Seattle Mariners

Offseason update: A look around the AL West heading into 2016

The middle of the Rangers’ aging lineup includes Adrian Beltre (29) and Prince Fielder, right. Can they and Shin-Soo Choo and Josh Hamilton stay healthy and productive. The resurgence of several veterans fueled the Rangers’ second-half charge to a division title in 2015.
The middle of the Rangers’ aging lineup includes Adrian Beltre (29) and Prince Fielder, right. Can they and Shin-Soo Choo and Josh Hamilton stay healthy and productive. The resurgence of several veterans fueled the Rangers’ second-half charge to a division title in 2015. The Associated Press

The calendar now says 2016 and, while it’s not spring yet, baseball is about to start pushing its way back into the sports headlines after a fairly quiet holiday break.

Heck, even the Mariners, under new general manager Jerry “Dealing” Dipoto, haven’t made a roster move since before Christmas.

Fact is, the Mariners’ roster, beyond a few tweaks, is likely set after a frenetic pace that saw them move 18 players off their 40-man roster since concluding a 76-86 disappointment.

Elsewhere, though, clubs are still scrambling to fill holes in the six-plus weeks remaining before spring training. (The Mariners have a Feb. 19 reporting date for pitchers and catchers.)

So now seems a good time to look around the neighborhood in the American League West to see what’s changed since the end of last season:

TEXAS RANGERS

2015 record: 88-74, won division title by two games. Lost in American League Division Series to Toronto.

Major offseason additions: Right now, the Rangers hope to retain their division crown with pretty much the same group as last season. The biggest additions, so far, are two former Mariners: reliever Tom Wilhelmsen (in a trade) and outfielder Justin Ruggiano (as a free agent).

Gone since last season: Don’t overlook losing RHP Yovani Gallardo, which thins the rotation. 1B/OF Mike Napoli helped fuel the second-half surge after returning in early August from Boston.

Biggest remaining questions: Can the middle of the Rangers’ aging lineup — 3B Adrian Beltre, DH Prince Fielder and OFs Shin-Soo Choo and Josh Hamilton — stay healthy and productive? Can former ace Yu Darvish provide a boost in an anticipated mid-to-late May return from Tommy John surgery?

Early line: The resurgence of several veterans fueled the Rangers’ second-half charge to a division title. They again figure to go as far as those veterans carry them. That could be another AL West crown … or something considerably less.

HOUSTON ASTROS

2015 record: 86-76, second place, two games behind Texas but qualified for AL wild-card berth. Beat New York in wild-card game; lost to Kansas City in ALDS.

Major offseason additions: After watching their bullpen wear down in the closing weeks (and in the postseason), the Astros acquired a potential impact closer by getting hard-throwing Ken Giles from Philadelphia. That’s about it, though.

Gone since last season: Departing free-agent 1B Chris Carter was an all-or-nothing guy, but he averaged 30 homers over the last three years. INF Jed Lowrie and C Hank Conger, each traded away, were backups, but they added veteran stability.

Biggest remaining questions: The rotation gets thin after Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers. Also, can Giles perform in a postseason chase?

Early line: The Astros began reaping the rewards last season from a years-long rebuilding plan. Keuchel and 2B Jose Altuve are legit stars. Carlos Correa is already an impact player, and OF George Springer brims with tools. More is on the way. Now, though, they’re playing with expectations. Some regression is possible. Or they just might blow everyone away from the start.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

2015 record: 85-77, third place, three games behind Texas.

Major offseason additions: The Angels have a new general manager in former Yankees assistant Billy Eppler. They also added SS Andrelton Simmons, a Gold Glove winner, and 3B Yunel Escobar in trades.

Gone since last season: SS Erick Aybar, a steady-if-unspectacular bat, went to Atlanta in the trade that returned Simmons. That move shortens a lineup that already needed to be lengthened.

Biggest remaining questions: The rotation needs more than RHP Garrett Richards to counter declining cornerstones Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. 1B/DH Albert Pujols, a future Hall of Famer, is about to turn 36 and coming off foot surgery. Left field remains a mess.

Early line: The Angels still have the best player in the game in OF Mike Trout, and Simmons is a defensive wizard who should tighten up the infield. But the Angels appear to be slipping when measured against other division clubs.

SEATTLE MARINERS

2015 record: 76-86, fourth place, 12 games behind Texas.

Major offseason additions: Where to start? The rotation retained RHP Hisashi Iwakuma while adding LHP Wade Miley and RHP Nathan Karns; a remade bullpen is now anchored by RHPs Steve Cishek and Joaquin Benoit; the lineup added Cs Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger, 1B Adam Lind and OFs Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin.

Gone since last season: New GM Jerry Dipoto shredded the bullpen by trading away RHPs Carson Smith, Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar. Other notable departures include SS Brad Miller, 1Bs Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison and LHP Roenis Elias.

Biggest remaining questions: Much depends on that revamped bullpen. Were Cishek’s early struggles last season an aberration? Can LHP Charlie Furbush return to form from a rotator-cuff injury that ended his season in July?

Early line: The Mariners, coming off a immensely disappointing season, have a better supporting cast for what remains a strong central core of stars in RHP Felix Hernandez, 2B Robinson Cano, RF/DH Nelson Cruz and 3B Kyle Seager. If the bullpen clicks, they could be a factor.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

2015 record: 68-94, fifth place, 20 games behind Texas.

Major offseason additions: Added RHPs Henderson Alvarez and Rich Hill to the rotation and overhauled the bullpen by adding LHP Marc Rzepczynski and RHPs Liam Hendriks, Ryan Madson and John Axford. Also reacquired INF Jed Lowrie and traded for 1B Yonder Alonso.

Gone since last season: The trade that sent 3B Brett Lawrie to the White Sox, after one disappointing season, underscores the Oakland’s recent decline. He arrived the previous offseason from Toronto in a deal for Josh Donaldson, who became the AL’s most valuable player.

Biggest remaining questions: This is a lineup loaded with nice supporting pieces but lacks a true run-production bat. It would help if DH Billy Butler bounces back and OF Coco Crisp manages to stay healthy.

Early line: The rotation and the bullpen should each improve, which ought to push the Athletics back toward .500. To do more than that, a lot of things have to go right.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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