Baltimore Orioles Team Preview
The Orioles again seem to be resigning themselves to the fact that they have no chance of competing with the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays in the AL East. New acquisitions Aubrey Huff, Steve Trachsel and Jaret Wright have the biggest fantasy implications. New relievers Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford will help a beleaguered bullpen, but neither will have much fantasy value this year.
The obvious answer here is Miguel Tejada, Baltimore's cleanup hitter and offensive star. But when it comes to fantasy value, you get a lot of bang for your buck from centerfielder Corey Patterson. Although he'll likely bat toward the bottom of the order, limiting his RBI opportunities, Patterson flashed his speed and power in his first season with Baltimore -- a much-needed change of address from his struggles with the Cubs. Patterson was one of four players to top the 15-homer, 45-steal mark (Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes were the others) and raised his average 61 points over his pitiful swansong in Chicago. Last season he had to earn a starting job. This year centerfield is all his, adding to his plate appearances and presumably, his productivity.
After struggling to a .268 average with only two home runs in the first half last season, Nick Markakis found his groove, batting .311 with a team-high 14 homers and 41 RBIs down the stretch. Now a fixture in the three hole, his numbers will skyrocket over his rookie campaign. He has hit the ball well this spring, relieving any concerns of a sophomore slump.
The Orioles' big offensive move in the off-season was signing Aubrey Huff from the Astros to play first, third and the outfield. Baltimore also signed outfielder Jay Payton, who perennially forces his way into a regular job and will likely limit Huff's outfield appearances. Also working against Huff getting fulltime at bats is Jay Gibbons' emergence as a viable first base option along with veteran Kevin Millar. Huff had big years in 2003 and '04 but slumped the last two seasons. He shouldn't be relied upon as more than a utility player.
As recently as 2003 it looked as if Jaret Wright's career had flamed out, just six years after he starred for the AL champion Indians. But Wright was reborn under Leo Mazzone's tutelage in Atlanta and turned in a remarkable 15--8, 3.28 ERA season in 2004. Fast forward through a big contract and two injury-plagued, disappointing seasons with the Yankees, and Wright finds himself back with Mazzone. He could be a 12-14 game winner with a decent WHIP and average ERA -- worth the last pitcher spot in an AL-only league.
Corey Patterson is the top runner on the squad, but Brian Roberts can swipe a few bases too. He has reached at least 20 the last four years, including a career-high 36 last season. Third baseman Melvin Mora isn't likely to steal more than 10 any more. Former Cubs utilityman Freddie Bynum has blazing speed and will fill the role of the departed David Newhan, which means that 250 plate appearances and 15-20 steals are a possibility.
Ray was a godsend last year after B.J. Ryan defected to Toronto, converting 33 of 38 save chances. Plan B is clearly Danys Baez, the former Devil Rays closer who spent 2006 as a setup man for the Dodgers and Braves. Don't bother drafting middlemen Scott Williamson, Sendy Rleal, Todd Williams, Chad Bradford or Jamie Walker if you're looking for potential closers.
Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, Jay Gibbons, Ramon Hernandez
Chris Gomez, Adam Loewen, Kevin Millar, Steve Trachsel