By Erik Hahmann
New York Yankees
New York comes into the season as not only a juggernaut in real life, but in the fantasy realm as well. Their offense is anchored by the best infield in baseball, led by Alex Rodriguez, who fully healthy should go back to putting up MVP-type numbers. The infield is rounded out by Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixiera, each of whom is capable of ranking in the top 3 at their respective positions. New addition Curtis Granderson should flourish in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium – he hit 30 homers in far less friendly Comerica Park last year. Home plate is once again manned by Jorge Posada, who even given his advanced age should put up above-average numbers.
CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett lead a strong rotation, with newcomer Javier Vazquez making for an excellent number-three starter. Phil Hughes moves to the rotation and is a rare Yankees sleeper; he was once an elite SP prospect before he became a lights-out bullpen guy, and he’s the number-five starter to start the season. Joba Chamberlain should get a good amount of K’s in the 7th-8th inning role, setting the table for the always reliable Mariano Rivera to once again be the one of the best closers in the game.
An emphasis on defense led the Sox to acquire several new players this off-season. Adrian Beltre could have a bounceback season at 3B now that he is in a more hitter-friendly park – assuming he’s finally healthy. Marco Scutaro is coming off a career year at age 35, so expect some regression from his 2009 season. Center field is now manned by Mike Cameron, with Jacoby Ellsbury and his 70-steal potential shifting to left. Expect regulars like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew to continue to put up their usual stellar numbers. Playing in Fenway for a full season, in a solid lineup, could also boost Victor Martinez‘s already high fantasy value.
The strength of the team is the rotation. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett lead the way as one of the top 1-2 punches in the game, with John Lackey a close third. Moving to the AL East should slightly hinder Lackey’s numbers, so downgrade him a bit. The closer position is filled by Jonathan Papelbon for now, with Daniel Bard poised to take over if Papelbon falters.
The Rays set a team record for runs scored last season, and this year’s offense could be even better. Evan Longoria has put up outstanding numbers in his first two seasons and could exceed them this year as he vies for the AL MVP. Last year’s fantasy darling, Ben Zobrist, moves up to third in the order (ahead of Longoria) though he might struggle to approach 2009’s monster numbers. Carl Crawford should make his (probable) last season in Tampa Bay a good one, getting on base and stealing 50 or more bases. Jason Bartlett enjoyed a career season in 2009 and should regress, as his BABIP was a sky-high .364. A player who should stick around all season is Sean Rodriguez, who was acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade last season. He’s hit the cover off the ball this spring and could provide strong multi-positional value at 2B/OF.
The pitching staff is once again led by James Shields and Matt Garza, with Garza a popular pick for a breakout season; both Shields and Garza ranked among the unluckiest pitchers in the baseball for run support, and could both win more games with a little more luck on that front. Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis all offer upside as well, with Davis penciled in as the fifth starter, with a chance to compete for Rookie of the Year honors. Rafael Soriano has looked shaky in his first outings as the Rays’ new closer and has a history of injuries. J.P. Howell could make a good insurance policy for Soriano, assuming Howell himself can return healthy in the near future.
One of the more exciting teams to watch this season might well be the Baltimore Orioles. Rookie starter Brian Matusz has the skills to be an above-average performer this season, even in the rugged American League East. Veteran Kevin Millwood will start Opening Day for the Orioles. Millwood is a workhorse who should give Baltimore much needed innings at the top of the rotation.
What everyone will pay to see, however, is the O’s exciting young offense, led by Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters. Markakis drove in more than 100 runs last season and looks poised to do the same this year. While Jones had a slightly down 2009 season at the plate, he did lower his strikeout rate and up his walk rate, a very good sign for a young hitter. He could attain 20 HR/15 SB status this season. It was hard for Wieters to live up to the hype that preceded him last season, but he did an admirable job. It could all come together this season, with 20 HR and a .290 batting average very real possibilities – big numbers from the catching position.
The Blue Jays might not have the talent to finish even fourth in the division, but they still have a few interesting fantasy options for this season. Aaron Hill was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last season, exploding for 36 HR and 108 RBI at second base. He did have a fairly low OBP (.330) and his 36 home runs were 19 more than his previous career high, so some caution is advised. The other member of the Jays’ lineup to enjoy a breakout season was Adam Lind. The 26-year-old seemed to finally put it all together during his first full year with the team, putting up a .300 AVG+, 30 HR+, 100 RBI+ season. He shouldn’t have an issue putting up similar numbers this season.
An inexperienced pitching staff is led by Shaun Marcum, who hasn’t pitched since 2008. Ricky Romero, a Rookie of the Year contender last season with a 13-9 record and 4.30 ERA, might be the safest play of any of the Blue Jays starters.
For more information on the AL East, check out Bloomberg Sports fantasy kits