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Fantasy Baseball AL West Preview: Astros still among MLB's top teams in wake of cheating scandal

Houston Astros

The Astros will be baseball’s most scrutinized team this year thanks to the revelation of their cheating scandal during the offseason, but they also enter as favorites to win the American League despite a brand-new GM, manager and losing a player who just signed the richest contract in MLB history by a pitcher. Their lineup looks like arguably the best in baseball and likely to lead MLB in runs scored despite Minute Maid Park typically favoring pitching.

Your mileage may vary, but it appears Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and George Springer are being mildly (and sometimes not mildly) discounted in drafts thanks to the uncertainty of 2020’s ramifications, while Carlos Correa has never been cheaper thanks to continued durability issues as well. Kyle Tucker has an intriguing power/speed combo and is a nice prospect, but he also enters the year as a fourth outfielder.

Yordan Alvarez hit .343 with 23 homers over just 213 at-bats in Triple-A last season and then had a higher wRC+ (178) after getting called up by the Astros. Only Mike Trout posted a better mark (180) than the rookie, who was seeing his first taste of major league pitching while also dealing with a sore knee that’s reportedly feeling better now. Alvarez is OF-eligible (yet DH should help him stay healthy) in Yahoo and is a first-round fantasy talent with a third/fourth-round price tag.

Initially, the only argument against Justin Verlander was age, as there was a case for him as the No. 1 overall pick after recording 300 strikeouts with a 0.80 WHIP last year and in such a highly favorable situation to rack up wins. Unfortunately, a groin injury forced the veteran to miss time during spring training and now he’ll be out six weeks after surgery. With Opening Day still far off, however, JV could be ready to go by then.

Zack Greinke is as dependable as it gets, and then Houston is loaded with upside arms in Lance McCullers, Jose Urquidy and Josh James, all of whom carry low floors with added injury risk, but all three have top-25 SP fantasy type upside if things break right. Former top prospect Forrest Whitley still looms as a potential ace down the road as well.

The Astros are overflowing with talent, yet the baseball world will seemingly be rooting against them, which should make for an entertaining season (and one of the very best teams for fantasy purposes in multiple ways this year).

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Houston Astros projected lineup. (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

Oakland A’s

Oakland is unlikely to win 97 games again, but this is an extremely talented roster that will be right in the playoff hunt. Marcus Semien finished fifth among all position players in WAR (7.6) last season, while teammate Matt Chapman was 11th. Semien is perennially underrated at draft tables, but you’ll need to pay up for Ramon Laureano’s services this year. Matt Olson is a nice target at first base, while Khris Davis is a prime bounce-back candidate. Projected right fielder Stephen Piscotty is dealing with a side injury and is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season (but depending on when Opening Day is, this could change) while the team’s second base job remains wide open, with the winner unlikely to possess much fantasy value.

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Oakland’s rotation is young with a bunch of upside, and THE BAT projects the A’s to have four of the top-45 fantasy starters this year. If Jesus Luzardo doesn’t win Rookie of the Year, it might very well be because teammate A.J. Puk (who could be ready for Opening Day after dealing with shoulder soreness) did instead. Mike Fiers was the team’s Opening Day starter last season and finished the year with a 1.19 WHIP, but he’s not one of the team’s five best options to start right now (Chris Bassitt posted a 3.26 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP and a 4.4 K:BB ratio after the All-Star break last year and is a fantasy sleeper who’s nearly free in drafts).

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Oakland Athletics projected lineup. (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels look improved and should be in the mix for a wild card spot, but an already thin rotation can ill afford Griffin Canning to go down, and the young right-hander’s elbow is currently of major concern (removing him off fantasy draft boards — we’ll see if he’ll be ready by season’s start, whenever it does). Mike Trout is no longer the unanimous top pick in drafts (but dominates top golf), yet he remains baseball’s clear best player. It’s worth noting, however, that after averaging 158 games played from 2013-2016, he’s averaged 129.3 over the last three years.

Anthony Rendon is someone to fade coming off a career-year, as he’ll be switching leagues and undergoing a major downgrade in parks, while Justin Upton is someone to target coming off the worst season of his career thanks to a bunch of injuries. He’s cheaper than ever and is slated to hit behind Trout, Rendon and a jacked Shohei Ohtani. Brian Goodwin could provide short-term value while possibly even leading off earlier in the year, but it’s a matter of when, not if, exciting rookie Jo Adell replaces him in the team’s outfield. Since the Angels moved their right-field fences in two years ago, Anaheim has been the friendliest place for left-handed homers.

Andrew Heaney’s 21.5 K-BB% last season would’ve ranked top-15 among starters had he qualified, and while it’s going to be fun when Ohtani is truly unleashed, he can’t be expected to throw more than 100 innings during his return from Tommy John surgery (he has reportedly been showcasing some new throwing mechanics as well). Dylan Bundy is a pitcher to target who’s available late but has a strong pedigree and saw a huge upgrade in surroundings when he was traded from the Orioles and the AL East to a far more favorable situation in LA. Hansel Robles was strong down the stretch last year and enters as the Angels’ favorite to close, but projection systems suggest you address the saves category elsewhere.

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Los Angeles Angels projected lineup. (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are a bit of a wild card this year, as they go from playing in baseball’s best hitter’s park other than Coors Field to a new place that features similar dimensions but projects to act much more neutral thanks to a retractable roof (but it’s still a big unknown). Shin-Soo Choo gets a big boost in OBP leagues, while Joey Gallo enters 2020 as MLB’s favorite to hit the most home runs despite the ballpark change. Danny Santana is an obvious regression candidate, and there’s a good chance Willie Calhoun — who fractured his jaw on March 8 but could be ready depending on season’s start — being finally given an everyday role results in disappointment. Rougned Odor is going cheap for a middle infielder who hit 30 homers, stole 10+ bases and recorded 90+ RBI over just 145 games last season. He also has a brother named Rougned Odor.

The main position battle is first base, where a younger Ronald Guzman with a retooled swing would become interesting if he beats out Todd Frazier for the starting job.

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Texas traded for Corey Kluber during the offseason, who’s coming off an injury-ravaged season but immediately becomes the team’s ace. Health will be paramount when it comes to the extent of Kluber’s rebound this season. Lance Lynn and Mike Minor both ranked top-15 in FB% last year, so they should particularly benefit from the change in parks. Jose Leclerc lost his job at one point last season and has shaky control, but he’s already been named the team’s closer, recorded 100 strikeouts last season and is one year removed from posting a 1.56 ERA, so treat him as a top-15 fantasy RP.

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Texas Rangers projected lineup. (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

Seattle Mariners

Other than the Orioles, we may be looking at the worst team in baseball here, at least for 2020. The Mariners are the heavy favorites to score the fewest runs in the American League, don’t have a top-80 SP according to ADP and don’t have a closer worth drafting, so Seattle is also a fantasy wasteland. Mallex Smith should finish among the league leaders in steals but will likely hurt you in every other category while doing so, while Dee Gordon remains as a cheaper source of speed in a utility role. Tom Murphy could be a batting average problem, but most catchers are and he’s a sneaky threat to hit 25 homers. Locked in a starting role and coming off posting an .878 OPS after the All-Star break, he’s also a real candidate to bat cleanup in Seattle. The wrong Murphy playing catcher in this division has the higher ADP in fantasy leagues.

Marco Gonzales is the team’s No. 1 starter, but Yusei Kikuchi (showing increased velocity this spring), Justus Sheffield (former first-round pick who was the main return in the James Paxton deal) and Taijuan Walker (former top prospect) all have more upside and are intriguing fliers in deeper fantasy leagues. THE BAT projects a 4.96 ERA and 1.45 WHIP for presumptive closer Matt Magill, who was sidelined with a sore throwing shoulder before the season’s start was put on hold, so the saves gig is as open in Seattle as any team in baseball right now. Yoshihisa Hirano is a deep sleeper, as he pitched better than his ERA indicated last season and has some experience in the ninth inning, so he could get some saves, which are becoming increasingly tough to acquire as more teams spread out the closer’s role.

Projected 2020 starting lineup and rotation

Seattle Mariners projected lineup. (Photo by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

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