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AL West preview 2017: Astros open their checkbook for new season

Houston Astros pitchers Dallas Keuchel, left, and Lance

Houston Astros pitchers Dallas Keuchel, left, and Lance McCullers during a spring training workout in West Palm Beach, Fla. Credit: AP / David J. Phillip

Houston Astros

What was more surprising this winter? That the relatively frugal Astros, reliant on their young nucleus, would spent $16 million for a soon-to-be 40-year-old Carlos Beltran? Or Beltran, harassed mercilessly after he bolted Houston in free agency, chose to return to the scene of that hostility a dozen years later? Either way, Beltran should be a good fit, both in the clubhouse and on the field, where he’ll pretty much be a full-time DH.

Beltran’s 2016 showed that he was better kept off his feet, and the switch-hitter batted .288 with 15 home runs in 73 games as a DH with both the Yankees and Rangers. Another plus is having him around Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman in a mentoring role, something that Beltran always has done well.

The Astros didn’t stop with Beltran, however. They also traded for Brian McCann, an experienced backstop with power, and signed outfielder Josh Reddick to a four-year, $52-million deal. Those investments make Houston look like a team loading up to dethrone the Rangers for AL West superiority, as well as hold off the charging Mariners.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers signed Mike Napoli (1 yr, $8.5M) to replace Carlos Beltran in the DH spot, and now get a full season of Jonathon Lucroy, acquired at last year’s trade deadline, so scoring runs shouldn’t be a problem. Preventing them, however, could be worrisome with a rotation that hasn’t been able to stay healthy behind Cole Hamels. One factor that works in their favor is Yu Darvish becoming a free agent at the end of this season, and it’s no coincidence that walk years often tend to be some of the best in a player’s career. Bet on the Rangers making a few calls to the White Sox if/when Jose Quintana is on the block.

Seattle Mariners

Every year, it seems, the Mariners are an outside-the-box pick to make the playoffs, and even advance deeper into October. Despite all that, Seattle hasn’t been there since the new millennium began, and probably feels longer than that in the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners have talent: Robinson Cano is one of the sport’s best players, Nelson Cruz is a destructive force at DH, and Felix Hernandez is a perennial Cy contender. But the key here could be some of this winter’s flurry of acquisitions, primarily shortstop Jean Segura, Drew Smyly, Jarrod Dyson and Yovani Gallardo.

Los Angeles Angels

Poor Billy Eppler. The former Yankees’ assistant GM inherited a costly mess when he took over the LA/Anaheim/SoCal Angels after the 2015 season and they still aren’t close to matching the iron of this division, even with the game’s greatest player, Mike Trout, in their employ. The Angels paid over $180 million for 77 wins last season, and a huge chunk of that remains tied up in the abominable 10-year, $240-million contract to Albert Pujols, who at age 37, is signed through 2021. Pujols can still be productive, despite his foot issues, and he’s averaged 29 homers and 98 RBIs during his first five years with the Angels. But Trout needs more help.

Oakland Athletics

So what happens first? The A’s make the playoffs or move into a new stadium? At this rate, the prevailing thought is to check the box next to “never” for both. The last interesting thing Oakland has done was trade Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, and that happened in the midst of three straight finishes in the AL West cellar. A fourth seems inevitable, especially now that Sonny Gray is bothered by lat-muscle issues. So for A’s fans, the only enjoyment is maybe seeing Khris Davis go deep — while sidestepping any exploding toilets.

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