Houston might be dominating AL West for quite some time

By tanking and stacking top prospects for several seasons, the Astros have turned into a powerhouse, one that the Mariners and the rest of the AL West could be chasing for years to come.

I still remember the prevailing sentiment, since proven to be demonstrably and spectacularly misguided, when the Astros moved from the National League to the AL West in 2013.

The Mariners, the thinking went, were being handed a gift, a new doormat in their division upon whom to siphon off victories. The Lastros, as they were derisively called then, were coming off seasons of 106 and 107 losses, with the worst yet to come – 111 defeats in their first year in the AL, and 92 the next.

But be careful what you wish for. The upside to Houston’s tanking strategy – and they were very strategically rebuilding their team through draft picks and trading off veterans for prospects – was the artful construction of a powerhouse.

And that’s where we stand now as the Astros are in Seattle showing off a rotation top-heavy with aces (with Justin Verlander making his Houston debut on Tuesday) and the best offense in baseball. Never mind the Mariners’ longshot pursuit of a wild-card berth while still desperately juggling their depleted rotation; I think the battle for the Mariners to be most concerned about is the long-term fight for supremacy in the AL West.

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The Astros are winning, decisively. Not just this year, either, though this year has been spectacular for the ’Stros. They have the most comfortable lead in MLB, ahead of even the suddenly struggling Dodgers, and a legitimate shot at the franchise’s first World Series title.

More alarmingly from Seattle’s perspective is that the Astros appear poised to dominate the division for the foreseeable future. With the understanding that any team’s fortunes can take unforeseen twists and turns due to injury and/or under-performance, the Astros have a core of stars (and superstars) all under the age of 30 and locked up for at least the next two years (most of them longer than that). And they have a farm system that keeps churning out players for rejuvenation, depth or trade.

It’s a powerful model, and one that Jerry Dipoto is desperately trying to emulate, minus the tanking part. In April, when the Mariners opened the season in Houston, I talked at length with the general manager about his long-term plans for Seattle, and…

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