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New faces, places

The Mariners paid Robinson Cano $240 million to be their second baseman and No. 3 hitter. For that kind of money, he needs to deliver. The Rangers added Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder to an already powerful lineup. Former Mariner Raul Ibanez will be the Angels’ designated hitter, joining former Cardinals third baseman David Freese in Anaheim’s lineup.

Moving up

The Angels were 78-84 last season, and they’re not getting any younger. But there’s still a lot of talent in Anaheim, and this team should finish north of .500. If Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Ibanez and other veterans have big seasons, the Angels could challenge for the division.

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Moving down

Bob Melvin (remember him?) has managed Oakland to the AL West title the past two years. But Texas looks like the best team this season, assuming some of the Rangers’ injured players return soon, most notably ace Yu Darvish.

Fantasy sleepers

Not sure taking the Astros is a good idea, but catcher Jason Castro hit 18 home runs last year. He hits third in the lineup, so there should be RBI opportunities (such as they are in Houston), and he has 25-homer potential. Texas center fielder Leonys Martin is a good source of stolen bases (36 last year).

Fantasy bust

If you’re drafting Oakland starter Scott Kazmir based on last year’s decent bounce-back season, you’ll need to cross your fingers and hope he stays healthy. He hasn’t made 30 starts since 2007.

Best player

Mike Trout is good. The Angels outfielder, entering his fourth season at age 22, has hit 62 home runs and stolen 86 bases. Ken Griffey Jr., entering his fourth season, also at age 22, had 60 home runs and 50 stolen bases. And he had played 100 games more than Trout.

Best pitcher

The Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, who will turn 28 in April, is starting his ninth full season and has been consistently great. He has made at least 30 starts each of those seasons and has struck out at least 216 batters the past five years. Darvish, 27, struck out a league-high 277 last season and had an ERA of 2.83, but will start the season on the disabled list with a sore neck.

Comeback candidate

Pujols’ batting average has dropped each of the past five seasons, and at age 34 we don’t expect a return to the seasons of plus 1.100 OPS. But an improvement from an injury-plagued 2013 season (99 games, .258, 17 home runs, 64 RBI, by far career-worst OPS of .767) wouldn’t be a huge surprise.

Manager on the hot seat

Mike Scioscia, beginning his 15th season with the Angels, has certainly bought plenty of goodwill and patience by winning a World Series and five AL West titles. But he hasn’t won the division or 90 games since 2009. A repeat of last year’s 78-84 record would have fans calling for a change.

Injury issues

The Rangers have been hit hard in recent weeks. Catcher Geovany Soto and second baseman Jurickson Profar have gone down and will each be out at least two months. Starting pitchers Darvish, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland all start the year on the DL.

Rookies to watch

Taijuan Walker will join the Mariners’ rotation around the first of May, as he works his way into shape after dealing with shoulder soreness this spring.

By the numbers

14   Estimated number of people outside Texas who can name the Astros’ starting outfielders.

376  Home runs by Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre, who has averaged 31.5 the past four seasons after averaging 20.6 in five years with the Mariners.

How they’ll finish

Pos Team
1. Texas
2. Oakland
3. L.A. Angels
4. Mariners
5. Houston

Bill Reader

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