BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD: IMPACT AL

Jose Altuve

There were so many season impacting moments and issues this year I thought I would take some time to reflect on a few that I feel impacted the season.

Today’s edition of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD will feature American League teams changing and high impact factors. Next week I’ll do the same with the National League.

All statistics are through and including Friday September 29, 2017.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

BALTIMORE ORIOLES:

Could anyone have foreseen the lingering shoulder problem that right-handed starter Chris Tillman endured? He was never the same as in the past. Tillman, acquired by the Orioles along with Adam Jones in the trade with the Mariners for Erik Bedard, was viewed as a potential ace of the staff. Instead he finished with a record of 1-7, an ERA of 7.84 and a 1.89 WHIP. Those are probably his worst numbers since Little League. Relegated to the bullpen at the end of the year, Tillman made only 19 starts in his 24 appearances. In reality, it was the collapse of the Orioles starting pitching that led to the Orioles ultimate demise. One might also be able to point at the home run decline of Mark Trumbo from 47 in 2016 to 23 this season as another culprit. Couple that with the home run decline of Chris Davis from 47 in 2015 to 38 in 2016 to only 26 in 2017 and it explains some of the team’s regression as well.

On the brighter side of things, Jonathan Schoop hit .295 with a whopping 32 homers and being among the league leaders with 105 RBIs is beyond impressive.

The emergence of Trey Mancini as a power-hitting outfielder with the capability of playing first base gives additional offensive hope to the team.

Bursting on the scene at the end of the season, outfielder Austin Hays could win an outfield job next spring. He’s young, athletic and has some pop in his bat. A good defender, Hays has flashed a true major-league arm and has shown good speed.

To chase down a spot of contention next season, the Orioles will have to fix a woeful starting pitching staff that seemed to regress together as a group this season. At the end of the season, the Orioles turned to flame-throwing Miguel Castro as a starter. Who knows what they will do next year, but for now, these Birds are really not flying very high.

BOSTON RED SOX

Yes, they are certainly in the hunt to claim a World Series Championship, but the Red Sox season has been a struggle at times.

As much as I try to think the impact wasn’t that obvious, the loss of slugging designated hitter David Ortiz really caused a tremendous difference in the approach and results of the Red Sox. While it is difficult to believe that one man in the middle of the batting order could be that important, it seems the loss of Ortiz had a tremendous impact on the offense. There was no Ortiz to end the game with one swing of the bat or extend a rally. There was no Ortiz to allow the hitter before him and behind him in the batting order to see better pitches.

Perhaps the greatest decline in the Red Sox offensive output can be traced to Mookie Betts. Still a very dangerous hitter, Betts saw a decline in his batting average from .318 in 2016 to .262 this season. His home runs dipped from 31 to 23. His RBIs and stolen bases have remained steady, but the difference in total bases is notable as well.

Right-handed pitcher Rick Porcello went from winning the American League Cy Young Award with a 22-4 record to being a pedestrian starter with a record of 11-17. His 17 losses were the most in his nine-year career. He finished this year with a 4.65 ERA compared to 3.15 last season. Finally, he yielded a career-high 236 hits in 203 1/3 innings, which helped result in a WHIP of 1.40. Xander Bogaerts went from 21 home runs to 10 and from 89 RBIs to 62. Jackie Bradley Jr. hit .267 in 2016 and .246 this year. He dropped from 26 home runs to 17. Hanley Ramirez’ RBI output declined from 111 to 61. He dipped from scoring 81 runs to 58. And there were more less than stellar offensive performances.

There were lots of bright spots in the season for Boston. I consider catcher Christian Vasquez to be one of the better hitting catchers in the league. He hit .294 and got better as the season progressed even in a time-share role with Sandy Leon. One of the real surprises for the Red Sox was the hitting of infielder Eduardo Nunez, a veteran player that has been around with a few teams. He may well have solidified a role for next season. And even though he didn’t always get great run support, lankly lefty Chris Sale certainly kept himself in the Cy Young discussion with great pitching, especially in the first eight months of the season. He won 17 games and fashioned a stellar 2.90 ERA.

NEW YORK YANKEES:

The season was a “Coming Out Party” for the future of the New York Yankees. They have so many young upstart impact players to blend with seasoned veterans that make the team scary for years to come.

Didi Gregorious

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

Of course, Aaron Judge, a mountain of a man produced the greatest impact of the new Bronx Bashers. Judge has entered the 50-home run club in his rookie season. Even a cold spell late in the second half couldn’t put a damper on his awesome, jaw-dropping season. The “new look” Bashers will take the field next season with a catcher in Gary Sanchez who has eclipsed 30 home runs (33) in only his second full season. Didi Gregorius, himself a 25-home run hitter and sparkling defensive shortstop, will join him and Judge. It isn’t possible to replace Derek Jeter, but Gregorius has placed his own imprint on the club.

There is clearly more to come from Greg Bird at first base. Out most of the year with injury issues, Bird’s left-handed bat should find the cozy right-field seats with regularity next year. If he stays healthy. Starlin Castro’s contributions to the team can’t be underestimated. He brought a very potent bat to the lineup that was missed a great deal when he went on the shelf with injuries. But perhaps the most under the radar Yankees savior was Ronald Torreyes. He simply doesn’t get enough credit for filling in all over the infield and hitting close to .300 at .296 in 107 games. He was the true super-utility player and should get his share of kudos as the season ends.

Yankees pitching was rolling along nicely until the team endured an unexpected speed bump with the late-season hiccup of closer Aroldis Chapman. Navigating his way through unexpected poor outings, Chapman will get the ball at the end of the game in the future. He, along with Dellin Betances and David Robertson formed a fine late-inning trio of relief pitchers. I happen to really like the upside of reliever Ben Heller as a sleeper for next season.

Going forward, the Yankees starting pitching should be more than formidable. Coupled with an incredibly loud offense, the starters should be anchored by Luis Severino, a young, flame-throwing right-hander with a great arm. C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and very possibly Jordan Montgomery could join him again. And what happens if the Yankees choose to sign a free agent pitcher to bolster that staff?

Questions do remain. Will the team retain third baseman Todd Frazier, an on again off again power hitter? Can Clint Frazier, another potentially potent basher join the outfield mix? If Gleyber Torres is healthy, can he win a job?

TAMPA BAY RAYS:

I have spent the entire season trying to figure out the Tampa Bay Rays. I think they may have spent the same amount of time trying to figure out themselves as well.

What went right? Well, they were like a sports car at times with a revved-up engine. Then at times they would get right up to the finish line and run out of gas.

Looking for culprits? How about Brad Miller. Miller hit 30 home runs last season, even with a woeful .243 batting average he drove in 81 runs. He also had 29 doubles and six triples in 601 plate appearances. By all accounts that was a very solid season. This year? Try eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 334 trips to the plate. And while I’m handing out participation trophies as opposed to accomplishment awards, consider the year on the mound for Chris Archer. Didn’t the team expect more than a record of 9-12 and a 4.18 ERA? Clearly, he was supposed to be an improved ace of the staff after losing 19 games last season. I thought more could have been expected.

Pitching was supposed to be the focal point for the club. It has been for years. With Archer their biggest winner with 12, the team just did not have that one guy that could elevate the club from mediocre to good. He lost more than he won at 9-12. The often-injured Alex Cobb didn’t distinguish himself either and he may be headed elsewhere next season. A free agent along with Logan Morrison who had a good season and Lucas Duda who came over from the Mets, the Rays will likely have a different look next year.

Perhaps the brightest light on the pitching staff was Alex Colome, the team’s reliable closer. He saved 46 saves in 52 opportunities and finished with an ERA of 3.15 in 65 2/3 innings. Colome is a stable closer going forward unless the club can move him in a trade to fortify unmet needs on other parts of the club.

I really enjoy watching Kevin Kiermaier play the outfield. He is an incredible defender and worth the price of admission.

An abysmal home park and money woes continue to plague the franchise. Their home field disadvantage is an issue that Major League Baseball has neglected far too long. They should either find a new place to play in the area code or move to a different location. The team cannot be competitive in their current environment.

I must admit I find this year’s edition of the Rays to be very unexciting and very vanilla. I don’t see many franchise type difference makers on the club and I feel they will fall further and further behind New York and Boston in the East.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Once a legitimate contender, the Blue Jays have aged ungracefully. They have too many guys in regular roles playing well behind their prime. While Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki (now injured) and Russell Martin were all very formidable stars in their time, their collective slips are showing. Martin has become a .221 hitter with 13 home runs and a woeful 35 RBIs. Bautista hit 23 home runs and drove in 64 while hitting…wait for it…203. That can’t happen on a team contending for a title as they usually did in the past.

Justin Smoak had a very good first half of the season when he hit .294 with 23 home runs. He hit .245 in the second half, drove in only 34 runs and hit eight homers less than the first half, at 15. I think the second half Smoak is the more normal Smoak.

Josh Donaldson is a beast at the plate when he’s at full health. How in the world did the Oakland Athletics ever let him get away? I guess a beef with upper-management was too much to overcome. But Donaldson was the opposite of Smoak. He hit 24 of his 33 home runs in the second half. He drove in 52 of his 77 runs in the second half. He’s a keeper around which the Blue Jays must rebuild.

Marcus Stroman won 13 games for Toronto, a nice showing for a guy that keeps improving. He kept his teams in games and finished with a very solid 3.06 ERA in 197 innings. The biggest winner on the team, Stroman had a very good 1.30 WHIP.

Frankly, the rest of the pitching staff was meh, at best. J.A. Happ pitched well at times but was a bit inconsistent. I can say the same for Marco Estrada. Sadly, the team was forced to turn Joe Biagini into a starter, a role for which I don’t think he fits. The fact that Aaron Sanchez could only make eight starts really impacted the team. If he is healthy, he can really bolster the 2018 Blue Jays.

There is work to be done in Toronto. I feel they are woefully short of major-league quality outfielders, their shortstop and second base positions, as well as catching corps, are troublesome.
Suffice to say; they too will have trouble beating New York and Boston next season.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

CHICAGO WHITE SOX:

It was clearly all about the future this year for the White Sox. They made no excuses for their performance. They are retooling their club to contend in the future.

Without a doubt, the White Sox are gearing up to provide baseball with one of the most formidable collections of young pitchers to be assembled in baseball. By next season, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, currently pitching in the team’s rotation will be joined by flamethrower Michael Kopech and perhaps even Carson Fulmer. One very definite concern is the condition of lefty Carlos Rodon. Will his shoulder injury linger to next season after he needed surgery to repair the problem?

The White Sox continue to get outstanding production from first baseman Jose Abreu. A true team leader and impact hitter, Abreu finished the year with a .304 average, 33 home runs and 102 RBIs. His home run total is up eight from his 25 last year, which was his lowest output in his four White Sox seasons. He has never driven in fewer than 100 runs.

Avisail Garcia has had his best season ever and is becoming more the player the White Sox had hoped he would become. His game is complete and he should easily be able to retain his role with the new, young club.

While I’m not as high on Yoan Moncada as some others, I believe he’ll be an outstanding line drive hitter that causes plenty of heartache for the opposition. His home field will truly be an advantage for his type of swing.

The team’s position players are still further away than a few of their pitchers, but the future remains very bright. For next year, impact could come from Matt Davidson, still a young player finding his stroke at the plate.

I think more should be expected from both Adam Engel who had a very weak offensive season and from Tim Anderson who can probably contribute more at the plate. Engel is a really solid centerfielder while Anderson has 27 errors this season, up from 14 last year. Granted, he has had an increase in chances this season.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

So much went right for the Indians it is difficult to see any huge decline coming.

For me, everything begins with the outstanding middle-infield combination of young and energetic shortstop Francisco Lindor and the amazing talents of Jose Ramirez at second base.
Ramirez is such a good second baseman his play has driven incumbent and franchise mainstay Jason Kipnis to center field.  Not only do both Lindor and Ramirez hit for terrific batting averages, but they smoke the ball to the gap and over the fence-in any park.

It will be a shock if Corey Kluber is not the American League Cy Young Award winner. His combination of pure “stuff,” poise and mound demeanor is second to none in the AL.

The rest of the rotation has had both good moments and some that are forgettable. Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Mike Tomlin have done a formidable job keeping their team in games and giving them a chance to win.

Edwin Encarnacion

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

The additions of Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce solidified an already potent lineup. They both have more than earned their keep with loud, loud bats.

The catching corps of Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes has provided stability and steadiness for their pitchers. Both good shepherds, they call good games and both have very strong, accurate arms behind the plate.

The emergence of players like Yandy Diaz, Giovanny Urshela, and Greg Allen has provided organizational depth at every position.

Depth in all areas and at all positions has allowed the Indians to be without Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall for long periods of time during the season.

Perhaps a player that added just the right spark at just the right time, outfielder Bradley Zimmer added a speed dimension to the club that increased the team’s potency even beyond what it had been prior to his arrival. Now injured, Zimmer will be hard to beat out going forward.

DETROIT TIGERS

I think poor decision-making at the general manager position has cost this team time in their rebuild.

They began the offseason by shipping Cameron Maybin to the Angels with the intent on breaking up the club and starting fresh. It didn’t happen. They left themselves without a true, quality center fielder.

Finally, at the trade deadline and beyond they started moving pieces from their roster. Gone are J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton. Martinez is All Worldly so far for Arizona. Upton is adjusting just fine in southern California with the Angels, thank you. The Astros pulled the trigger on a deal for former “ace” Justin Verlander who is now pitching like the lead dog once again in his Houston rebirth.

Victor Martinez can’t stand on his legs let alone run on them. Miguel Cabrera’s back is really bad and he can hardly run. Both are watching the sunset rather quickly on their fantastic All-Star careers? Can either return healthy enough to contribute in what will be a diminished offense? Regardless of how well they do to get ready for next season, I think both will continue to be mere shadows of their former selves from a production standpoint.

Ian Kinsler will be back at second base unless they choose to trade him. As a seasoned veteran, how excited will he be to play on a team that will have to fight to stay out of the Central Cellar?

Not counting Verlander who is now gone, no pitcher on the Tigers won more than 10 games. Michael Fulmer won 10 and proceeded to get hurt, putting a question mark on him coming into next season. The rest of the staff can be termed “mediocre” at best. They include Jordan Zimmerman who has been a woeful disappointment. He has a 6.08 ERA. Matt Boyd has had a couple good outings, but he is still not showing the consistency needed to give his team a chance to win every 5th day. His ERA is a lofty 5.27. The Tigers thought Daniel Norris could turn the corner, but they didn’t think the corner would be Oblivion and Irrelevance. He threw to a 5.31 ERA.

The good fans of Detroit deserve more.

The farm system has not produced the type of prospects other teams have stacked their organizations with through the past few years. When does the general manager become accountable for that? Why fire a manager who had little to work with in terms of depth?

I don’t see much in the way of impact going forward on what I think could be a toothless Tigers team for the foreseeable future.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS:

The Royals had a decision to make. Twice. In the past offseason, they could have moved any from among Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar to strengthen their club for the future. They chose to keep their club intact and give it one more go for another World Series Championship. They had a tough first part of the season but began to show some life towards the non-waiver required trade deadline at the end of July. Then, of course, they could have moved any of those players at the trade deadline. They chose to stick it out and see if they could compete for that World Title once again. No-go. They finished the season at 79-81 (as of this writing) or 22 games behind the Division Champion Indians. Now they are left with a mess on their hands.

Each one of those high-quality players must be a) offered a contract at the going tender rate or b) be allowed to leave as a free agent.

I can’t fault the Royals for giving their loyal fans one more run for the roses. It just didn’t work out.

Now the Royals are faced with the same rebuild as the Tigers and White Sox in their division. The White Sox have planned properly for their rebirth. The Royals have some pieces in line. In my view, the Tigers are a mess.

I think at least one of the Royals free agents will be back. More than likely, two. Those might well be Hosmer and Moustakas.

They are both beloved by the fans. Moose hit 38 home runs. Hosmer 24. Kansas City is a tough place to hit the ball out of the park. If they walk in free agency they take a combined 178 RBIs with them. Add in Cain’s 49 and that’s one heck of a lot of firepower walking out the door.

But Alex Gordon and his .210 batting average, nine homers and 45 RBIs will remain.

MINNESOTA TWINS

As upset, as I am for Tigers fans, is as excited as I am for Twins fans.

Realizing they have had problems with pitching, they are trying hard to rectify the problems. They are also assembling one outstanding offense that will give the leaders of the division fits for years to come.

We should begin with the transformation of Byron Buxton. I have been saying it would take four to five years for Buxton to come close to using his athletic ability to realize even part of his upside. His second half this season showed he is getting there. Taking all extraneous movement out of his hitting mechanics, Buxton may have shortened his swing a bit and is no longer chasing elusive home runs. He is using the entire field at the plate and barreling the ball off his bat. His defense is Gold Glove caliber, his arm strength great and his speed is his best tool. Watch out for Mr. Buxton going forward.

Few hitters are as strong and as powerful as Miguel Sano. I have him as a 40-home run hitter by next season if he comes back healthy. An improved and viable third baseman, Sano can be a monster at the plate. And will be a monster at the plate.

Brian Dozier rebounded with another good offensive year and Eddie Rosario’s loud bat will play well for years to come. I also like the infield of Escobar at third and Polanco at short. This is a good team. Will Joe Mauer hit .300 again next year without many home runs?

Beyond Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, the Twins will still suffer in the starting pitching department. I saw some improvement in the new mechanics of Kyle Gibson, but I doubt he can be trusted to give his team a chance to win every fifth day. So the offseason must be used to shore up the rotation and the bullpen, the last two remaining islands without food or water to keep the Twins alive deep in the playoffs.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

HOUSTON ASTROS:

What took them so long to pony up the money to pay Justin Verlander? He was the logical choice to put their team over the top and fortify a relatively weak pitching staff. Pull the fork out of Verlander. He isn’t done. He has much, much more to give the team. He’s a bulldog who can sense the feeling of a World Series ring on his finger. Verlander is a difference maker. Verlander gives the rest of the rotation confidence. Verlander may well teach other Astros how to pitch.

The return to the rotation of the often-injured Dallas Keuchel has been helpful, but his inconsistency is worrisome. A good start followed by a clunker followed by a good start and so on. A rhythm pitcher, when he is on his game he is the type of pitcher that induces lots of ground balls. He’s also given the Cleveland Indians fits in the past.

After Keuchel and Verlander it is the offense that will have to bring the daggers to the playoffs. Lance McCullers has been hurt. Charlie Morton is solid, but I question how long he can stay in the game. What will happen to Morton on the third and fourth time through the lineup? The Astros are a good offensive club, but very mediocre on the mound. Very average. I would guess they would seek at least one or two more starting pitchers via trade or free agency in the off-season. I know I would if I were them.

But how about this for offensive firepower? Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Gurriel, Springer, Reddick and Maybin. Not to mention McCann Can. So can Beltran. That’s one tough lineup to navigate. And I haven’t even mentioned the secret weapon-Marwin Gonzalez can play anywhere on the field. And he can hit.

The Astros have little work to do in the offseason other than shore up the pitching. That’s no small task. But this team should be very good for a very long time going forward.

Mike Scioscia

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

How did the Angels stay relevant this season with the team they had? I ask myself that question a great deal. Credit someone for that. It certainly was not the general manager who left Mike Scioscia with an absolutely brutal pitching staff. I’m not a big Scioscia fan, but I think he did his best job managing. Ever. It helps to have Mike Trout. But even at that, Trout missed time with injury, as did Albert Pujols. As did Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards and on and on. But really. There were no pitching reinforcements in the farm system.

Ricky Nolasco lost 15 games on his way to a 5.02 ERA in 32 starts. Jesse Chavez had a 5.35 ERA in 21 starts. Those are not the numbers of a playoff contender, yet they were. The Angels were in contention to a win a playoff spot deep into September.

I think the trio of Mike Trout, an aging Albert Pujols, and a very dynamic Justin Upton, should form a very formidable middle of the lineup next season. But beyond them, what? Who? Why?
Oh, the questions. Kole Calhoun had a down year at .242. I just don’t see anyone beyond that awesome trio of power hitters that will bring fear to the opposition.

Couple a lack of offense throughout the lineup with pitchers using water pistols instead of bazookas and I think it spells trouble.

We have seen owner Arte Moreno spend money before when he thought his team could contend. He is still paying “dead money” on several of his mistakes. But if he can fortify his roster with younger and viable players who are hitting the market, maybe he plays. J.D. Martinez would be an example of a game-changing type pickup that might appeal to Moreno. If he doesn’t dabble in free agency, general manager Billy Eppler will be seriously challenged to turn his current roster into a serious contender through trades. The problem? Who do the Angels have that is attractive in a trade scenario? That’s why I think that A) the team wants to be relevant once again and B) the team will be an active free agent shopper.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

The greatest impact this season has been made by two very under the radar corner infielders. Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson are a couple of Matts that can keep the Athletics from being floor mats and door mats. The Matts can flat play. Chapman hit .234 for the year in 282 at-bats after winning the third base job and taking ownership of the position. He hit 14 home runs as a rookie with more pop to come. Matt Olson is one dangerous hitter. He is on his way to becoming a 30-home run hitter in the major leagues. For this season, he has to settle for 24 homers in his 189 at-bats. His loud bat will help the Athletics get to another level.

We sure didn’t hear about it a great deal, but 33-year old Jed Lowrie sure put together a fine .279 season with 14 homers and 67 RBIs. He also smoked 48 doubles. But as the Athletics usually do, they’ll find a way to trade him away and find a young, very very very inexpensive replacement for him for next year. I think his steadying influence as a veteran with some presence can help the young club.

The guy that really flies under the radar? Khris Davis. No, not that Chris Davis player, the Khris Davis player for the Athletics. The guy has incredible power and he was a gift from the Brewers. He hit 42 homers and drove in 108 runs while hitting .243. He has incredible wrists and forearms and terrific strength in his body.

Give credit to shortstop Marcus Semien for improving his defense. He only made eight errors this season, down from 21 last year. That’s improvement.

Like other bottom dwellers in baseball, Oakland is a team that has always looked for pitching. Sean Manaea is getting better with experience. He won 12 games and shows promise. Jharel Cotton, on the other hand, seemed to regress a bit and became a 10 game loser with only 9 wins and a 5.58 ERA. Kendall Graveman should improve going forward, but I don’t see much in the way of prospect pitching that can vault the team higher in the standings next season. It will be some time before we see the likes of Daniel Gossett and Daniel Mengden dominate hitters. Both are promising and are both only 24. Give them some time.

Like Tampa Bay, Oakland must find a new playground. At least there is talk of moving the team to a more desirable complex than their current cement tomb they share with the Oakland Raiders football team. The facility share isn’t fair to either team. The issues will be resolved soon for both.

SEATTLE MARINERS:

Because I scouted for Seattle and I enjoyed that experience a great deal, I will always have a positive feeling about the franchise. But I must say that all the wheeling and dealing done by general manager Jerry Dipoto may have added more instability to an already less than stable roster. In his honest and sincere quest to turn the franchise around, Dipoto has pretty much depleted an already weak farm system. Yes, there are some under the radar guys in the system I like, but they will have to work long and hard to repair a pitching staff that was physically injured and underachieved.

There can’t be much more impact on a club than a duo of Nelson Cruz and Robbie Cano. Those two guys can clean off any runners on the bases with their terrific offensive games that are both anchored with power and great hitting fundamentals. But we expect them to perform. Did anyone see Mitch Haniger having the capability of hitting .275 with 47 RBIs in only 360 at-bats? I have always liked him and I said when the Diamondbacks traded him that his best days are well ahead of him. Still only 26, Haniger can play. He got hurt and it cost he and the Mariners big time.

Injuries hurt. Jean Segura was hurt. Haniger was hurt and the pitching staff really was decimated. King Felix Hernandez started only 16 games. James Paxton pitched well early in the season and then got hurt. Twice. He had 23 starts. So like so many other teams, the Mariners have to find at least one, if not two new starters for next year. I don’t see Hisashi Iwakuma being effective in the future. Maybe, but it certainly doesn’t look good.

The addition of Mike Leake was a very good move by Dipoto and it will add some much-needed stability to the rotation. He and Andrew Moore could be the new faces that help boost the Mariners to a greater prominence next season. The inconsistent Erasmo Ramirez may well be in the mix as well.

Instead of dumping his bushel basket of players and sorting out who can play and who can’t, it would probably be best for Dipoto to give his current roster a bit of time to play together healthy and see what transpires next season.

TEXAS RANGERS:

Probably unable to sign him, the Rangers traded away Yu Darvish. That took a solid arm out of the rotation and left the team to try and make up ground with the likes of 13-game winner Martin Perez as well as aging Cole Hamels, inconsistent Andrew Cashner and Miguel Gonzalez. If I’m a hitter, that group doesn’t bring fear to me at all, whatsoever. Nor do I think it brings fear to any of their American League West rivals. Quite simply, for the umpteenth time in a row, the Rangers enter the offseason needing to fix the pitching.

I must say that the way the team handled Jurikson Profar was beyond belief. He was once an untouchable prospect. Now he has been reduced to limbo status. I guarantee if I’m in another front office I’m on the phone to Texas to see what it takes to take Profar off their hands. I would see how well he could throw. And I’d either put him in center field or at second base in spring training every single day. Profar played 87 games this year at Triple-A Round Rock. And he hit .287 there.

All Adrian Beltre did in his age 38 season was hit .311. A first-ballot Hall of Famer in my estimation, Beltre is one of my favorite players of all time. The man is an incredible third baseman, a clutch power hitter, a class act and a tremendous influence in the clubhouse. I can only hope he returns and is healthy.

Nomar Mazara gives his team a great deal of promise. He’s getting better all the time. With Mazara and the always-powerful Joey Gallo, the team has some exciting players to watch in addition to Beltre. And Elvis Andrus has really had a wonderful year.

Again, the Rangers can hit, hit for power and score runs. But until they can pitch and hold the opposition down night in and night out they will sit down in the standings and look up in envy at the powerful and more dynamic Houston Astros.

CONCLUSIONS:

I see the Astros, Indians, Yankees, Red Sox and Twins as the teams that should continue to be in the playoff to World Series mix again next year. I think the Yankees and Twins will continue to improve while the Astros, Indians and Red Sox continue to be well-constructed rosters with depth.

I do see the Twins as a very solid offensive club in need of at least one to two starting pitchers if they wish to wrestle the division championship from Cleveland. I do not see any real threat to the Astros. Finally, I believe the Yankees will overtake the Red Sox next season with their offensive firepower and solid pitching.

Great stars abound in the American League. Probably most under the radar are the Indians Jose Ramirez and the Astros Yuli Gurriel. Didi Gregorius isn’t as widely recognized as the great shortstop he is and Starlin Castro gets short shrift in the shadow of players like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.

I wonder how far back Mookie Betts will come next year to being the player I think he can be. I think he’ll rebound very well, even though most players would love to have the year he just completed. More was expected. Is Hanley Ramirez just a shell of his former self and is that shoulder really going to bother him next year as well?

What will happen to the Kansas City Royals after they lose so many players to free agency?

How will the new makeup of the White Sox and Tigers impact their future? How long will it take for their new looks to get them to dance at the season-ending parties?

And what happens if the Rangers and Angels don’t spend money? Will they just go through the motions next year? And who will the Athletics trade to help a new team become a contender?

Will the Blue Jays continue to fool themselves into thinking they have enough depth on their roster to contend?

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About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. In addition to his BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD column, he's a scout/analyst for FanRag Sports.com. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff