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AL East MLB Fantasy Preview


With one bold -- no, fortunate, move -- the Yankees have won the offseason battle in the AL East. It is a division that is used to making the huge splashes in the winter and competing for pennants. It is a division accutomed to being the best in baseball, with the resources to outspend and out-acquire anyone. This offseason, it was marked more by moves it couldn't make and the losses it sustained.

But the Mariners bailed out the Yankees and handed them a future ace in Michael Pineda for an unproven slugging catcher. Then, the Yankees turned around quickly to add a solid starter in Hiroki Kuroda, giving themselves depth where they were originally thin: starting pitching.

The Red Sox have only three reliable starting rotation members right now. The Yankees have seven, although it is pretty clear A.J. Burnett is getting shopped.

The Red Sox don't have a right fielder yet either.

The Rays are pitching-rich, but they lack thump and depth in the lineup.

The Jays might be ready to turn the corner, but they need a lot to go right in their rotation.

Finally, the O's, well, they need a lot to go right everywhere, just to be better than bad.

This is always a popular division for fantasy picks, but the age and question marks make this more of a high-risk, high-reward division. We continue our offseason divisional looks from a fantasy perspective with the AL East (in predicted order of finish).

The skipper said it this winter:

"This is a guy (Hughes) that won 18 games in 2010, and that's not always easy to do, win 18 games," Joe Girardi said. "But he pitched well for us, and that's what we're asking him to do to give a chance to win, keep us in the games like he did in 2010. I do consider him a big part of our rotation."

Key question: Which Hughes will show up?

A healthy Hughes is an elite fantasy starter. He failed in 2011, but we should get a look at the strength of his shoulder this spring. Watch his velocity and ability to take regular spring turns and stretch out his pitch counts on a regular schedule. He is a potential Top-25 fantasy starter and will get picked far later than that, particularly since he isn't even a certainty to get a spot in that bolstered rotation.

Sleeper: Phil Hughes, RHP

His disastrous year makes him cheaper than ever, but he is still just 25 with a big future. The Yankees gave up '11 breakthrough Ian Kennedy to keep Hughes for a reason.

Bust: Ivan Nova, RHP

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Assuming you're done considering the elderly Jeter and A-Rod potential disappointments, you have to go with Nova. He was 16-4 and looked like a future fantasy ace. But the reality is somewhere below that. He will get picked among aces, but he will wind up closer to a .500 pitcher. There are a lot of those around.

Breakout: Michael Pineda, RHP

This is going to be one of the best starters in baseball, and he looked like it at times out of the gate last season. His second full season in the majors will make him more consistent in the second half and he will help a lot of fantasy owners win titles this season. He'll win a lot of games behind that offense.

The skipper said it this winter:

On Bard's potential move to the rotation:

"Well, that unknown of durability is going to remain with anyone, whether it be [Neftali] Feliz [of the Rangers] or anyone who transfers from the bullpen to the starting staff," Bobby Valentine said. "You can judge his pitches in spring training and you can judge his success, but it's very difficult to project the endurance of that success throughout a game. So that's a challenge. And then developing the pitches, of course, having more than two pitches that I know are extremely hard to hit. That third pitch is a necessity."

Key question:Who is the back end of the rotation?

The Red Sox potentially have the best top three starters in the division, but they also might have the worst rotation overall in the division. They have some holes to fill in the back and right now it is just Miller, Bard and Aceves as viable alternatives to adding someone before camp.

Sleeper: Carl Crawford, OF

He was a bust in Boston in Year 1, but it tends to be the second year after signing a big free-agent contract when a player really feels comfortable, performs and makes for a good value in fantasy. A lot of people are going to be down on Crawford, but he is still capable of going .295-15-85-100-40. That mamkes for a decent middle-round pick.

Bust: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF

This is not to suggest Ellsbury's breakthrough age-27 season was a onetime event. He is fully capable of being a .300-30-100-110-40 fantasy megastar. But the history of inconsistency and injuries make it less likely he can duplicate the .321-32-105-119-39 campaign that is going to make him the first-rounder Crawford was a year ago. If that is you, you're likely to be a year late on the Ellsbury bandwagon.

Breakout: Andrew Bailey, RHP

Bailey was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2009, but he hasn't made it through a full season healthy since. He has averaged a steady 25 saves per year, but in the right situation now in Boston, he could develop into a 40-save fantasy must-have. The question is health and it won't be something that can be proven until he pitches a full season.

The skipper said it this winter:

"Our young pitchers, we have a lot of them, and of course the guys that have been there, the incumbents, will be back," Joe Maddon said. "We just have to figure out Matt and Alex Cobb. Everybody talks about Matt, not as many people talk about Alex Cobb. He's potentially a very good major league starter. I don't have an answer for you yet. It's obviously a wonderful problem to have. We'll continue to filter through it as the season conditions."

Key question:Who plays shortstop, second and first base?

Assuming the Rays don't add a first baseman before camp, does Zobrist become a first baseman full time and allow both Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac in the lineup? The Rays would prefer to keep Zobrist at second and have Rodriguez and Brignac compete or share the shortstop position. They need a first base option, though.

Sleeper: Desmond Jennings, OF

In a short time down the stretch last year, Jennings proved to be the next Crawford he was billed to be. It will be interesting to see what he can do in a full season. If you project his rookie season's numbers to 500-plus at-bats, we could be looking at a .260-20-60-100-40 fantasy gem. The power is probably the least likely plateau he will reach, but the power usually is the last thing to come for prospects.

Bust: Kyle Farnsworth, RHP

It will be hard to expect Shields to repeat his career year, but Farnsworth is more likely to be disappointing for fantasy owners. He has earned his status as the Rays' closer going into the season, but Farnsworth might not even have to be terrible for the Rays to consider a prospect like Jake McGee in the role by midseason. McGee was supposed to be that guy last season and he didn't show well until late. A healthy McGee could make Farnsworth a setup man.

Breakout: David Price, LHP

It is hard to believe Price was a sub-.500 pitcher for a postseason team, if you look at the peripherals. Price hasn't be an elite fantasy ace for a full season yet but this figures to be the year. Some might consider Shields over him on draft day, but that would be a mistake. Price has Cy Young talent and has built up for what should be the best season of his career. He is ready to take off.

The skipper said it this winter:

"I think we all view [Henderson Alvarez] as part of our rotation," John Farrell said. "He showed exceptional poise for a young pitcher coming to the big leagues, and when he gave up some hits in an inning he didn't panic, he didn't run from contact. He's got the ability to get two outs with one pitch, and we saw a slider that started to get tightened up and add some power to it in those last three starts. That [is a] third weapon along with his fastball and his change-up. This is an exciting young pitcher."

Key question:Can the rotation stay healthy for a full season?

If the Blue Jays' pitchers all stay healthy and pitch up to their potential, this team could be a sleeper for a wild-card spot. Romero and Morrow are top 25 fantasy starters, while Alvarez, Cecil, Drabek and perhaps McGowan are nice sleepers.

Sleeper: Kyle Drabek, RHP

Drabek started off last season in the Jays' rotation, somewhat surprisingly. He fared well, but looked bad in the middle and the end, even struggling mightily back in Triple-A. Drabek is a potential future fantasy ace, so he could rebound and be a solid Low Investment Mound Ace. "Despite his struggles, it was a major learning curve for him last year," Farrell said. "We can't lose sight of some of the games he pitched early on, seven innings against the Twins in his first start of the year, and I think he learned a lot about himself, learned a lot about the major leagues. Those negative experiences or those challenges will go a long way in him understanding who he is as a pitcher."

Bust: Jose Bautista, OF/3B

It is Murphy's Law, and if our worst fears happen with @JoeyBats, we might rename it Bautista's Law: After back-to-back huge years, we are now comfortable enough to pick Bautista in Round 1; well, it figures this might exactly be the time he disappoints. Beastista hit .302 with an OPS over 1.000 -- legend range -- but he is still more of a .255 career hitter and he was a pedestrian .257-12-38-32-4 (.419-.477) in the second half. Those are more like his pre-2010 breakout numbers. So, '10 was not a flash in a pan after all, but you have to be wary of him performing at Albert Pujols levels annually after how many years it took this 31-year-old to find himself.

Breakout: Brett Lawrie, 3B

In a quarter of a season as a rookie, Lawrie posted .293-9-25-26-7. You cannot project 36-100-104-28, but it is clear Lawrie has the potential to be one of the best fantasy third basemen in a hurry. He will be tricky to pick at the right value, but watch the Average Draft Position and draft him a round earlier than the average to be sure to get him.

The skipper said it this winter:

"We think a lot of guys were primed to take that next step and are capable of taking it," Buck Showalter said. "And we get the health back to Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz, they're having a good offseason, so far, so good.

"But ... the initial focus has been on starting pitching. But talking to other clubs, that's what they're looking for, time. It's a premium. You look at what Tampa has done and the depth they have in their starting rotation and they built a bullpen.

"It's a lot easier -- neither one of them (is) easy -- but a lot more challenging to put together a rotation in the offseason than it is a bullpen."

Key question:Who is in the rotation?

The O's added a Japanese and a Taiwanese pitcher, both of whom were successful starters in Japan. They are in the mix to start, but if young arms of Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman are healthy and pitching up to their potential, there will be a logjam of starters. The O's have nine or 10 guys who could be in the rotation out of Spring Training. The young ones are the ones to watch most closely.

Sleeper: Nick Markakis, OF

Markakis has posted back-to-back mediocre seasons. The 28-year old no longer looks like a potential .300-25-100-100-15 outfielder. Well, the two down years will get him picked a lot lower than his talent suggests. You just might strike gold here finally.

Bust: J.J. Hardy, SS

Hardy put together one of the best seasons of his career, but it still was not a complete one. He has played 150-plus games just once in his career (all the way back in '07) and managed just 129 games last season, despite the career-high 30 homers. Hardy is more of a .265-20-75-75-0 shortstop, and that is if he stays healthy for a full season. He won't.

Breakout: Zach Britton, LHP

If you look at his full-season numbers, it will be harder to remember the start he got off to last season. He was 5-2 with a 2.35 ERA through his first 10 starts, eight of them quality starts. Britton might not have come with the hype Matusz has, but he certainly has the juice to be a front-line starter. He is potentially a great last-round pick, so a sleeper as much as a breakout.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for You can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there and takes them very personally.