Mostly MLB Notes: American League Season Preview

AL East

1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. Boston Red Sox (Wild Card)
3. New York Yankees (Wild Card)
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays

Comments/Predictions: Tampa Bay enters once again with a decent lineup that projects to play very good defense and a starting rotation that should be dominant. The extent in which Wil Myers (and to a lesser degree Desmond Jennings) breaks out and whether Evan Longoria can stay healthy will go a long way toward how far this team goes. This could easily be the year when the Rays win the World Series…Alex Cobb emerges as the staff ace, finishing with more fantasy value than David Price and Matt MooreBen Zobrist remains highly valuable to the Rays but doesn’t live up to his ADP in fantasy leagues…Evan Longoria doesn’t finish as a top-five fantasy third baseman, but Chris Archer finishes as a top-35 fantasy starter.

[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

I wouldn’t separate the top three teams here by more than a game apiece. It’s tough to respond after playing deep into October the previous year, as starting pitchers not only can throw up to 30 more innings, the team also gets one fewer month to rest during the offseason. This division is once again going to be a battle…Grady Sizemore begins the year attempting to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, but Jackie Bradley ends the year with more fantasy value...Clay Buchholz stays relatively healthy but sees his ERA double from last season, while fantasy owners battle between Edward Mujica and Junichi Tazawa on free agent wires when Koji Uehara spends time on the DL…Xander Bogaerts has an OK rookie campaign before fully breaking out in 2015, while Dustin Pedroia ends 2014 as the most valuable fantasy second baseman.

The Yankees won 85 games last year, but their pythag record was 79-83, suggesting they were somewhat lucky. This likely has most to do with them being an MLB-best 30-16 in one-run games, but a lot has changed since, as New York signed Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka during the offseason, although they also lost Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera. New York has a very shaky infield, but there’s a lot to like everywhere else…McCann uses the short porch (and DH) to his advantage, hitting 30 homers for the first time in his career, although Mark Teixeira’s wrist remains a problem, as he hits .250 again…Carlos Beltran finishes as a top-15 fantasy outfielder, while Kelly Johnson pops 25 homers. Yankee Stadium has increased HR for LHB by 33 percent over the past three years, tied with Coors Field for the most in MLB, and New York has tailored its team to this. Seven of the team’s nine projected starters bat either left-handed or are switch hitters, giving them a nice inherent advantage…David Robertson is a top-five fantasy closer, while CC Sabathia is the fourth most valuable starting pitcher on his own team.

Baltimore won 85 games last season, which is no small feat in the AL East. Whether they were smart signings or not, you have to give credit to the team’s ownership for going for it, as they brought on Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz during the offseason. Then again, they traded closer Jim Johnson purely to save salary…Kevin Gausman is arguably the team’s best pitcher, but he currently projects to begin the year not in the starting rotation. He’ll be worth monitoring closely…Chris Davis isn’t a bust, but he doesn’t return first round fantasy value…The reliever who finishes with the most saves for the Orioles in 2014 isn’t currently on the team’s roster…All those Manny Machado doubles eventually start turning into homers, but it’s not until 2015, when his knee is back to 100 percent…Ubaldo Jimenez isn’t a top-75 fantasy starter, while Nick Markakis produces a .295-100-15-70-5 line, making him one of the better outfield bargains…J.J. Hardy, who’s quietly hit 14 more homers than any other shortstop over the past three years, hits another 30 over the fence.

The Blue Jays were a trendy World Series pick last season only to see them go 74-88 and finish last in their division and 23 games out of first. Some key performers are bound to improve in 2014, but the AL East looks like a three-horse race, with Baltimore and Toronto fighting for fourth. Of course, crazier things have happened…Drew Hutchison finishes as the Blue Jays’ second most valuable fantasy starter, while Melky Cabrera scores 100 runs while hitting out of the No. 2 hole…R.A. Dickey bounces back, out producing his ADP by a wide margin, but Casey Janssen battles shoulder woes, leading to a lot of FAAB spent on Sergio SantosBrett Lawrie doesn’t become the star many predicted he’d be a few years back, but he hits 15 homers and steals 15 bases, making him plenty valuable as someone 2B eligible.

In case you missed my NL Preview, check it out here.

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AL Central

1. Detroit Tigers
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Kansas City Royals
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Minnesota Twins

Comments/Predictions: The Tigers remain the division’s prohibitive favorite thanks to a loaded starting rotation, although they will likely come out the loser of the Prince Fielder/Ian Kinsler swap (it did save them money) and also seemingly gave away Doug Fister for peanuts. The team’s defense figured to be upgraded in a major way, but the season-ending loss of shortstop Jose Iglesias is a pretty big blow, especially with such weak internal alternatives…Torii Hunter has curtailed his running, but he’s averaged 16.5 homers, 85.5 runs scored and 88 RBI over the past two seasons (despite missing 40 games). Those two seasons just so happen to also be the only two in which he’s hit .300 throughout his 15-year career. Hunter is another boring old veteran who should out produce his ADP (201.3)…While many are expecting a breakout season from Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly finishes with the most fantasy value of the two…Ian Kinsler doesn’t finish as a top-five fantasy second baseman, while Justin Verlander returns to form, finishing as a top-five fantasy starter.

The Indians are coming off a surprise playoff appearance thanks to a 10-game winning streak to end the year. Whether the team can make another postseason run has a lot to do with how the transition of Carlos Santana to third base goes, although there’s always the option to DH. Either way, Yan Gomes needs to become Cleveland’s everyday catcher…John Axford’s career looks back on track after the Cardinals corrected a flaw in which he was tipping his pitches, but that was just a 10.1-inning sample and came with a 1.35 WHIP. He still walks too many batters, so don’t be surprised if Cody Allen overtakes the ninth inning role at some point…Everyone’s favorite “sleeper,” Danny Salazar, not only lives up to the hype but he exceeds it. It’s just a 52.0-inning sample, but what he did after joining the majors last season was incredible. Salazar combined a 30.8 K% with a 7.1 BB% to go along with a whopping 14.6 SwStr%. To put that in perspective, Yu Darvish was the only starter to have a K% greater than 30.0 last season, and he combined that with a 9.5 BB%. His 12.6 SwStr% also led MLB, which is a full 2.0 fewer than Salazar’s. Again SSS, but he already might have the best stuff in baseball. Even with an innings limit, I have Salazar ranked as a top-20 fantasy SP entering 2014...The Indians are my favorite “long shot” bet to win the World Series this season (50/1).

Kansas City’s 86 wins last season were its most since 1989 and 14 more than 2012. The team upgraded second base bringing in Omar Infante in the offseason and has very few holes throughout the lineup. The starting rotation lost some depth with Ervin Santana’s departure, but the Royals are wasting no time throwing rookie Yordano Ventura into the rotation, even saying he’s slated to throw 180-200 innings. Still, after James Shields, #2-5 in this rotation figures to be a major weakness…Eric Hosmer finally busts out like many have expected for some time, posting a .300-95-25-90-15 line…Billy Butler’s power returns, as he hits 20+ homers, although he still fails to score 80 runs for the first time in his career…Yordano Ventura posts a strong K rate but ultimately doesn’t live up to expectations for those who reached for him in drafts. He’ll be a future star though.

The White Sox without question improved their team during the offseason, but they were starting from a low floor, as Chicago lost 99 games last year, getting outscored by 125 runs, which was just eight fewer than the Marlins…Adam Eaton goes 10/25 and scores 100 runs, while Alejandro De Aza is traded…Jose Abreu performs at a 40-homer pace but spends time on the disabled list thanks to a hit-by-pitch (he was hit by 198 pitches in 799 games in the Cuban leagues, which is 40 per year (h/t Gene McCaffrey))…Nate Jones finishes as a top-20 fantasy closer.

The Twins didn’t finish last in their division last season, but their minus-174 run differential was the second worst in major league baseball, behind only the Astros, who lost 111 games. While Minnesota is likely to be better in 2014, it would surprise if they didn’t finish last in the AL Central...Joe Mauer plays in 150 games for the first time in his career thanks to the full time move to first base, but it still results in fewer than 75 RBI despite batting .320…Over the last two years, Phil Hughes recorded a strong 3.25 K/BB ratio (a mark that was better than Jose Fernandez’s last season and superior to Yu Darvish over the two-year span), but that’s been accompanied by a league-high 1.58 HR/9 rate (despite an 11.8 HR/FB% that wasn’t that above league average). He now leaves Yankee Stadium, which is baseball’s best park to boost home runs for LHB, to Target Field, which has decreased HR for left-handed batters by 25 percent over the past three years (only Oakland has been lower in the AL at 26%), making Hughes someone who shouldn’t be forgotten in deeper fantasy leagues…Josh Willingham rebounds from a down 2013 and approaches 30 homers and records 100 RBI while hitting cleanup directly behind Mauer. Willingham’s current ADP is 242.7...Mike Pelfrey gets revenge on his teammates for this prank they played on him.

This road rage incident ends in a heavy dose of humility.

Here’s crazy footage of a construction worker being rescued from a 5-Alarm Fire.

Animal Antics: Here’s a Black Bear Attempting to Walk Across a Rope For a Bite of a Tasty Beaver Treat...Here’s a dog (I’m partial to Boxers) blasting the horn, letting its owner know he’s done staying in the car....This Dog Just Went For $2 Million At A Chinese Pet Fair... Mom Sloth Bear At National Zoo Eats Two Of Her Cubs, Loses Right To Raise The Third...Monster 16-Inch Rat Terrifies Swedish Family...Here’s Jim Harbaugh teaching a walrus how to do pushups.

AL West

1. Oakland Athletics
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners
5. Houston Astros

Comments/Predictions: After not making the playoffs for five years, the A’s have won their division each of the past two seasons, producing a +233 run differential during that stretch, which was the third highest in MLB. Oakland bolstered its bullpen during the offseason while also signing Scott Kazmir, but Jarrod Parker had to undergo his second Tommy John surgery, and A.J. Griffin remains sidelined with a sore elbow. Injuries have been rough during spring, but the A’s have depth and enter 2014 in a heated three-team race in the AL West…Yoenis Cespedes’ struggles continue, as he finishes as the least valuable fantasy commodity among Oakland’s three outfielders…Josh Donaldson is the real deal, following up his breakout season with an equally impressive 2014 campaign…Jed Lowrie finishes with more fantasy value than Asdrubal Cabrera, while Sonny Gray finishes with more fantasy value than Matt Moore and Jon Lester.

After winning the division in five of six seasons from 2004-2009, Los Angeles hasn’t made the playoffs in the past three years, including finishing 18.0 games out of first last season. Over the past two years, they’ve committed $365 million to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, so obviously much more has been expected of them…Jered Weaver, Hamilton and Pujols all bounce back to varying degrees, with the latter doing so in a big way, as Pujols finishes as a top-15 fantasy player…Mike Trout continues his assault on baseball, finally resulting in an MVP award.

The Rangers missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009, although their run differential (+94) was the seventh best in MLB. They signed Shin-Soo Choo to a big offseason contract and swapped Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder. It won’t be easy in a competitive AL West, but Texas once again has its sights set on a deep postseason run. However, injuries to Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto are going to make it tough…Prince Fielder rebounds in a big way, leading the American League in home runs, while Yu Darvish wins the Cy Young…The rest of the rotation, however, is a problem, as only Martin Perez has fantasy relevance in mixed leagues (at least until Holland comes back)…Joakim Soria finishes as a top-15 fantasy closer, and the AL West comes down to the season’s final weekend.

Only the Twins and Astros had a worse run differential than the Mariners last season, although most projection systems expect them to be much improved in 2014. Still, it would take some luck and/or injuries for them to crack the top-three in a tough AL West…Corey Hart’s health prevents him from playing much outfield, shifting him to DH, leaving Logan Morrison in flux…Brad Miller is one of the biggest surprises at middle infield, finishing as a top-10- fantasy shortstop.

The Astros were the worst team in baseball last season and project to be the same in 2014, albeit by a less wide margin. Houston has a strong farm system, but it’s still going to be a long process before they reach competency, let alone contention…Jason Castro finishes with more fantasy value than Evan Gattis, while Josh Fields finishes with the most saves in the Astros’ pen…Chris Carter sets the major league record for strikeouts in a season, while Jonathan Villar steals 40 bases despite hitting less than .240.

Longread of the Week: The Duke Lacrosse Player Still Outrunning His Past.

AL MVP: Mike Trout

AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish

AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu

ALCS: Rays over Tigers

World Series: Cardinals over Rays

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