Texas Rangers

Previewing the AL West race

Mariners outfielder Nelson Cruz
Mariners outfielder Nelson Cruz AP

Los Angeles Angels

Last year: 98-64 (1st)

Gained: OF/DH Matt Joyce (Rays), LHP Andrew Heaney (Marlins), RHP Nick Tropeano (Astros)

Lost: 2B Howie Kendrick (Dodgers), C Hank Conger (Astros), 2B Gordon Beckham (White Sox)

Better, worse or same? Same

Why: Josh Hamilton’s season remains mired in questions with a shoulder injury and an expected suspension from the league for drug use. But the good news for the Angels is Hamilton wasn’t that much of a factor a year ago when they won an MLB-high 98 games. Center fielder Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the game, coupled with a healthy Albert Pujols, should keep the Angels’ offense — which led the league with 773 runs — in the thick of the division. Garrett Richards leads a solid staff that includes Jered Weaver and Matt Shoemaker. All three had sub-3.60 ERA in 2014 and combined to win 47 games.

Seattle Mariners

Last year: 87-75 (3rd)

Gained: OF/DH Nelson Cruz (Orioles), OF Seth Smith (Padres), OF Justin Ruggiano (Cubs)

Lost: RHP Chris Young (Royals), OF Michael Saunders (Blue Jays), 1B Justin Smoak (Blue Jays), OF/DH Corey Hart (Pirates), DH Kendrys Morales (Royals)

Better, worse or same? Better

Why: An offense that was stuck in the bottom third of the leage in ’14 should get a jolt in the middle of the lineup with Cruz. The addition of Cruz should help Robinson Cano, Mike Zunino and Kyle Seager see better pitches. Starters Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are joined in the rotation by young lefties Roenis Elias, James Paxton and veteran lefty J.A. Happ. The Mariners aren’t only deep in their rotation, but also their bullpen. Closer Fernando Rodney returns after saving a team-record 48 games in ’14 and is complemented by Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone and Yoervis Medina.

Houston Astros

Last year: 70-92 (4th)

Gained: C Hank Conger (Angels), C/OF Evan Gattis (Braves), RHP Luke Gregerson (A’s), RHP Pat Neshek (Cardinals), SS Jed Lowrie (A’s), OF Colby Rasmus (Blue Jays), RHP Dan Straily (Cubs), 3B Luis Valbuena (Cubs)

Lost: C Carlos Corporan (Rangers), OF Dexter Fowler (Cubs), 1B/OF Marc Krauss (Angels)

Better, worse or same? Better

Why: The Astros made major strides a year ago but still lost more than 90 games. A young group of talented position players will have to make major steps forward under first-year manager A.J. Hinch for Houston to get closer to .500. But most of the pieces of a future playoff team appear in order. Batting champ Jose Altuve sparks an offense filled with young sluggers, including right fielder George Springer, who had 20 homers and 51 RBIs as a rookie. Experience should help improve his .231 average. Gattis is likely to get a chance in left with catcher Jason Castro looking to regain his 2013 All-Star form after a down year in ’14. Lefty Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Collin McHugh had ERAs of 2.93 and 2.73 and combined to win 23 games.

Texas Rangers

Last year: 67-95 (5th)

Gained: 1B/OF Kyle Blanks (Padres), C Carlos Corporan (Astros), LHP Ross Detwiler (Nationals), RHP Kyuji Fujikawa (Cubs), RHP Yovani Gallardo (Brewers), INF Ed Lucas (Marlins), RHP Ross Ohlendorf (Nationals), LHP Sam Freeman (Cardinals)

Lost: C J.P. Arencibia (Orioles), OF Alex Rios (Royals), Daniel Robertson (Angels)

Better, worse or same? Better.

Why: It’s hard to fathom another deluge of injuries like the one that struck Texas in ’14. Even with the news that ace Yu Darvish and Jurickson Profar were lost for the 2015 season with injuries earlier this spring, the Rangers should be better. But that may not mean a drastic surge in the tough AL West race under first-year manager Jeff Banister. Major parts of the offense returning from injuries have to produce, including Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Mitch Moreland. Without above average seasons from that trio any overall improvement would be marginal. Detwiler and Ohlendorf may prove to be sly off-season additions. If the rest of the rotation — Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Gallardo — stays healthy, the Rangers should win more games.

Oakland Athletics

Last year: 88-74 (2nd)

Gained: DH Billy Butler (Royals), 2B Ben Zobrist (Rays), 3B Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays), SS Marcus Semien (White Sox), 1B Ike Davis (Pirates), RHP Tyler Clippard (Nationals)

Lost: LHP Jon Lester (Cubs), RHP Jeff Samardzija (White Sox), 3B Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays), SS Jed Lowrie (Astros), 1B/OF Brandon Moss (Indians)

Better, worse or same? Worse

Why: If the A’s are able to earn a postseason berth for a fourth consecutive season, Moneyball may need a follow-up. Especially considering the pitching Oakland lost in the off-season in Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, who combined for 30 wins and both sported ERAs under 3.00. They’re also replacing most of their infield with the exits of Donaldson, Lowrie and Moss. Although they have capable replacements in hand, including Zobrist at second, and Butler at DH, the offense, which was fourth in runs scored in ’14, may find scoring harder to come by this season. The A’s still have several dependable arms, including Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir but pitching depth could be an issue in a tough division.— Stefan Stevenson