With the fantasy baseball season and now the actual baseball campaign officially over -- congratulations to the San Francisco Giants! -- let's continue to discuss each team from 2010 and look ahead to 2011. The National League has been covered already, so check out the previous blog entries, and now we start in the American League with the East.
By the way, I will be attending the First Pitch Arizona seminar later this week, checking out Arizona Fall League games with others in the baseball and fantasy industry and sharing thoughts on this great game. Perhaps I'll see you there!
What happened: Outgoing outfielder Carl Crawford finished tied with Albert Pujols as fantasy's second-best player. Outgoing isn't just his personality, but likely his future plans as well, since he's likely bolting Tampa to sign for big money elsewhere. Evan Longoria, Rafael Soriano and David Price were among the best at their positions, but there was also plenty of disappointment to go around. Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett were busts, no matter what rounds you drafted them. Carlos Pena's power wasn't worth it in tandem with his .196 batting average. And James Shields just isn't ownable with his peripherals, period.
What will happen: This team will obviously look different, as Crawford, Pena, Soriano and others leave town, but don't expect this franchise to return to its last-place days, either. Outfielder Desmond Jennings is a five-tool player in the Crawford mode in the minor leagues, and could contend for top rookie honors immediately. Fantasy owners will love the 30 stolen bases. Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce will be on sleeper lists, though playing time isn't assured. Fantasy owners shouldn't forget about Zobrist, either. He's capable of a 20-20 campaign, and remains a valuable asset given his second base eligibility.
Who to watch: Most people will choose the electric Jennings, but what about power right-hander Jeremy Hellickson? Only 23, Hellickson doesn't need more minor league seasoning. Frankly, he would have been a playoff upgrade on Shields, Wade Davis and half the bullpen (Chad Qualls?). Price and Matt Garza are reliable fantasy performers, but Hellickson possesses just as much, if not more, upside for 15 wins and 175 strikeouts, soon.
What happened: Robinson Cano emerged as fantasy's top second baseman and a legitimate first-round fantasy pick, Brett Gardner became a regular outfielder/stolen base monster, and Nick Swisher was able to maintain a respectable batting average all season, but a few other Yankees hitters didn't help themselves from a fantasy aspect. Mark Teixeira never fully recovered from yet another slow start, Alex Rodriguez didn't run and has begun his decline, Derek Jeter looks old and Curtis Granderson was a fantasy liability, not a 35-home run guy. As for the pitching staff, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera were great, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes were helpful, and then ... ugh.
What will happen: It's about value. I wouldn't select Teixeira or Rodriguez in the first round again, but there's no reason why they can't be 35-110 options and strong third-rounders. Jeter is still capable of 100 runs scored and double-digits in home runs and stolen bases. Maybe Granderson hits those 30 home runs - and .260 - next season. And on the mound, maybe you want no part of A.J. Burnett or Javier Vazquez, but that's foolish. Burnett is capable of bouncing back and being a strikeout option. Vazquez will find a new home, and if it's in the NL, he'll be a nice sleeper. And assuming Hughes can cut the home run rate at Yankee Stadium, he should knock a run off that season ERA and still threaten for 18 wins.
Who to watch: I'll be very interested to see how the Yankees handle the designated hitter position. Nick Johnson and Lance Berkman won't be back, and the team's top prospect is catcher Jesus Montero. See what I'm getting at? Jorge Posada can still hit, but his defensive abilities are very much in question. Montero is only 20, but already has a full season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to his credit, and he more than held his own. The catcher position in fantasy isn't strong, but if Montero makes the big league club, and Posada is the DH for 100-plus games, the Yankees could supply fantasy owners with a pair of top-10 backstops.
What happened: Adrian Beltre was this team's top option on the Player Rater. Think about that for a moment. He was a 13th-round pick in ESPN average live drafts. Injuries simply torched this team's season, as the top three players from fantasy draft day all had their campaigns ended early. While Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia still hit some, Jacoby Ellsbury barely played at all, hitting .192 with seven stole bases. Then again, his collision with Beltre caused the problem in the first place. Beltre giveth, and he taketh away. On the mound, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were terrific, but John Lackey and Josh Beckett, not so much.
What will happen: With all the injured Red Sox, I wouldn't be too concerned about their health problems lingering, but Ellsbury in the second round again seems overly optimistic. Also, it's asking a lot for Beltre to hit .321 again. What fantasy owners should expect is strong value from Youkilis, Pedroia and David Ortiz. Complain about Big Papi all you want, but 32 homers and a 102 RBIs with a .270 average helps everyone. I'd also expect Beckett to bounce back, and since you won't have to treat him as a top-20 pitcher on draft day, the risk is certainly lessened.
Who to watch: Closer and first base will be positions to pay attention to this winter. Jonathan Papelbon is under contract, but the Red Sox could move him and turn the job over to Daniel Bard, who clearly had a better season. Trade talks should run rampant; if Papelbon moves on, Bard would be treated like a top-10 closer immediately, even without much big league experience as a closer. Meanwhile, Beltre could leave as a free agent, and first base prospect Lars Anderson is a candidate for permanent promotion, with Youkilis moving to third base. Hey, Beltre on another team with a multi-year contract would concern me, based on his track record. The Red Sox were a third-place team, but with all the terrific fantasy options, they look a lot better.
What happened: You mean, other than Jose Bautista? Is there any other story? Bautista wasn't even one of the team's regulars when he just started hitting home runs, and he stunned the sport when he never stopped. His career high in home runs was 16, so naturally he slugged an amazing 54, with 124 RBIs and finished as the No. 9 player in fantasy. Other Blue Jays performed ably, as Vernon Wells bounced back with a 31-home run season and Shaun Marcum was a strong No. 3 fantasy starting pitcher, but the bigger news was how disappointing Adam Lind and Aaron Hill were. They went from a composite .295 batting average and 222 RBIs to a .222 batting average and 140 RBIs.
What will happen: I could see a healthy Hill getting back to the 30-homer level with a .275 batting average, but Lind is going to have a tough time resurrecting his 2009 dream season unless he can put up a fight against lefty pitchers. Lind hit .117 against southpaws in 2010. He might be bound for platoon duty. Bautista should lead a power-packed lineup, and I could see 35 home runs from him, plus 30 or more from Wells, Lind, Hill and possibly Travis Snider. Like Lind, Snider hits left-handed, but his splits are relatively even. Snider has a bright future and should be drafted in 10-team leagues.
Who to watch: The Blue Jays crushed a league-leading 257 home runs, 100-plus more than their opponents, and the overall pitching staff wasn't bad at all, with a prime reinforcement on the way. Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and strikeout monster Brandon Morrow are all draftable even in 10-team leagues, and the best of the bunch could eventually be former Phillies prospect Kyle Drabek, the main haul in the Roy Halladay trade. Drabek didn't win in his three starts with the big club, but he pitched well. This reminds me of Hellickson in Tampa Bay, as Drabek has big-time upside and should be targeted in keeper formats.
What happened: For a team that lost 96 games, things are certainly looking up. The Orioles were a completely different team once Buck Showalter took over as manager. Unfortunately, fantasy owners had to deal with the first few months of the season as well. No Orioles player finished in the top 100 on the Player Rater. Adam Jones and Luke Scott had their moments offensively, and Koji Uehara became a reliable closer down the stretch, but the young starting pitching struggled, and catcher Matt Wieters did not emerge as a top-10 option.
What will happen: The rotation might not end up like the Giants anytime soon, but there is certainly promise here in Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta, probably in that order. Matusz posted a 3.63 ERA after the All-Star break, winning seven of 14 starts, and he had no problems with the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. Tillman struggled with command but has the look of a No. 2 big league starter soon. Arrieta doesn't have a power arm, but he should be a double-digit winner in 2011.
Who to watch: Alas, it comes down to the guy catching the power arms. Buster Posey hit right away for the Giants. Meanwhile, Wieters has 800 career at-bats and a .721 OPS, which is well below expectations. I think improvement at the plate is pretty much guaranteed in time, but it shouldn't make Wieters a legitimate top 100 player on draft day until he proves it.