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Al East Preview

March 21, 2010

AL EAST PREVIEW (by Tim Sluga)

 

With the new season mere weeks away the American League East, known for big budgets to go along with the big names that preside over it, is preparing to yet again be the division that boasts the World Champion. Two of the marquee franchises, The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox both made big plays in the off-season in the baseball equivalent of the cold war. Upstarts, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, hope to turn their young talent and back to back solid seasons, as well as a World Series birth two years ago, into a household name. Perennial bottom feeders, the Baltimore Orioles, hope to use a dearth of young talent and arms to climb the ladder a little bit, and finally, the Toronto Blue Jays most likely will begin their build to the future.

New York Yankees

What is there to say about this team that hasn’t been said? They were 2009 MLB champs amid a torrid line-up that produced a major league best 915 runs, nearly 30 more than any other team in baseball. Mark Texiera and CC Sabathia, the two major free agent acquisitions prior to last season, along with AJ Burnett, added enough firepower to this powerhouse to take it all the way back to where the brass think it belongs, on top.

2010 looks to be more of the same from this team. Gone is the clubhouse leader Johnny Damon, as well as powerful DH Hideki Matsui, two players who factored big into the teams run, though Damon’s power numbers were a slight aberration. In their stead, they acquired Curtis Granderson, a solid defensive center fielder who albeit had a career low in AVG. last season, still plugs up the rest of the offensive stat categories, as well as can steal some bags and has a history of being able to score a lot of runs. They also brought in Nick Johnson, along with his getting on base at a .400 clip, and strike-out machine Javier Vasquez, into their rotation for the second time in his career. Besides maybe Damon’s leadership and the extent of it in a clubhouse with guys like Jeter, Texiera and Yankee staple, Andy Pettitte, there is no reason to think there will be any drop-off by the team this year and they are more than poised at a repeat.

The line-up should yet again be a run producing machine, very similar to last year’s squad.

  1. Curtis Granderson – CF
  2. Derek Jeter- SS
  3. Mark Texiera – 1B
  4. Alex Rodriguez – 3B
  5. Nick Johnson – DH
  6. Robinson Cano – 2B
  7. Nick Swisher – RF
  8. Jorge Posada – C
  9. Brett Gardener – LF

 

In A-Rod, and Granderson, they have two of the top five run scorers in the past three seasons. Power reigns supreme throughout the whole group and there are going to be plenty of guys to be knocked in with a group of guys who have traditionally high on-base numbers. Pitching around anyone here is near impossible since there is really no easy out, except maybe the unproven Gardener, who has not helped his stock with a slow spring training thus far. Still, with what they lost in aging players like Damon and Matsui they more have made up with in the acquisition of the younger impact player Granderson, and oft-injured, but productive Nick Johnson.

Injuries should be a bit of a concern to this team. They do have veteran, Randy Winn, a decent player for the Giants, Mariners and Rays, for more than a decade as a fourth outfield option, but many positions aren’t too deep beyond the starters.

The pitching staff this year also looks very much like last season, at least up top.

CC Sabathia

AJ Burnett

Andy Pettitte

Javier Vasquez

Sabathia, a yearly favorite in the CY-young race, is looking to compound on top of last seasons monster 19 win year. He nearly topped the 200k mark again and didn’t at all collapse under what some thought was over usage the season before when he carried the Brewers through their play-off run. Behind him you have horses AJ Burnett and Javier Vasquez who barring injuries (which Burnett has had problems with earlier in his career) can both log tons of innings, as well as strike-out a lot of batters. The interesting thing is to see if Vasquez, can pitch anywhere near as effectively as he did last season with the Braves, the best of his career finishing with an ERA under 3, as well as a nearly 5 to 1 K/BB ratio.

The biggest question at this point is who will be the fifth starter for this squad. Joba Chamberlin and Phil Hughes have both done little this spring to show they deserve the spot, as well as what has been a couple of strong outings by Sergio Mitre to put himself in the lead.

The bullpen should again benefit from having starters who can go deep regularly, as well as the most effective closer in history still pitching strong as he gets older. There will be some depth in the long relief position, with the losers of the fifth starter battle for sure making it into the pen, and both Hughes and Chamberlin having set-up experience, also in the past. You can include Chad Gaudin, a former starter for the A’s as well as a lock in the pen. Beyond that, like was stated, Rivera is still sitting on that bench waiting to close, and even go two innings if needed. You can’t be more comfortable than that.

The main prospect to keep an eye on is most likely Jesus Montrero, a catching prospect with a big bat that could be ready to step in if either Posada goes down, or his bat goes cold. He’s been hitting well over .300 in the minors, as well as is a deep ball threat, yes; just what this Yankees line-up needs another of. Of anyone who has a chance of coming up this season, he’s the best shot of being an impact player.

For fantasy baseball fans, this team is a goldmine of talent. Where do you start? A-Rod as the best 3rd base option, a career .300 guy who will hit you somewhere in the mid 30’s at least in homeruns, get on base at a near .400 pop, knock in a 100 runs, score at least that many and then for fun steal a couple of bases.

You have just as much productivity without the steals from 1st basemen Mark Texiera. The only thing that affects his value even a little is a pretty deep fantasy first base position.

Granderson, besides scoring a ton of runs, should provide some decent power numbers from the center field position. Also in a league that includes triples he’ll most likely be in the league leaders in that category. The biggest issue with him is to see how he bounces back from the .50 point drop in batting average last season.

On top of that, you have Jeters .300 average and run scoring ability, Posadas power from behind the plate and Cano’s rise into one of the top 2nd basemen, last season hitting .320 with 25 homers and over a hundred runs scored himself.

Let’s not forget pitching. Sabathia and Vasquez should both be 200k threats, with Burnett not far behind. With the run production each of these guys should have double digit wins and with Sabathia you’ll get a WHIP down under 1.20 and one of the leagues top ERA’s. In the pen, you don’t get more solid than Rivera who will, in a “bad” season, get you in the mid 30’s of saves as well as convert most opportunities. He K’s a guy an inning and keeps runners off base for the most part. There aren’t many better options than him.

 

Predicition: 102 – 60

I think they win 100 again. Will that be enough? That remains to be seen with a powerful Boston team. But there’ll be no drop off here, barring a catastrophic injury or two, or a tactical nuclear strike, they should be as good a threat as any to win it all again this year.

Boston Red Sox

 

                2009 for this Red Sox club ended in the bitterest way possible. Swept out of the ALDS by the Los Angeles Angels, the two year removed champs found themselves losing a mid-season lead in their tough division and stumbling into the play-offs. Behind what for the most part was solid pitching, the offense was just not able to give any real support until the deciding game, and they were left with the off-season to try and remedy that situation.

The biggest impact the Red Sox made this past off-season was in acquiring John Lackey, the solid starter formerly of the aforementioned LA Angels. In this move they pretty much assured themselves of having the most complete starting rotation in the majors. They didn’t, however, exactly make a splash on the offensive front. Losing run producing outfielder Jason Bay to the New York Mets, their main free agent acquisitions were streaky veteran Mike Cameron and solid shortstop, Marco Scutaro. They also added declining (or underachieving, whichever you prefer) third baseman, Adrian Beltre, to shore them up defensively, as well as see if there is any pop left in his bat.

They hope to pick up much of what left with Bay, behind a resurgent Victor Martinez and hoping David Ortiz can repeat the second half of last season. If they can manage to score runs, a very deep core of starters, along with a strong bullpen and dominant closer can give them a clear chance of improving past last years team.

There are a few questions as to how streaky this offense is going to be, but the pieces are in place to be able to score some runs and with consistency be a dominant AL club.

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Dustin Pedroia – 2B
  3. Victor Martinez – C
  4. Kevin Youkilis – 1B
  5. David Ortiz – DH
  6. Adrian Beltre – 3B
  7. JD Drew – RF
  8. Mike Cameron – LF
  9. Marco Scutaro – SS

 

Two things must take place with this offense to keep pace with the Yankees. Ortiz has to swing enough of a bat to protect Youkilis, who most likely behind Martinez in the order will be expected to be the biggest run producer. Also, Cameron needs to be less transparent than he was at times while playing with Milwaukee. It seemed that occasionally he’d be mired in slumps negating what kind of power numbers he can possibly put up.

                J.D. Drew, while still productive when he is able to play is going to get pushed a bit, and with young power prospect Josh Reddick and perennial underachiever in Florida, Jeremy Hermida, both having hot springs, there could be some competition in the outfield this season.

                This added depth in the outfield, along with Sox mainstay and former starting catcher Jason Varitek, and veterans Mike Lowell and Bill Hall, keep injuries from being too big of a deal. The amount of depth should also keep players at a higher level, knowing if they struggle this isn’t a team who will have to roll the dice with unproven guys.

                The obvious strength of this ball club is the arms, particularly the starters.

                Jon Lester

                Josh Beckett

                John Lackey

                Daisuke Matsuzaka

                Clay Bucholz

                One through three might be the strongest staff in baseball. Lester, with back to back huge seasons has broken out and looks to be the leader of this rotation. Just coming into his prime, he’s thrown for over 200 innings each of the past two seasons, winning a total of 31 games in the process. Also he was chosen as the game 1 starter in the ALDS series against the Angels. He’s a powerful lefty, who last season turned himself into one of the elite K pitchers in the American League.

                Directly behind him you have Josh Beckett and John Lackey, a pair of righties who keep runners off the base paths and can for the most part be counted on to take the mound every five days. Both are two years removed from their personal best win seasons, yet are nowhere near showing signs of slowing down and leaving teams with no room to relax when playing this club.

                The back end of this rotation is where things get a little tricky. Daisuke Matsuzaka is hoping to be able to bounce back from injury last season, which is keeping him progressing slowly this spring. He’s proven he can win, as well as strike a lot of guys out, however also has shown a propensity to get himself in trouble by letting guys on base, especially with walks. There really wasn’t a point when he pitched last season when he looked very good, so there’ll be some pressure on him to get back to his old form.

                Clay Bucholz should round out everything, though a question mark as to what version of him we’ll see. He did finish last season on a 4-1 mark with a 2.87 ERA, but inconsistency has been the name of the game for him. He’s managed to find his way back to the minors a few times but at 25 the team isn’t too worried…yet.

                The depth of this team also shows in their bullpen. In front of stud closer, Jonathan Papelbon (remember when he wanted to start a few seasons back?) there are Red Sox mainstays Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima. Both have been solid and dependable for the most part. They should get some middle inning help from hard throwing Daniel Bard, who averaged 11.5 k’s per 9 innings last year. Some lefty veteran presence was brought in with specialist Brian Shouse, as well as there being some long relief and possible sixth starter with Tim Wakefield. 

                The Red Sox, much like the Yankees, are a team with very little to look for in the sleeper or prospect department this season. Josh Reddick has swung a hot bat this spring and may be poised to earn himself a roster spot in the bigs right now. Unfortunately, they really don’t need him with the outfield depth and might do better letting him get regular at bats in AAA. If he does get a shot, however, he has the poise and the pop to make this team happy.

                For fantasy purposes, this roster is all over the board. Victor Martinez, who can very easily be a .300/30/100 guy, may be a tad bit unsung at the catcher position with Joe Mauer overshadowing him. He’s a top 2 or 3 round pick, but could possibly get a little overlooked.

                Kevin Youkilis is another guy who is going to put up pretty much the same power numbers, along with walking a lot and should have an on base of near or over .400.

                In Jacoby Ellsbury, you’re going to sacrifice power, but there might not be a better base stealer in the game right now. Without a doubt, He’ll be near the top of total stolen bases this season, and for fun you can hand him a .300 average and 200 hits. He even knocked in 60 runs last season which isn’t a ton, but for a guy with less than ten homeruns and found himself at the top of the order quite a bit, that’s not bad.

                On the pitching front, take your pick. None of these guys are the kind of guys you’ll take in the first couple of rounds, but once Lincecum, Hernandez and Halladay are gone, Lester becomes a much stronger option. He and Beckett are both guys who constitute a strong top fantasy pitcher and will most likely give you double digit wins, 200 or so K’s and ERA’s in the mid to low 3’s. The only thing that keeps Lackey a few rounds behind them is the fact he won’t K very many batters.
                Matsuzaka could be a bit of a sleeper coming off of injury. It remains to be seen how strong he comes back, which could make him slip. This could very well leave him as a late round gem with an 18 win season under his belt two years ago, as well as having k’d 200 batters in the past.

                Papelbon is going to do what Papelbon does. Expect 40 saves, an ERA under 2 and a WHIP near 1. With Joe Nathan injured and not looking like he’ll be around, he should be right up with Broxton and Rivera as the top closing options this season.

Prediciton: 98 – 64

                I just don’t see this team being that much different from last season. They’re a couple of wins better and I think do have enough firepower to make up for Jason Bay’s departure, but, and don’t get me wrong since 98 wins is still impressive, they’re still behind the Yankees. And while the Yankees do have a couple questions, the Red Sox have more and ultimately I think a bit of inconsistency on the offensive end is going to cost them some games. Still the second best team in the AL East, but I think may see some competition for the wild card, possibly from the team below them last season, the Tampa Bay Rays, as well as other improved clubs like Seattle and Texas.

Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays

2009 will be known as the season which brought this team back to earth. In 2008 they came seemingly out of nowhere to win this brutal division and make a run into the World Series, only to get beaten by another team on the rise, the Philadelphia Phillies. They came into the year with high hopes, young but established players like Evan Longoria and BJ Upton looked to spark this team to yet another year battling for the American League crown, alas, it was not to be. A slow start as well as a glut of underperformers kept them under .500 for the first half of the season, and a strong second half wasn’t enough to catch the behemoths in New York and Boston who were too far ahead to be caught as they battled each other.

Coming into 2010, not much has changed with this roster, though down one of their top pitchers, Scott Kazmir, who they dealt to the Angels near the deadline last season, they have added Rafael Soriano, the K machine from the Atlanta Braves to hopefully close games for them this season, shoring up a weak pen. Other than that a lot of the emphasis is going to be again on the younger players keeping this ship afloat, as well as some underachievers from last season stepping up their game, especially pitcher David Price.

                If they start anything like they did last season, to move up prospects from their vaunted farm system, they could be moving guys like powerhouse Carlos Pena and all around, yet oft injured star, Carl Crawford.

                This spring has shown what the team hopes they can count on from its roster the entire season, run production to supplement a sometimes shaky staff.

Based on some of what’s transpired this spring, there may be some changes and tough decisions last minute to how the Rays approach opening day, though as of now it looks like the line-up will be in this ballpark.
                1. Jason Bartlett – SS

                2. Carl Crawford – LF

                3. Evan Longoria – 3B

                4. Carlos Pena – 1B

                5. Ben Zobrist – 2B

                6. BJ Upton – CF

                7. Pat Burrell – DH

                8. Matt Joyce – RF

                9. Dioner Navarro – C

                This team has been pretty much nominated Evan Longoria’s team, though there are some other impact players who help to shape this line-up. Carlos Pena is always a deep threat, who even though limited to fewer than 500 at-bats last season because of injury, went deep 39 times. He’s having a terrible time getting the bat on the ball this spring, however, so it remains to be seen how much stock they put in him and for how long. Pat Burrell, however has seemed to turn over some of his woes and be hitting better than he did last season, at $8 million this season they need to see more production out of him because there won’t be many takers.

                Two players this team needs to stay healthy and play well to compete are speedsters Carl Crawford and BJ Upton. Together, they make one of the most efficient base running tandems in the majors, unfortunately there are situations that could hinder both.

                If the team starts slow this year, with Crawford being a looming free agent with a big payday on the horizon (as well as a favorite of Yankees GM, Brian Cashman) he could find himself in the midst of trade rumors the entire season. A lot of what he’s able to accomplish is going to depend on how he handles that, as well as staying on the field. Last season he did again play 156 games, tied with his career most in 2005, though in 2007 and 2008 he did miss games due to injury.

                Upton is a whole different animal all together. He’s been benched a few times in his career for being lazy or not into games, which doesn’t bode well for young players. Also, he’s found himself in a downward trend in just about all of his categories on offense though his at-bats have gone up. He had a 2007 season that made him one of the most promising up and comers in the bigs but has faltered and last season found himself with a career low average of .247 and an OBP 70 points below his career which is a killer for a guy who is a threat to steal every time he gets on base.

                A big plus this year should be compiling on the emergence of Ben Zobrist last season who couldn’t find a position to play every day. It looks as if he’ll be their full time second baseman and be one of the most prolific offensive players at that position if he can keep with the way he hit last year. Nearly a .300 average, 27 homeruns and 91 RBI made him one of the top offensive players on the team, along with only getting 500 at-bats. His .405 OBP didn’t hurt either, so he’s going to be an essential piece to this team going forward.

                The pitching staff this year is going to need to answer a lot of questions as to how well this team finishes.

                James Shields

                Matt Garza

                David Price

                Jeff Niemann

                Wade Davis

                Always an inning eater, James Shields looks to lead this staff again going into this season. His effectiveness is questionable, however, as he rode a 4.14 ERA into a sub .500 record last year. A 3/1 K/BB ratio plays in his favor, but the question still exists if he’s really a guy who can lead a staff.

                Middle role guys Jeff Niemann and Matt Garza are both riding strong 09 seasons into strong outings this spring. Both pitchers ended last season with ERAs fewer than 4 and in the case of Niemann, finally realizing some of the potential that made him a 4th overall pick in 04.

                Garza is particularly intriguing, he had low run support last season, which is more the cause of his 8-12 record than anything else. By the time this season is in full swing, he could very well be the leader of this staff.

                Two big question marks remain on the young starters, David Price and Wade Davis. Neither has pitched well this spring, and Price seemed to not be able to capitalize on his blazing, albeit short, showing in 07. Price and his lack of experience could still roll over into this season, something this team cannot afford if it wants to play with the big boys of the East. His showing a couple of seasons back may have proved a bit detrimental if he starts again slow this year, having thrust him forward too fast without polishing his game.

                Davis, on the other hand had a few seasons to get ready in the minors before his call-up last year, in which he delivered down the stretch including a complete game, 10K, shut-out against the Orioles. He throws hard, can strike batters out and should have to poise to possibly ascend the staff to where they hope he can be a leader in a couple of seasons. The question is how he is going to fare if they need him to pick up for anyone else who may not live up to their expectations.

                The bullpen hopes to be more consistent this season. The acquisition of power throwing Rafael Soriano, who they are saving from throwing too much along with other Tampa bullpen mainstay, JP Howell, could very well be an impact move at the closer position. After a rocky start sharing the role with Mike Gonzalez for the Braves last season, Soriano eventually took and maintained the closer role. He strikes out well more than 1 batter an inning and could be intimidating to most clubs who are trailing when he makes his appearance.

                Howell, along with Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour and Jeff Bennett look to keep the rest of the pen stable.

                Tampa, according to Baseball America, has the best farm system in the majors. Sean Rodriguez, Justin Ruggiano and Reid Brignac are all making contributions and playing well this spring. Another strong showing to start the season in AAA will also almost guarantee we see the teams #1 prospect, outfielder Desmond Jennings, on the field sometime this season. Wade Davis is almost sure to make the rotation and Jeremy Hellickson could find himself throwing some innings in the bigs this season.

There are a lot of names to become familiar with, because if this team goes down and starts getting rid of guys, you can bank on these youngsters beginning to gain some experience in the big leagues. Something that will eventually make this team a power in the near future.

                From a fantasy perspective this team offers some interesting depth. Longoria will be the safest pick of the bunch. He’s already a big asset at 3rd base, with 30 homerun power and the ability to knock in as well as score 100 runs. He can improve his stock just a little bit by getting his average up, but his .281 last season was nothing to complain about.

                Ben Zobrist, if he can carry over his numbers from last season, is a solid pick for 2nd base. A repeat of his career best .297 avg, or anywhere in the area, along with adding 25-30 homeruns 90 more RBIs while getting himself on at a .400 clip again, he’s near the top of the list behind perennial top producer at that position, Chase Utley.

                Carl Crawford is again a top outfield choice, covering everything except power, which he’ll still get double digit homers for you. Steals, average and his run scoring ability are his strengths. If you hold off on him, you might be able to get a bargain on fellow teammate BJ Upton, however. You won’t get as many steals but he’ll be among the league leaders and has a ton of upside, it just remains to be seen if it appears again this season.

                As far as pitching goes, look for Soriano to be one of the top drafted closers this season. If he’s not, it’s a mistake. Last season he struck out 102 batters in only 75 IP and kept his WHIP near 1. Give him a chance, this year to close the whole season with JP Howell breathing down his neck, but Soriano given every opportunity to succeed and he should be in the mid 30 to higher save range.

                As far as starting pitchers, I’d say Matt Garza, who if you look has numbers comparable to undeniable Brewer ace, Yovanni Gallardo, could end up being a later round pick and come through huge. Expect him to at the very least flip his 8-12 last season to 12-8, throw in an ERA under 4 and around 200k’s.

Prediction: 82 – 80

                                Yup, I don’t see this as being much better than a .500 team. Everything about them, to me at least says there are too many questions to be answered and too much adversity to overcome this season. I really do like a lot of their younger players, but that’s just the problem, young doesn’t usually equal winning in Major League Baseball like it can in the other big sports. If they find themselves out of it early, there are going to be a lot of guys looking over their shoulder to find out what team they’ll end up with, as well as a lot being asked of an inconsistent pitching staff. They were a good story a couple of seasons ago as well as still loaded with young talent, unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to be enough.

Baltimore Orioles

 

                Not losing 100 games typically isn’t something to consider a victory, but with the second worst ERA in baseball, what has become a perennial non-performer, this Baltimore club should be thankful they somehow kept that stat under triple digits. They did however improve their streak to four straight seasons with 90 or more losses and a perfect losing decade thus far in the books.

                On the other hand, they again were able to seemingly build on some young talent already within the organization. Nick Markakis had yet another solid season, Matt Wieters, the catching “phenom” as he’s played up to be made a strong second half debut and Adam Jones, the big piece of the Erik Bedard trade with Seattle, had a particularly strong first half before injury and fatigue slowed him down.      

                This season looks to be a bit brighter for the club. Veterans Kevin Millwood, Miguel Tejada and new closer, Mike Gonzalez were all added to what looks like to be a pretty young roster to balance their respective positions. All should provide stability and leadership to a club that sorely needs it.

                The established youth hopes to keep improving behind their best young player at this point, Markakis, as well as young pitching prospects, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman hope to make themselves household names for the club.

                For the first time in nearly a decade, there should be optimism within this franchises club house.

                The line-up, at least as it is now with Roberts going in for tests on his back should look similar to this for opening day.

  1. Brian Roberts – 2B
  2. Adam Jones – CF
  3. Nick Markakis – RF
  4. Luke Scott – DH
  5. Miguel Tejada – 3B
  6. Matt Wieters – C
  7. Lou Montanez – LF
  8. Garrett Atkins – 1B
  9. Cesar Izturis – SS

Up top, depending on how consistent Luke Scott decides to stay, or else how soon power hitting catcher Matt Wieters plays himself up in the batting order, there could be a decent amount of runs scored.

Brian Roberts, though declining in steals, by ten each of the past three seasons, is still able to get on base and has consistently scored 100+ runs. If Adam Jones can keep his left foot healthy and put up numbers in the range of the first half of last season, when healthy, he’ll provide a nice 2-3 punch along with Nick Markakis. Both players could get on base enough themselves to place three players at the top of the order scoring 100 runs apiece.

Behind them in most likely the fifth spot will be Miquel Tejada, whose power numbers have dropped in the past few seasons in Houston, though has still been able to drive the ball and hit for average. The veteran presence should be able to keep the top of this order productive.

The back end seems to drop off a bit, especially with power hitting youngster, Nolan Reimold, having a dismal spring, setting his spot right now to either be taken by unproven Lou Montanez who is having his second strong spring in a row, but was shelved due to injury once the season started last year, or the disappointment that is Felix Pie.

It’s rounded off by weak hitting, defensive shortstop Cesar Izturis, who next to Tejada will be part of a much improved defensive unit.

The pitching staff could be set for major upheaval on their end.

Kevin Millwood

Jeremy Guthrie

Brian Matusz

Brad Bergesen

Chris Tillman

The team, in the off-season traded 2008 Tommy John surgery participant and big time 2009 disappointment, Chris Ray, for aging but effective starter Kevin Millwood, who they hoped to use to head-up a very young rotation. Young arms like Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz should find themselves part of the rotation to start the season and could very well be joined by fellow youngster Jake Arrieta by the time all is said and done. This is going to leave guys like the mildly surprising Brad Bergersen (who last year complied a solid 7-5 record, with an ERA of 3.43 and WHIP of 1.28, but is not known as overpowering ), as well as one time hope and 2009 Team USA WBC starter, Jeremy Guthrie, on the outside looking in.

Guthrie is particularly intriguing, as last season he saw his numbers decline handily across the board but with a return to his 07-08 form (17-17, 3.66 ERA, 1.22 WHIP over those two season) could give this team a decent 1-2 punch.

With the amount of youth competing to most likely get shots in a team, that well, has no shot, as well as a shot in the arm from an upgraded offense, better results from last season should be expected from this rotation.

The pen, as well found some veteran presence to hopefully shore it up for a few seasons.

Mike Gonzalez was brought in after a decent season with the Braves last year, which should be noted, he did lose his closer role. He did, however post solid ERA and WHIP numbers, as well as carries an impressive strike out rate.

Mid-relief will most likely be the biggest weakness on this club with really no real improvements. Last years failed closer Jim Johnson should be a little more comfortable as a set-up man after blowing up in his closing role at the end of the season. Otherwise, the pen is mainly loaded with guys who have gained experience but haven’t done too much to stand out in their major league careers.

It’s going to be interesting to see as this season plays out as well as how hard the team wants to push their younger talent. Touted prospect, Josh Bell, behind a strong spring will most likely make the jump this summer. His power and ability to get the bat on the ball (especially against lefties) should be an asset, adding at the very least another 20 homers to the line-up. It just remains to be seen whether they decide to let him sit down in AAA long enough to keep him from being arbitration eligible for an extra year. If, or when he comes up, it’s going to be interesting to see if Tejada is moved over back to short, since Bell is a 3rd baseman, or maybe if he’ll take over the DH spot.

                Fantasy players should watch the situation with Roberts bad back play out before plugging him in as a usual top second base pick. There seems to be a little more depth in that position this year, and even if he does show up on opening day a bad back could show up in his power numbers as well as his stolen bases.

                The only real safe pick on this club, though loaded with possible sleepers, would be Markakis. He again should be a solid pick to help build an outfield around with a typical .300/20/100 season. His OBP did drop 50 points last year, but he still was able to score nearly a hundred runs and be productive in all aspects besides steals, and play everyday.

Prediction: 75 – 87

 

                When all is said and done, I think at a minimum this team goes 10 games better this year. It’s asking a lot from the pitching, which looks to be dominated by young arms, but the inclusion of Kevin Millwood to lead them should be the veteran presence that keeps them in check. Their line-up, while can be streaky at times, looks to be a little stronger and is capable of scoring runs. Enough runs that if their starters hold up their end of the deal will negate the weak mid-relief. This isn’t the terrible Baltimore team of the past decade and very well could see themselves on the rise over the next couple of years.

               

 

Toronto Blue Jays

 

                The team blazed out 27-14 record and lead in the tough AL East, only to finish 48-73 after May 18th and 28 games behind the Yankees in the division. Players like Aaron Hill and Adam Lind compiled break out years, as well as getting yet another in a string of CY Young worthy seasons by staff ace Roy Halladay, but it wasn’t enough to overshadow timely injuries, inconsistency and an overall lack of talent, to keep this team from having their worst year since 2004 and most likely closing the window on their competitiveness for the next couple of years. They finished it all off by being swept by the lowly Baltimore club to finish the season.

                The off-season produced, well, basically what the 2009 trade deadline should have produced. Halladay was shipped off to the Philadelphia Phillies for top prospects pitcher Kyle Drabek and catcher Travis D’Arnaud, as well as left fielder Michael Taylor who was immediately flipped to the A’s for infielder Brett Wallace. All three players received are pretty much intended to form part of the nucleus of the future of this club.

                Until then it’s going to be a battle to stay somewhat competitive as well as have what is a decently young team vying to cement certain positions.

                The line-up, for the most part should be very similar to last season. Though, 3B Edwin Encarnacion, due to wrist soreness may end up starting the year on the DL.

  1. Jose Bautista – RF
  2. Aaron Hill – 2B
  3. Adam Lind – DH
  4. Vernon Wells – CF
  5. Edwin Encarnacion – 3B
  6. Lyle Overbay – 1B
  7. Travis Snider – LF
  8. JP Arencibia – C
  9. Alex Gonzalez – SS

 

Too many question marks, they just stand out as you look over this order. Vernon

Wells kept up a string of disappointing years last season and this may be the last that they look on him to be a big contributor. Behind him, awaits what could be another disappointment with the perplexing Edwin Encarnacion, who at times can look like a complete package at the plate, however, most of the time fails miserably.

                Lyle Overbay has been proven and solid, though lost time in a platoon last season.

                09 all-star Aaron Hill broke out in a big way power wise, but has nothing to base that against. His 36 homers last season are 19 more than his previous career best of 17.

                Adam Lind may have the best chance at repeating what he did last year (.305/35/114) as he proved he could be a dangerous hitter in his ascent through the minors.

                JP Arencibia is having a good enough spring he should finally get his shot at starting in the big leagues, and has some solid minor league power numbers to back him up. Other youngster, Travis Snider, showed great promise in AAA, but didn’t quite bring it with him in his major league stints last season. At 22, though, he has time to improve and help this club.

                Pitching should have an interesting look this season, the first without Roy Halladay, for a long time.

                Ricky Romero

                Shaun Marcum

                Brandon Morrow

                Marc Rzepcynski

                Dana Eveland

                The more spring plays out, the more it looks like Romero is going to be throwing for these guys on opening day. He finished last season with a pretty good 13-9 record and there are no signs that he’ll regress this season. The main thing he needs to do is keep runners off base, especially giving walks. His 79 walks last season did nothing to help and he ended with a pretty rough 1.52 WHIP.

                Shaun Marcum, who had a solid 2008 season finishing with a 3.39 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, didn’t make the trip up last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery. If he can find his way back to that kind of productivity, the 1-2 punch on this team won’t be that awful and might give them some kind of hope amid what’s left.

                Injuries and inconsistency are the name of the game for the rest of this rotation. Brandon Morrow, who was serviceable, but never dominant for the Mariners, is looking to finally shore himself up as a major league starter.

                The rotation will most likely be rounded out by journeyman Dana Eveland and former valued prospect, Marc Rzepcynski.

                Depending on how things go this year, Dustin McGowan may also get another run at a spot in the rotation after being derailed by injuries the past few seasons.

                The bullpen doesn’t add much to what little hopes this team has. Kevin Gregg, recently failed closer for the Chicago Cubs has brought his style of giving up the big game winner to the fray and may compete for the closing job with Jason Fraser and Scott Downs, neither of which are really fit to close for any club.

The youth of this club should start coming into focus this season and for the next few. JP Arencibia has already played well enough this spring to earn him the starting catcher role over free agent pick-up John Buck. He may be able to hit for average from the catching position as well as has some definite pop in his bat. He could very well be an offensive leader on this club by the end of the year.

                On the pitching front Ricky Romero might very well lead this staff from the get-go and could possibly be joined later this season by Kyle Drabek for a stint.

                Barring injuries, it looks a lot like the 2011 season should be a bigger impact from the farm in season.

On fantasy matters, there are two guys I’d give a good look, with really nothing

else certain enough to waste any time on. Adam Lind should definitely be on the radar as a big producing outfielder. 30 homers should be the expectation on the low end, with an average near .300 and a candidate to score 100 as well as knock in 100 but relying a little bit more on the players around him than what he does.

                Aaron Hill should also be kept under watch depending on where you can draft him. While he has always hit for a pretty good average at second base, he’s come nowhere near those power or RBI numbers. Still, if you’re willing to take risks that can give you big upside, only Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler went deep more than Hill last season at position, as well as him having the same or better average than both and more RBIs. He could pay off big time with a repeat performance. 

Prediction: 69 – 93

               

                Ouch. This season is going to be a rough one for Jay’s fans. The nice thing, at least for some of the younger guys, is that they shouldn’t be expected to do too much. It’s going to be a season to see if some of them can play, as well as breaking down who on this roster can’t. There isn’t really much more to be said about this team other than any finish above last place can be considered a huge success and I think we’ll start getting a better picture of where they’re headed in a year or two.

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