2011 Fantasy Baseball: American League East Preview

The AL East is loaded with talent...as always.

When talking baseball, the discussion often starts and ends with the American League East, winners of nine of the last 18 World Series. Throw in what some call the greatest rivalry in sports, and the AL East is an incredibly dynamic division. On one hand the division is filled with enough talent to fill an All-Star fantasy roster. On the other hand, the fans of the division can be very prideful, to a fault. So if you’re in a league with a Red Sox or Yankee fan, know that those players are likely to go way to early. With that in mind, here’s the AL East preview.

1) Boston Red Sox

While 2010 was a disappointment for the Red Sox, ending with a third place finish, 2011 holds a great deal of promise for the team from bean town. Even with half their infield, half their outfield and the middle of their line-up ending the season on the DL, the Sox finished with the fifth highest batting average, the second most runs and the highest OPS in the MLB. Where they struggled was in pitching, finishing 22nd in ERA. While injuries to their star studded starting rotation didn’t help, the bullpen is what really hurt them. They blew the fourth most saves and giving up the most home runs while pitching the sixth fewest innings of any bullpen in the MLB. Yet, with several key off-season additions and the second highest payroll in baseball, the Red Sox are favored by many to win it all.

Offseason Grade | A-

While the addition of 1B Adrian Gonzalez’s power and LF Carl Crawford’s speed will give the Red Sox’s line-up a boost, even more important may be having a healthy 2B Dustin Pedroia and 3B Kevin Youkilis back in the line-up, who appeared in a total of four games after July 31st. While the Red Sox didn’t make any changes to their starting pitching, they’re hoping to get more than the 20 wins and a 4.91 ERA from SP John Lackey and SP Josh Beckett that they got last year, especially considering they’ll be making $35 million this year. In an effort to sure up the bullpen, the Red Sox signed former White Sox closer RP Bobby Jenks. If RP Jonathan Papelbon pitches the way he did 2010 when he blew eight saves, either Jenks or RP Daniel Bard could be in line for a promotion to the closer role. The Red Sox still have big questions at SS, where they made no additions during the offseason, and at C, where they lost the power hitting C Victor Martinez.

Fantasy Player to Watch: SS Jed Lowrie
2010 Stats – Hits: 49 – Runs: 31 – HR: 9 – RBI: 24 – Average: .287
Projected 2011 Stats – Hits: 128 – Runs: 78 – HR: 22 – RBI: 60 – Average: .300

2) New York Yankees

The Yankees finished 2010 as the AL wild card and two wins away from the World Series. Fortunately, they return almost their entire line-up that led the majors in runs and racked up gaudy fantasy baseball numbers. Unfortunately, SS Derek Jeter, 3B Alex Rodriguez, and DH Jorge Posada are all on the wrong side of 35. Will Jeter’s new swing and Posada’s move to DH be enough to fix their issues, or will they continue to decline as they continue to age? Only time will tell. Granted, RP Mariano Rivera seems to have father time in a headlock, and the Yankee’s relief pitching had the 7th lowest ERA in the majors. The Yankee’s pitching concern revolves around their starters. The Yankee starters finished 2010 with the 8th worst ERA in the majors, and they’ve done little to update their starting pitching.

Offseason Grade | C+

The Yankees did improve their relief pitching with the addition of RP Pedro Feliciano and RP Rafael Soriano, but the question is how do the Yankees get them the lead? Losing out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes and having SP Andy Pettitte retire left the Yankees without any answers to their 2010 starting pitching woes. Yes, they did pick up SP Freddy Garcia and SP Bartolo Colon, but hoping these aging starters will make a difference is hoping a band-aid will help a severed limb. Instead, expect the Yankees to make a move during the season. While the Yankees did add C Russell Martin to replace Posada behind the plate, he’s never hit more than 19 home runs in a season.

Fantasy Player to Watch: C Jesus Montero
2010 Stats (Triple-A) – Hits: 131 – Runs: 66 – HR: 21 – RBI: 75 – Average: .289
Projected 2011 Stats – Hits: 120 – Runs: 48 – HR: 15 – RBI: 55 – Average: .275

3) Toronto Blue Jays

With the loss of SP Roy Halladay before 2010, Toronto was left with a young starting rotation and little in the form of expectations. They ended the season seven games above .500 and four games behind the Red Sox. And while their pitching had the 23rd highest ERA in the majors, it’s important to remember that they faced the top three highest scoring offenses in the MLB 54 times. The Jays had an outburst of offensive production, hitting a MLB leading 257 homers in 2010, lead by 3B/OF Jose Bautista’s league leading 54 round trips. Granted, no one expects that type of fantasy production to last into 2011.

Offseason Grade | B-

The biggest off-season pick-up for the Jays may have been the addition of Manager John Farrell. Farrell helped develop the Red Sox’s young starters as their pitching coach, and now hopefully he’ll be able to do the same for 26-year-olds SP Ricky Romero and SP Brandon Morrow, and 24-year-old SP Brett Cecil. Their development will be particularly important given that they traded away SP Shaun Marcus who led the Toronto starters in ERA in 2010. The addition of RP Frank Francisco, RP Jon Rauch and RP Octavio Dotel will help sure up their relief pitching. Suring up the pitching will be particularly important with the loss of CF Vernon Wells, who was second on the team in HR and RBI, and first in AVG. Hopefully 1B Adam Lind and 2B Aaron Hill can shake off 2010 and get back to their 2009 numbers when they hit 22 more home runs.

Fantasy Player to Watch: C J.P. Arencibia
2010 Stats – Hits: 5 – Runs: 3 – HR: 2 – RBI: 4 – Average: .143
Projected 2011 Stats – Hits: 154 – Runs: 58 – HR: 23 – RBI: 65– Average: .280

4) Tampa Bay Rays

After finishing 5th in the AL East for the first 10 years of their existence, they have won the division two of the last three years, including last year. They had the third highest run total and the 8th lowest team ERA, getting them the second most wins in the majors. They return a young core of players, including the AL Cy Young silver medalist SP David Price and fourth place AL MVP 3B Evan Longoria. Unfortunately, the Rays also lost 13 players via free agency and trade during the offseason, making manager Joe Maddon’s job that much more difficult this year.

Offseason Grade | C

While the loss of LF Carl Crawford, 1B Carlos Pena, and SP Matt Garza got the most publicity, the biggest loss of the offseason for the Rays may have been in their bullpen. They lost six relievers who made the most appearances for them in 2010 and were a part of a bullpen that produced the 4th lowest ERA in the MLB. The Rays are hoping the addition RP Kyle Farnsworth, RP Joel Peralta and RP Adam Russell will offset those losses. While Farnsworth is the most likely candidate to take over the closer role, he’s never been successful in that role before, so instead look for the Rays to take a closer-by-committee approach to start the season. Tampa Bay also added LF Johnny Damon and DH Manny Ramirez, two veterans familiar with the AL East.

Fantasy Player to Watch: SP Jeremy Hellickson
2010 Stats (Triple-A) – W: 12 – L: 3 – ERA: 2.45 – K: 123 – Whip: 1.17
Projected 2011 Stats – W: 15 – L: 10 – ERA: 3.78 – K: 220 – Whip: 1.43

5) Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles ended the season with the second worst record in the AL. They were in the bottom five in the majors in both ERA and runs scored.  Granted, given that the O’s have only finished better than 4th in the AL East once in the past 13 years, their woes didn’t come as a big surprise to anyone. On the upside, when Buck Showalter took in August, he managed Baltimore to a 34-24 record over the last third of the season. Now, after a few offseason moves the Birds have high hopes for 2011.

Offseason Grade | B

The big signing of the offseason was DH Vladimir Guerrero. While Guerrero is 35 and can no long play the field, he showed in 2010 his value by helping the Rangers win the American League. Vlad and 1B Derrek Lee will help bring some punch to the Baltimore line-up that lacked any in 2010. Unfortunately, they did very little to improve their pitching. The starting pitching that finished 28th in ERA in 2010 features three players under the age of 26, so maybe an additional year of experience may be the best upgrade possible. The addition of RP Kevin Gregg via a big contract makes him the favorite to move into the saver role, but don’t count out RP Koji Uehara, who was re-signed this off-season, as Gregg has show to be erratic at times.

Fantasy Player to Watch: C Matt Wieters
2010 Stats – Hits: 111 – Runs: 37 – HR: 11 – RBI: 55 – Average: .249
Projected 2011 Stats – Hits: 172 – Runs: 68 – HR: 14 – RBI: 64 – Average: .282

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