, the Indians have set themselves up nicely with a good mix of young talent and financial stability for 2016. The Indians played a lot better in the second half of this season but still need to play better defense and find some more consistent pitching to compete in 2016. With a strong young core and financial leverage, the Indians should be able to make some smart moves in free agency and put a contending team on the field once again in 2016.

2016 Status: Contender

Detroit Tigers

For a team that traded away two of their best players at the trade deadline in David Price and Yoenis Cespedes, the Detroit Tigers aren’t as obviously in a rebuilding phase as some would think. They are still stuck, and I use the word stuck loosely, with the massive contracts of Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, and Miguel Cabrera for the immediate future which kind of lessens their financial leverage this offseason. Beyond that, both Ian Kinsler and Anibal Sanchez are still on substantial contracts, which both run through 2018. Between those five players combined the Tigers have financial obligations of $108 million for 2015, with another $265 million of financial obligations for those players through the ends of their respective contracts.

While the Tigers may be a bit saddled financially by these large contracts, they have been able to slightly reestablish their farm system with their 2015 deadline trades. They were able to acquire pitchers Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa in deadline deals, all of whom are now top ten prospects in the Tigers system. The Tigers should be able to score enough runs in 2016 with returns from injury for Cabrera and Martinez and should have a decent pitching staff if at least one or two of these guys works out for next year. The Tigers wont be good in 2016 but they still have a decent outside chance of making things interesting if a lot of things go right.

2016 Status: Pretender

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox may be the most obvious worst team in the American League Central. And that’s probably the nicest thing that can be said about their 2015 season. What’s worse for the White Sox is they decided to keep manager Robin Ventura for the 2016 season, despite him showing a general lack of aptitude for coaching this season. The White Sox have a lot of money tied up in a few players, and perhaps five of the worst performing players of the 2015 season still under contract for 2016.

In terms of free agents, the only notable one is Jeff Samardzija, who is unlikely to return to the team. Beyond him, the White Sox will retain most of their players from last year and will look for bounce back seasons from about half a dozen guys who had abysmal campaigns in 2015. Perhaps even worse for the Sox, is their depleted farm system that now ranks in the bottom half of the league. The White Sox could spend more in free agency, or make some trades to acquired some new talent, but at this point it seems the Sox lack enough talent to truly compete in 2016 despite some strong young pitching arms like Jose Quintana and Chris Sale. It seems the White Sox won’t be good again in 2016, or perhaps any time soon.

2016 Status: Pretender

American League East

Baltimore Orioles

Ahhh, the Baltimore Orioles. Along with the Washington Nationals, they were the darling of the D.C./Maryland area, with many national sportswriters picking the O’s to win the AL East. My what a disappointing season it has been. Despite the lofty expectations, the Orioles finished in third place with an exactly .500 record. The Orioles have the luxury of having one of the best young players in the game in Manny Machado, although Machado is looking for a contract extension sooner rather than later, the O’s are seemingly wary of acquiescing to his demands.

Beyond that issue, more so than any other team in the entire league, the Orioles are going to have a TON of work to do in free agency this winter. Some of the Orioles best players, such as Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Wieters, Darren O’Day, and Steve Pearce are all free agents. With a lot of money already tied up in a few key players, such as Adam Jones, and Machado expecting a pay raise, the Orioles could have their hands tied when it comes to resigning some key free agents or finding suitable replacements. What makes the situation more dire is the Orioles depleted farm system that lacks much impact talent that is MLB ready. The Orioles probably would be wise to enter a rebuilding period, but will likely hold off one year and still field a team with the possibility of competing in a topsy-turvy American League East in 2016.

2016 Status: Contender

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays surprised a lot of people in 2015 in finishing right around .500 for the season. Many expected the Rays to take another nose dive after a strong 2014, but the Rays were able to fend off a collapse and hang around in the playoff picture for a good portion of the season, even with quite a few injuries to both the pitching staff and the everyday lineup. For 2016, the one thing the Rays should have going for them again is a top level pitching staff. In terms of WAR, the Rays were 11th in 2015 despite not having Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly or Matt Moore for a majority of the season.

In 2016, the pitching staff could be even better. Chris Archer will return as the ace but will be followed by a collection of Cobb, Smyly, Moore, and Jake Odorizzi who have all shown themselves to have ace like stuff, as well as Nate Karns, Alex Colome, and Erasmo Ramirez, who have all pitched admirably filling in for the various injured pitchers. This isn’t even including top prospect Blake Snell who will most likely be ready to start in the majors in the beginning of next season. Beyond the starting staff, the Rays will return a top notch bullpen with Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee closing out games for the team.

With an embarrassment of riches at the pitcher position, the Rays may use their pitching depth to improve their position player roster. They have both Willy Adames and Nick Franklin seemingly ready to contribute to the big league roster in 2016, to go along with young talent such as Kevin Kiermaier, Desmond Jennings, Logan Forsythe, Brandon Guyer, Mikie Mahtook, and Steven Souza, to complement veterans Evan Longoria and James Loney. With improvements in the pitching staff, and expected improvements from young position players emerging, the Rays could be a real threat in the AL East in 2016.

2016 Status: Contender

Boston Red Sox

After a forgettable 2015, which followed an equally dismal 2014, the Boston Red Sox should be able to regain their position in the American League East in 2016. Despite poor decision making in the 2014-2015 offseason that may saddle the team financially going forward into 2016, the Red Sox still maintain some leverage in the AL East because of their strong group of young players to go along with a deep farm system that should pay dividends in 2016. The Red Sox still have to deal with several albatross contracts with the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello and Dustin Pedroia garnering a vast portion of the payroll in 2016 and beyond, but they have several rising stars still under team control or affordable contract that will take on bigger roles as early as next year.

Over the last month of the season, the Red Sox may have found their Opening Day lineup for 2016 in Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. who are all under contract or team control until at least 2019. With this young outfield core to build around, the Red Sox will have less work to do in fielding a contender in 2016. The rest of their lineup will likely be Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz in the infield with Blake Swihart as the likely every day catcher. For the Red Sox the most urgent and pressing issue this offseason will be their pitching staff, both the starting staff and the bullpen.

If the Red Sox can find some money to sign a pitcher or two and a few bullpen arms, they can most certainly put themselves in the conversation for an AL East divisional crown in 2016. An even better option for the Red Sox could be acquiring some pitching talent via a trade given their strong depth in the farm system. It remains to be seen whether the Red Sox will open the bank to acquire a front line starter like David Price or Johnny Cueto but at the least the Red Sox need to make some changes to their pitching staff. With Dave Dombrowski now at the helm, the Red Sox are certainly in more than capable hands going forward.

2016 Status: Contender

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