2016: 95-67, first place, lost to Toronto in ALDS.
Manager: Jeff Banister (third season).
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He’s Here: 1B Mike Napoli, RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Mike Hauschild, RHP Dillon Gee.
He’s Outta Here: LHP Derek Holland, CF Ian Desmond, DH Carlos Beltran, 1B Mitch Moreland, RHP Colby Lewis.
Projected Lineup: CF Carlos Gomez (.210, 5 HRs, 29 RBIs in 85 games with Astros; .284, 8, 24 in 33 games with Rangers), DH Shin-Soo Choo (.242, 7, 17), 3B Adrian Beltre (.300, 32, 104), 2B Rougned Odor (.271, 33, 88), 1B Mike Napoli (.239, 34, 101 with Indians), C Jonathan Lucroy (.299, 13, 50 in 95 games with Brewers; .276, 11, 31 in 47 games with Rangers), RF Nomar Mazara (.266, 20, 64), LF Jurickson Profar (.239, 5, 20) or Ryan Rua (.258, 8, 22), SS Elvis Andrus (.302, 8, 69, 24/32 SBs)
Rotation: LH Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.32 ERA, 200 Ks in 200 2/3 IP), RH Yu Darvish (7-5, 3.41, 132 Ks in 100 1/3 IP), LH Martin Perez (10-11, 4.39), RH A.J. Griffin (7-4, 5.07), RH Mike Hauschild (Rule 5 draft pick, 9-10, 3.22 at Triple-A Fresno).
Key Relievers: RH Sam Dyson (3-2, 2.43, 38/43 saves), RH Matt Bush (7-2, 2.48), RH Tony Barnette (7-3, 2.09), LH Alex Claudio (4-1, 2.79), RH Keone Kela (5-1, 6.09), RH Jeremy Jeffress (3-2, 2.33 in 59 games for Brewers and Rangers).
Hot Spot: Back of Starting Rotation. For the first time, Texas expects to have both Darvish and Hamels ready to start a season. Hamels was acquired in July 2015, and Darvish missed the beginning of last season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The Rangers knew when Ross signed in January that he wouldn’t be ready for opening day following October surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. But now Cashner, who signed a $10 million, one-year deal early in the offseason, has a biceps issue that will land him on the disabled list to start the season. Griffin got off to a good start last year before developing right shoulder stiffness.
Outlook: Texas won an AL-high 95 games last year and has taken the division title in both seasons under Banister. But over the course of 162 games, the Rangers outscored their opponents by only eight runs in 2016. They lost the big bats of Desmond, Moreland and Beltran in the offseason. The return of Napoli should help. Since going to the World Series with Texas in 2011, he’s been back with two other teams. Lucroy and Gomez were big acquisitions late last season. Beltre goes into his 20th major league season 58 hits shy of 3,000, and Andrus is coming off his best offensive year. With a healthy Darvish and Hamels, the Rangers are set at the top of the rotation, and Perez started 33 games last season. If Ross and/or Cashner can contribute, the rotation will get a boost. Dyson excelled as the closer last year, while Bush and Barnette established themselves with strong performances as 30-something rookies.
2016: 86-76, second place.
Manager: Scott Servais (second season).
He’s Here: SS Jean Segura, OF Jarrod Dyson, 1B-3B Danny Valencia, OF Mitch Haniger, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Yovani Gallardo, C Carlos Ruiz, RHP Shae Simmons, LHP Marc Rzepczynski, RHP Casey Fien.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Taijuan Walker, 1B Adam Lind, OF Nori Aoki, 1B Dae-Ho Lee, OF Franklin Gutierrez, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Nathan Karns, LHP Vidal Nuno, RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP Drew Storen, C Jesus Sucre.
Projected Lineup: LF Jarrod Dyson (.278, 1 HR, 25 RBIs, 30 SBs with Royals), SS Jean Segura (.319, 20, 64, 203 hits with Diamondbacks), 2B Robinson Cano (.298, 39, 103), DH Nelson Cruz (.287, 43, 105), 3B Kyle Seager (.278, 30, 99), 1B Danny Valencia (.287, 17, 51), RF Mitch Haniger (.229, 5, 17 in 34 games with Diamondbacks), C Mike Zunino (.207, 12, 31) or Carlos Ruiz (.264, 3, 15 in 64 games with Phillies and Dodgers), CF Leonys Martin (.247, 15, 47).
Rotation: RH Felix Hernandez (11-8, 3.82 ERA in 25 starts), RH Hisashi Iwakuma (16-12, 4.12), LH James Paxton (6-7, 3.79 in 20 starts), LH Drew Smyly (7-12, 4.88 with Rays), RH Yovani Gallardo (6-8, 5.42 with Orioles).
Key Relievers: RH Edwin Diaz (0-4, 2.79, 18 saves, 88 Ks in 51 2/3 innings), LH Marc Rzepczynski (1-0, 2.64 in 70 games with Athletics and Nationals), RH Nick Vincent (4-4, 3.73), LH Ariel Miranda (5-2, 3.88 in 12 games, 10 starts), RH Casey Fien (1-1, 5.49 in 39 games with Twins and Dodgers), RH Evan Scribner (0-0, 0.00 in 12 games, 14 IP), RH Dan Altavilla (0-0, 0.73 in 15 games).
Hot Spot: Bullpen. When the 23-year-old Diaz seems to be the one certainty in the bullpen, you know there are concerns. Seattle hopes to add Steve Cishek and Tony Zych to the group later in the season as both recover from injuries. Simmons could also be in line for a spot after being slowed during spring training by an arm injury. Last year, GM Jerry Dipoto picked up Vincent right before the start of the regular season and he ended up being one of Seattle’s key relievers. Don’t be surprised if Dipoto pulls off another late move to solidify the staff.
Outlook: The Mariners completed the second phase of their remodel this past offseason. Dipoto wanted a lineup that was less reliant on the long ball and better defensively in the outfield. Segura and Dyson legitimize the top of the order and can be speedy table-setters for Cano, Cruz and Seager. The keys to scoring more will be Valencia and Haniger. Their production will determine whether Seattle actually lengthened its lineup or it essentially ends at No. 5. Hernandez appears determined to rebound from last year’s average performance, and Smyly was a critical winter acquisition. Seattle has the look of a team that could improve by a few wins, which might be enough to end baseball’s longest playoff drought.
2016: 84-78, third place.
Manager: A.J. Hinch (third season).
He’s Here: OF Josh Reddick, C Brian McCann, DH-OF Carlos Beltran, RHP Charlie Morton, OF Norichika Aoki.
He’s Outta Here: C Jason Castro, RHP Pat Neshek, OF Colby Rasmus, 3B Luis Valbuena, RHP Doug Fister.
Projected Lineup: CF George Springer (.261, 29 HRs, 82 RBIs), 2B Jose Altuve (.338, 24, 96), SS Carlos Correa (.274, 20, 96), LF-DH Carlos Beltran (.295, 29, 93 with Yankees and Rangers), C-DH Brian McCann (.242, 20, 58 with Yankees), 1B Yulieski Gurriel (.262, 3, 15 in 36 games), DH-C Evan Gattis (.251, 32, 72), RF Josh Reddick (.281, 10, 37 for Athletics and Dodgers) or LF-RF Norichika Aoki (.283, 4, 28 for Seattle), 3B Alex Bregman (.264, 8, 34 in 49 games).
Rotation: LH Dallas Keuchel (9-12, 4.55 ERA, 144 Ks), RH Lance McCullers (6-5, 3.22), RH Collin McHugh (13-10, 4.34), RH Charlie Morton (1-1, 4.15 with Philadelphia), RH Mike Fiers (11-8, 4.48) or RH Joe Musgrove (4-4, 4.06).
Key Relievers: RH Ken Giles (2-5, 4.11, 15/20 saves), RH Luke Gregerson (4-3, 3.28, 15/21 saves), LH Tony Sipp (1-2, 4.95), RH Will Harris (5-1, 2.29, 12/15 saves), RH Chris Devenski (4-4, 2.16).
Hot Spot: First Base. The Astros have had a revolving door at first base for years, with no one able to lock down the position. In an attempt to solve the problem, they moved Gurriel from third base to first. Gurriel was solid in limited time last season after starring in Cuba for 15 years, but he had trouble adjusting to the rigors of playing every day. If he handles that better this year, Houston could have even more power at the plate – and some consistency at first base for the first time since Lance Berkman was traded in 2010.
Outlook: The Astros appear to have all the pieces necessary to make a deep postseason run and possibly even contend for a championship after narrowly missing the playoffs last season following a 7-17 start. The already-powerful lineup led by last year’s AL batting champ (Altuve) and 2015 Rookie of the Year (Correa) got a boost with the addition of slugging veterans Beltran and Reddick. A key for Houston will be for Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner, to rebound from a disappointing and injury-shortened 2016 season to lead the rotation. The Astros will also look for more from McCullers after he was slowed by injuries as well. And they'll need McHugh and Morton to shore up the back of the rotation if they hope to beat out Texas and Seattle for the AL West crown.
Los Angeles Angels
2016: 74-88, fourth place.
Manager: Mike Scioscia (18th season).
He’s Here: OF Cameron Maybin, 2B Danny Espinosa, INF Luis Valbuena, OF Ben Revere, RHP Jesse Chavez, C Martin Maldonado.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Jered Weaver, LHP C.J. Wilson, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, INF Gregorio Petit, C Jett Bandy.
Projected Lineup: 3B Yunel Escobar (.304, 5 HRs, 39 RBIs), RF Kole Calhoun (.271, 18, 75), CF Mike Trout (.315, 29, 100), DH Albert Pujols (.268, 31, 119), 1B Luis Valbuena (.260, 13, 40 with Houston), 2B Danny Espinosa (.209, 24, 72 with Washington), LF Cameron Maybin (.315, 4, 43 with Detroit), C Carlos Perez (.209, 5, 31), SS Andrelton Simmons (.281, 4, 44).
Rotation: RH Garrett Richards (1-3, 2.34 ERA in 6 starts before elbow injury), RH Matt Shoemaker (9-13, 3.88, team-leading 143 Ks), LH Tyler Skaggs (3-4, 4.17 in 10 late-season starts), RH Ricky Nolasco (8-14, 4.42 for Twins and Angels), RH Jesse Chavez (2-2, 4.43 in 62 relief appearances for Blue Jays and Dodgers).
Key Relievers: RH Huston Street (3-2, 6.45, 12 saves), RH Cam Bedrosian (2-0, 1.12, 1.09 WHIP), RH Andrew Bailey (0-0, 2.38, 6 saves), RH Mike Morin (2-2, 4.37), LH Jose Alvarez (1-3, 3.45).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. Weaver and Wilson are finally off the Angels’ books and out of their plans, but there is no sure thing in the starting five. Richards is increasingly confident in his elbow ligament, which nearly required Tommy John surgery. Shoemaker appears to be coming back strong from a line drive to the head late last season, while Skaggs is trying to catch up after getting shut down earlier in the spring. Nolasco and Chavez are the first candidates to fill out the back of the rotation, but it’s uncertain how effective they will be. At least the Angels can’t possibly have worse luck with pitching injuries than they did in 2016, right?
Outlook: The Angels come off the worst season of Scioscia’s long tenure with hopes for a quick turnaround. Trout is the center of everything after winning his second MVP award, and he intends to steal more bases. Despite salary constraints caused by owner Arte Moreno’s free-spending past, GM Billy Eppler plugged two holes by putting the athletic Maybin in left field, with Revere backing him up, and Orange County native Espinosa at second base. The lineup appears to be improved, and if the starting rotation stays healthy and pitches reasonably well, a return to playoff contention might not be completely out of the question.
2016: 69-93, fifth place.
Manager: Bob Melvin (seventh season).
He’s Here: 3B Trevor Plouffe, RHP Santiago Casilla, RF Matt Joyce, CF Rajai Davis, 3B Adam Rosales.
He’s Outta Here: 3B Danny Valencia, CF Brett Eibner, LHP Dillon Overton.
Projected Lineup: CF Rajai Davis (.249, 12 HRs, 48 RBIs, 43 SBs with Indians), C Stephen Vogt (.251, 14, 56) or Josh Phegley (.256, 1, 10), DH Ryon Healy (.305, 13, 37), LF Khris Davis (.247, 42, 102), RF Matt Joyce (.242, 13, 42 with Pirates) or Mark Canha (.122, 3, 6 in 41 ABs), SS Marcus Semien (.238, 27, 75), 3B Trevor Plouffe (.260, 12, 47 with Twins), 1B Yonder Alonso (.253, 7, 56), 2B Jed Lowrie (.263, 2, 27).
Rotation: RH Sonny Gray (5-11, 5.69 ERA), RH Kendall Graveman (10-11, 4.11), LH Sean Manaea (7-9, 3.86), RH Jharel Cotton (2-0, 2.15 in 5 starts), RH Andrew Triggs (1-1, 4.31), RH Raul Alcantara (1-3, 7.25 in 5 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Ryan Madson (6-7, 3.62, 30/37 saves), LH Sean Doolittle (2-3, 3.23, 4 saves), RH Ryan Dull (5-5, 2.42, 3 saves), RH Santiago Casilla (2-5, 3.57, 31/40 saves with Giants), RH John Axford (6-4, 3.98, 3 saves).
Hot Spot: No. 1 Starter. The A’s were hoping for a bounce-back year from their ace, Gray, who struggled last season with injuries and performance. He missed time with a trapezius strain and forearm strain. And even when healthy, he wasn’t good. His ERA more than doubled from his 2.73 mark in 2015. Now, Gray will open this season on the shelf with a lat strain that could force him to miss the opening month. Oakland has few proven options behind him in the rotation, making his absence even more significant.
Outlook: The A’s are coming off a second straight last-place finish and the worst two-year run for the franchise since 1978-79, before Billy Ball, the Bash Brothers or Moneyball. After moving top players like Josh Reddick, Rich Hill and Coco Crisp last season before losing them in free agency, this doesn’t appear to be the year the A’s will vault back into contention. The offense does have some power led by Davis and Semien, and the bullpen is pretty deep with several former closers available to set up Madson. But the rotation is mostly built on young promise behind the banged-up Gray.