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Brian Phillip's Baseball Preview: A.L. East

Welcome to the first of six articles on the 2013 Major League Baseball season. At the bottom of each team entry you'll notice I've given two fantasy baseball tips per team. Yes I realize Robinson Cano is a stud. Since I assume you already know that, I've tried to dig a bit deeper. The fantasy "target" then is a player I feel has a chance to return real profit. The Fantasy "turd" isn't necessarily a bad player, just one that conversely will be over drafted/overbid. (note: Colby Rasmus is a bad player.)

The below are observations and have not been subjected to any sabermetric analysis or other advanced mathematical rigor. I'm just spittballin' here. This is written from the perspective of a hardcore fan.... but a fan nonetheless. My team is the Seattle Mariners, and after you read my entry on this woeful franchise you will be assured that I am not carrying water for any particular club. I calls em as I sees em said someone once. Enjoy and please comment. Tell me I'm all wrong and we'll find out together in October. 

1. Toronto Blue Jays

On October 23, 1993 Joe Carter's majestic home run off Phillies' closer Mitch Williams marked only the second World Series winning walk off four bagger in history. Carter's heroics capped the Toronto Blue Jays' second straight World Championship. Since then? The Jays haven't come within a late night border crossing of the post season. 

I suppose you can't entirely blame owner Rogers Communications. Since assuming majority control of the financially strapped Jays in 2000 they've sat and watched the Yankees and Red Sox play on Sunday Night Baseball every week with the rest of us. To even have a hope of beating them Rogers would have had to spend tons of brightly colored Canadian money. 

Toronto fans aren't dumb though. Rogers is a 12 billion dollar a year behemoth. Essentially if you watch sports on the tube, read about it, or talk to your friends about it... and you live in Canada, Rogers has a piece of the action. They could only preach patience for so long. That wore thin about the time the Tampa Bay Rays figured out how to compete and win in the American League East with cost controlled talent carefully acquired through shrewd drafting, and molded into a pitching and defense first winner under mad genius manager Joe Madden. 

Last October the Jays finished fourth in the AL East with 73 wins, looked around at the competition and decided it was time. You can't blame them really. The Yankees are old, and the Red Sox are in disarray. For the first time since Rogers bought the team, they're going to try to win, and by God they just might do it eh. 

Why They'll Win Eh... 

- The Jays have added R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, and Melky Cabrera. 

- Edwin Encanarcion's break out 2012 was no fluke. Sure he has a frying pan for a glove, but this kid has power and an improving grasp of the working the count. 

- Jose Bautista is healthy. 

- Brandon Morrow, free of feeling like he has to be carry the pitching load, will finally realize his potential. 

But Wait A Second There Eh.... 

Jose Bautista's wrist injury becomes a chronic issue.

- Center fielder Colby Rasmus is given another full year to prove he's not a very good player. 

- Melky Cabrera's past two seasons were entirely attributable to the juice. 

- Pitcher Ricky Romero's disastrous 2012 is not an outlier, but rather the new Ricky Romero. 

- Edwin Encanarcion goes back to being Edwin Encanarcion.

Bottom Line

90 wins.

Fantasy Target

Morrow. He comes into 2013 healthy and with much less pressure thanks to Dickey and Johnson. Morrow is capable of delivering at least a strike out per inning. On an improved club he could win you 15 games too. 

Fantasy Turd

Rasmus. The Cardinals dumped him for a reason. Not going to happen. Lousy contact rate. Can't hit lefties. Platoon fourth outfielder at best. 

2. Baltimore Orioles

The 2012 Orioles won 93 games and qualified for the post season.... and I feel like I still don't have a great feel for what this club will do in 2013. If they won the AL East it wouldn't be a stunner. Then again it wouldn't be shocking if they floundered around .500 either. 

Let's hone in on what we do know. After years of bungling, and spending too much on washed up free agents, the Orioles have laid a nice foundation for the future. Take a look around the horn. Catcher Matt Weiters should continue his steady improvement. First baseman Chris Davis now has two consecutive solid seasons behind him. One would like Davis to make more contact and take a walk, but the kid can sure crush the ball. JJ Hardy provides solid power for a shortstop. 20 year old Manny Machado looks like the real deal at the hot corner. Center fielder Adam Jones enjoyed a 27 year old break out, and while he probably doesn't profile for much more growth, he should provide five category contributions and solid defense for years to come. In right Nick Markakis has quietly put up some nice numbers over the years, though he comes off an injury shortened 2012.

That really leaves us with two glaring non pitcher question marks. At second Brian Roberts has seen the vast majority of his past three seasons lost to injury. Ryan Flaherty is no long term answer there. In left field oft injured Nolan Reimold has left us wondering what might have been, and what could still be. He's only 29. 

The Orioles staff performed surprisingly well in their playoff run. What they've been missing is an ace. The organization has been holding out hope that their ace might exist amongst Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Britton. Tillman at least seems to have gotten over the hump. And don't forget consensus top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy. The 20 year old may be that guy. 

The pen was a real revelation last year led by closer Jim Johnson and his 51 saves. Keep your eye on him though. His strike out rate is very low for a closer so there's a smaller margin of error. 

They'll start to believe in Baltimore if...

- It's probably too much to expect Roberts to contribute at this point, but getting 500 plus at bats from Reimold would be big. 

- Manny Machado doesn't begin playing like a 20 year old. 

- Someone amongst Matusz, Arrieta, and Britton steps forward to join Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Tillman. Add Bundy at some point and you have something. 

- Weiters, Davis and especially Jones do what they've already proven they can.

They'll cry in their crabcakes if....

- Any sort of injury bug hits. The O's don't have the depth. 

- Chris Davis' hacking leads to a collapse at the dish.

- Jim Johnson starts giving up too much of the wrong kind of contact. 

- No one among Matusz, Arrieta, or Britton provides a positive contribution.

Bottom Line

88 Wins

Fantasy Target

Hammel. He was on his way to a career year when a knee injury popped up. A healthy Hammel could give you a strike out per inning. You can find him at the end of your draft.

Fantasy Turd

Johnson is not going to save 51 games again. Look for 15 to 20 fewer.

3. New York Yankees

39, 32, 29, 34, 39, 30, 33, 32, 26, 36. On opening day this is the age span of a likely Yankees lineup. The average is 33 on the nose. Throw out catcher Francisco Cervelli (who has no business being the number one back stop on any major league club) and the number jumps almost a full year. This isn't by accident Yankee fan. You need to get your head around this, and the sooner the better: The New York Yankees are punting the 2013 season. Giving up, throwing in the towel,  and taking a powder. 

George Steinbrenner is dead. His sons are running the team, and they've taken the checkbook. Their big off season acquisition? Broken down Kevin Youkilis at one year and 12 million. And that was only because even more broken down Alex Rodriguez is having his hips redone. 39 year old Derek Jeter is recovering from a snapping his ankle in the playoffs. The Indians are pleased to have Travis Hafner off their payroll at long last. The 36 year old is your 2013 Yankees' designated hitter. The last time Hafner played a full season? 2007, which is also the last time he's had a home run total better than 17. 

Heard enough? The New York friggin Yankees are going into the season with Cervelli (who's name popped up on the infamous Biogenisis files) and Chris Stewart as their best options behind the dish after allowing the Pirates of all teams to outbid them for Russell Martin. 

The Yankees haven't done anything to improve their rotation either. After workhorse C.C. Sabathia, and the always professional Huroki Kuroda they have question marks. Andy Pettitte is turning 41 June 15th, and only started 12 games last season. As I write Phil Hughes is out for two weeks with a bulging disk. Ivan Nova and David Phelps will vie for the fifth starter slot this spring. 

Maybe I'm missing something. I've read everywhere that the Yankees will compete and win in 2013. I don't see it. The Steinbrenner boys are holding the payroll down this year to reset the Yankees' luxury tax burden for the next half decade. Next winter they'll be back to their usual profligate spending, giving Cano a fat new deal and playing casino whale on the free agent market. Until then? Now you understand why Toronto is suddenly a player.

They'll Cheer In The Bronx If.... 

-Everyone stays healthy.

-Curtis Granderson becomes a more balanced contributor. Sure he went 43/106 in 2012, but his batting average dropped 30 points last year. His walk and contact rates are in an alarming slide. At age 32 he's turning into a thinner, speedier Adam Dunn. (This just in, Granderson was hit by a pitch in his first spring at bat. Out 4 to 6 weeks with a broken arm. Not a good start.)

-Mark Teixeira reverses his own alarming slide. The switch hitting first baseman has seen his fly ball percentage deteriorate, his walk rate move from elite to adequate, and his batting average against right handers crater.

-The Yankees do something about the talent level on this team well before deadline time. 

They'll Bronx Cheer In The Bronx If.... 

- Sabathia's workload and weight finally start to catch up to him. We've seen signs of that already.

- Pettitte doesn't give them at least 25 starts. 

- All this age leads to a rash of injuries. 

Bottom Line

85 wins. 

Fantasy Target

Don't go crazy, but at the end of your draft or auction, take a flier on David Phelps. Nice strike out rate, and I think he'll be the fifth starter.

Fantasy Turd

Let others in your league be mesmerized by the Granderson's gaudy power numbers. 

4. Tampa Bay Rays

Since 2008 the Rays have won 97, 84, 96, 91, and 90 games, lost a World Series (2008) and were knocked out of the divisional round twice by the Texas Rangers. The Rays payroll ranked 25th in the majors last year. Manager Joe Madden knows that if his club is going to compete they have to be smarter than everyone else. They plot out elaborate defensive positioning schemes on their Ipads for crying out loud. Crusty baseball people hate that shit. Haven't you seen Money Ball? Spit on the floor and scratch your nuts all you want though because whatever they're doing works pretty damned well. 

That said, when one takes a peek at the Rays depth chart going into the spring, the level of talent is less than inspiring. James Loney at first, Ryan Roberts at second, and noted homophobe Yunel Escobar at short should leave Rays fans cold. Escobar and Roberts will probably each hit more home runs than Loney.... which tells you all you need to know about him. Matt Joyce heads into spring as the starting left fielder, but his meek numbers against lefties profile him as fourth outfielder at best. Joyce will assume a spot on the bench just as soon as 2012 minor league player of the year Wil Myers, acquired in the off season from Kansas City, is major league ready. 

And so the load falls upon third baseman Evan Longoria, the versatile and rock solid Ben Zobrist, and Cy Young award winner David Price. This is Madden's biggest challenge since his early years in Tampa. A lot is going to have to go right.

If They Win, It's Because...

- Price equals or betters his outstanding 2012. 

- Young hard throwing lefty Matt Moore cuts down on his wildness.

- Longoria can stay healthy.

- Young and speedy center fielder Desmond Jennings can improve his middling plate approach.

- Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Neimann, and youngster Alex Cobb take the pill every five days and give the Rays a chance to win. 

- Fernando Rodney's can come near his out of nowhere 2012 closer performance. 

Joe Madden will call tech support if.... 

- Longoria can't stay on the field.

- Myers isn't ready to contribute by June.

- Starters 3 through 5 make Madden miss stalwart James Shields. 

- Rodney pitches like he has his entire career except for last year. 

Bottom Line

83 wins.

Fantasy Target

Zobrist. Eligible at 2B and OF. This is key as you'll want to slot him at second and enjoy. 

Fantasy Turd

Rodney. I don't think he'll return to his 4.50 ERA/1.50 WHIP days.... He has mastered a sick change up..... That said don't pay for last season, he'll never do that again.

5. Boston Red Sox

I'm not going to spend much time dwelling on Boston's 2012. The story lines were universally depressing, and well covered elsewhere. This fact should make you gag on your lobster roll Sox fan. Seattle won six more games than the Red Sox did last season. Yup, it was that bad. 

The question is a simple one. Did the Boston Red Sox improve themselves in the off season? Relatively speaking yes they did I suppose, but I still see them repeating last place in 2013. Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster are all solid free agent additions... but that's all they did. The reviled John Lackey returns from a year away for Tommy John surgery, but he's 34 and 2011 was a disaster. Felix Doubront is going to start for crying out loud. There doesn't seem to be any top notch pitching talent in the Sox system. It's beginning to show. Jonny Gomes is renowned for his leadership, but the Red Sox didn't bring him in to be the everyday left fielder. For now it's a platoon with Daniel Nava and perhaps Seattle castoff Mike Carp. 

It'll Be Wicked Awesome If....

- Jon Lester can return to his pre 2012 form. 

- Ditto for Dustin Pedroia.

- Jacoby Ellsbury can come within spitting distance of his monster 2011.

- Rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks can continue his growth. First order will be to work the count better.

It'll Be Wicked Bad If...

- Lackey is as terrible as I'm afraid he will be.

- Stephen Drew is as "meh" as his brother sometimes could be in a Sox uniform.

- David Ortiz gets very old very fast.

- Mike Napoli can't stay healthy.

- Ellsbury officially becomes injury prone as opposed to unlucky.

Bottom Line

77 Wins

Fantasy Target

Ellsbury is attractive because after two of his past three seasons have been destroyed by injuries his value is sure to be depressed. If he's falling in your league he could return real value. 

Fantasy Turd

Middlebrooks is hardly a "turd," but evidence suggests he's being overvalued this season. There are sure to be growing pains. Don't overpay! Rate him no better than middle of the pack at third base in a mixed league... perhaps lower. 

Stay tuned for part II. The American League Central. 

Brian Phillips is a a longtime DJ for the legendary lndependent rock n roll radio station CD1025. you can find him at www.cd1025.com or follow him on twitter

and don't forget PencilStorm opening day party at the Treebar Monday April 1st.- Reds vs Angels 4pm