AL West preview: Houston should lead a division full of rebuilders; Can the Rangers avoid last place? – Dallas News

Every team goes through cycles. For a few blessed clubs, the good times last far longer than the down seasons.

The Rangers go into this season in the first stage of a rebuilding, or whatever term you choose to use. The American League West is the home of stepping back to put it together again. A look at where each club stands:

Astros: Humming along

The Astros set an example by going all out on a tear-it-down approach in 2011-13. They had three consecutive seasons of more than 105 losses. Attendance dropped to 1.61 million.

The payoff consisted of the first draft pick in three consecutive seasons and a large bonus pool for signings. The Astros also peeled away what few appealing veterans they had for prospects and increased their presence in Latin America.

The plan worked. Houston has won the West in each of the last two seasons, winning more than 100 games each time. They took the World Series in 2017. They had enough talent in the farm system to trade for a pair of outstanding starting pitchers — right-handers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole — and not ravage the pipeline.

Houston is “set up very well for the future,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

Prediction: First place at 99-63.

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A’s: Constantly rebuilding

Stability is a foreign concept to the Athletics. They develop good, young players only to move them before they reach their prime earning years. Blame that on a bad stadium situation, the Athletics say.

After three consecutive last-place finishes, Oakland unexpectedly advanced last season. The Athletics won 97 games, challenged Houston for the West lead most of the summer and got into the playoffs as a wild card.

There are two ways to look at Oakland’s success in 2018:

With a roster loaded with young talent such as infield corners Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, bigger things are ahead for this club.

The A’s were a statistical anomaly and are due for a regression this season. Oakland went 31-14 in one-run games. Oakland beat up bad teams, going 18-0 against Detroit, San Diego and Toronto.

“We’ve turned a corner as a team,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We feel like we can do similar things that we did last year.”

Prediction: Second place at 88-74.

Angels: The outlier

The Angels are victims of their market. They have needed to go into a rebuilding phase for several years but have avoided that out of concern it would open the way for the Los Angeles Dodgers to absorb the entire market.

So, the Angels keep trying to patch a team together through the quick fixes of signing risky or past-their-prime players. Think the Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols deals. Pujols has two more seasons remaining on his mega-contract, at a total salary of $57 million. He has had a minus WAR in each of the last two seasons.

At the same time, the Angels let their minor league system deteriorate. Put it all together, and you get mediocre teams.

The Halos have not won a playoff game since 2009. They have had losing records in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992-94.

The Angels have done this despite having the game’s top player: Center fielder Mike Trout.

Prediction: Third place at 79-83.

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Mariners: Taking it to the max

The Mariners have spent a generation trapped in the worst possible spot. Not terrible but not nearly good enough to reach the playoffs. Their last playoff appearance came in 2001.

That prompted general manager Jerry Dipoto to roll the dice by “re-imagining” the club. Dipoto made nine trades in the offseason. He shipped out older players with heavy contracts and brought in younger talent for what had turned into the worst player-development system in the majors.

“We don’t think this year is a punt,” Dipoto said. “We feel like we went from being stuck in the middle of the American League to being stuck in the middle of the American League with a future ahead of us. That’s a better place to be.”

Dipoto kept to his vow of not “stripping it down to the studs.” He kept a few foundation players, such as left-hander Marco Gonzales and right fielder Mitch Haniger. Dipoto also tried to accelerate the process by signing Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi.

Dipoto started this plan after receiving a contract extension. That was wise. If the plan fails, Seattle will be a wasteland for a long time. Rebuilding does not always equate with success.

“If we’re right … potentially cut the time in half that we would have to develop this roster,” Dipoto said. “We’re opening to getting players, as long as they fit in what we think is our most competitive window, which we feel starts midway 2020-21.”

Prediction: Fifth place at 65-97.

Twitter: @gfraley

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