In a market like Seattle, where the playoff drought was into its second decade, a tear-it-down-and-start-over plan was unacceptable.

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HOUSTON – Many people see the Houston Astros as the favorite in the AL West and a legitimate World Series contender — and the Mariners can vouch for their strength after two games.

It’s getting harder to remember that just four years ago, the Astros were the doormats of baseball, the first team to land the No. 1 overall draft pick three years in a row. You do that by having the worst record in baseball, of course, and the Astros strategically dismantled — or sabotaged, some would say — their team in order to lose 106, 107 and 111 games from 2011 to 2013.

It’s a strategy currently in vogue, mostly due to the successful implementation by the Astros and Cubs. Teams that are in various stages of tearing down to build for success down the road include the Brewers, Phillies, Braves and Reds.

The Mariners chose a different approach, and this year will be an interesting juxtaposition of two divergent strategies of teams hoping to contend in their division. When Jerry Dipoto took over as Seattle general manager two years ago, the Astros were just finishing their breakthrough season that got them back to the playoffs as a wild card. But he was unwilling to dismantle the veteran-laden but underachieving team he inherited, and bite the bullet for a few years with the hope of coming out stronger on the other side.

“It’s kind of nebulous when you say ‘a few years,’ ’’ Dipoto countered. “Part of the reason the Astros have the type of team they have now, they bit the bullet and they really hit. You have to be both wise in your planning and fortunate in the outcome to hit in the short term.”

The Astros weren’t perfect in their rebuild — they blew two of their three No. 1 overall picks by choosing pitchers Mark Appel and Brady Aiken. Appel (whom the Astros chose just ahead of Kris Bryant; ponder that for a moment) got hurt and was eventually traded to Philadelphia in a package for closer Ken Giles. Aiken didn’t sign, went back in the draft, and was picked by Cleveland.

But in the middle of those two, they got shortstop Carlos Correa, a foundational player, at No. 1 overall. Two-time batting champion Jose Altuve came as an international free agent. Budding stars George Springer and Alex Bregman, future Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, and No. 2 starter Lance McCullers Jr. came in the draft. Collin McHugh, a 19-game winner in 2015, was picked up off waivers. This offseason, in a clear sign the building days are officially over, the Astros acquired veterans like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick.

The Astros also formulated their plan under the previous labor agreement, when it was easier to manipulate the draft system. Dipoto believes that under the new rules, a tear-it-down-and-start-over rebuild will be elongated.

“The game has changed since the Astros put this into play,’’ he said. “For them to be able to do it with a group of players that were all going to descend upon the big leagues in such short order is incredibly rare. While I really appreciate what they’ve done — I think they’ve done as good a job of executing a game plan as can be done — for us to go replicate that, it would not happen as quickly.”

“To do that, you’d have to be biting off more of a six- to eight-year plan to allow for the gestation of the young players in the system. That’s not pleasant for anyone.”

And in a market like Seattle, where the playoff drought was into its second decade, it was unacceptable. So Dipoto sold a different tactic when he interviewed to replace Jack Zduriencik: Build around the core players (Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez), get more athletic to better fit Safeco Field, improve the organizational depth and restock the farm system with productive drafts.

It’s a work in process, certainly. But Dipoto has certainly made the team more athletic, particularly in the outfield. He’s been a transactional fiend, which has helped beef up the depth, particularly in the upper levels of the farm system. It’s too early to judge on the draft, but losing No. 1 pick Kyle Lewis to a major knee injury last year was a blow.

One subtle area where Dipoto chose to prioritize the present over the future was by trying to use raw players in the lower levels of their farm system as currency while acquiring young players closer to the majors.

“That allows you to compete better at the major-league level, fill the needs as they arise,’’ he said. “It also buys us years to draft and develop at the A levels.”

With the Mariners checking in as the oldest group of position players in the majors last year, Dipoto made a concerted effort to get younger by parting ways with the likes of Adam Lind, Franklin Gutierrez, Nori Aoki, Seth Smith and Dae Ho Lee. On opening day, the average age of Seattle’s position players had dropped nearly two years.

“For every thirty-something we have kind of moved out, we’ve brought in a twenty-something who fits,’’ Dipoto said.

The Mariners decided not to dip heavily into the free-agency market, which has been subpar the last two years, particularly in pitching. Dipoto said one of his core principals is to zealously guard draft picks, which has meant not signing qualified free agents that require giving up a top pick as compensation. Instead, they’ve tried to be aggressive in signing international free agents.

“It’s hard to hit (on your draft picks) when you don’t have picks,’’ Dipoto said. “I’ve been down that road. It’s not a pleasant road. It’s very hard to build a system when you’re not feeding the machine.”

At the end of his first week as Seattle GM, the Mariners beat the A’s to finish ahead of them in the 2015 standings and clinch the No. 11 slot in the ’16 draft — a nonprotected pick.

“We were not going to sign a free agent that was going to cost us the 11th pick in the draft,’’ he said. “Going into this offseason, it was not even a consideration for us to sign a comp free agent and give up that pick. Those picks are incredibly valuable to us right now.”

That mindset forced Dipoto to be more creative in his team-building, much of it with the philosophy that if you stockpile raw talent, not all will reach its potential — but some will. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick on the Mariners’ central core as they embark on a season where anything less than a playoff berth would be a major disappointment.

The very early returns favor the Astros, who have won back-to-back games by shutting down Seattle’s offense. But check back in September to see how this plays out in 2017.