MLB 2022 Preview: X-Factor for each AL West team

Oct 25, 2021; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros center fielder Jake Meyers (6) during team workouts at Minute Maid Park in Houston, TX. The Houston Astros will be playing the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 25, 2021; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros center fielder Jake Meyers (6) during team workouts at Minute Maid Park in Houston, TX. The Houston Astros will be playing the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports /
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Oct 1, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Spencer Howard (31) throws during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Spencer Howard (31) throws during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Texas Rangers: Starting pitcher Spencer Howard

When the Rangers spent half a billion dollars on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien combined, my reaction (along with the rest of the baseball world) was, “Oh that’s cute. Their rotation consists of… someone help me out here.”

Well if the risky endeavor is going to have any chance of paying off, at least in the short term, the “get Jon Gray out of Coors Field, then he’s a bona fide ace” narrative will have to be true. More importantly though, what version of Spencer Howard will the Rangers get? Will they get the former Phillies’ top prospect with frontline starter potential, or will his previous shoulder injury resurface and prove too much to handle?

Jeff Wilson of Baseball America notes the dip in velocity and lack of durability for Howard down the stretch of the 2021 season. True, it’s hard to judge in just 25 appearances if the 6.83 ERA is just a phase that every rookie big-league pitcher goes through or a sign of something far more concerning. With the starting pitching market already thin once the market reopens and plenty of teams still looking for help, the Rangers may have no choice but to bet on Howard if they want to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

Oakland A’s: Relief pitcher A.J. Puk

Regardless of whether the fire sale goes through in Oakland, it’s put up or shut up time for A.J. Puk.

The Bay Area’s dream of Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk as a two-headed monster is over after Luzardo was dealt to the Miami Marlins in the Starling Marte deal. While it’s too early to say where Puk’s career ultimately will end up, Oakland certainly would have wished his development to be a little further along than 24.2 innings of 4.74 ERA at the big league level entering his age-27 season.

With Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, and Frankie Montas all swirling in trade speculation before the players got locked out, Puk may be asked to be the number two guy behind James Kaprelian, who has been a welcome surprise since coming over from the Yankees.

Next. Potential destinations for every Oakland trade asset. dark

If one, two, or even all three of Oakland’s arms are wearing different uniforms come Opening Day, Puk and Kaprelian may be asked to lead a rotation much sooner than expected.