Archive for 2010 Second Opinion

2010 Seattle Mariners Preview

Felix Hernandez, RHP
Cliff Lee, LHP
Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP
Ian Snell, RHP
Jason Vargas, LHP

Closers and Setup
David Aardsma, RHP
Brandon League, RHP

Starting Lineup
Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Chone Figgins, 3B
Milton Bradley, LF
Jose Lopez, 2B
Casey Kotchman, 1B
Franklin Gutierrez, CF
Ken Griffey Jr., DH
Jack Wilson, SS
Rob Johnson, C

Player in Decline

Decline is too strong a word here, but expecting Chone Figgins to repeat his six-win season is too optimistic. He should remain a productive player, though.

Player on the Rise

Brandon League actually broke out last season, but few people seemed to notice thanks to his artificially-high ERA. If League maintains his new found splitter, watch out for him to start vulturing saves from David Aardsma and late inning wins from high-leverage situations.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Ichiro Suzuki: Elite
Felix Hernandez: Elite
Cliff Lee: Elite
Chone Figgins: Average
David Aardsma: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Dustin Ackley, OF
2. Michael Saunders, OF
3. Adam Moore, C
4. Carlos Triunfel, 3B
5. Alex Liddi, 3B
6. Nick Franklin, SS
7. Michael Pineda, RHP
8. Gabriel Noriega, SS
9. Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B
10. Nick Hill, RHP

Overall team outlook:The Seattle Mariners, at the time of publication, appear to be right up there with Texas and Anaheim heading into the 2010 season as a roughly mid-80 win team. It’s been a winter full of activity for the Mariner front office and they’ve done a remarkable job of patching holes with limited outlay in the free agent market.

The Starting Rotation:The starting rotation is going to get the lion’s share of attention in 2010. Fronted by the newly extended Felix Hernandez and newly traded-for Cliff Lee, there is probably no better 1-2 in baseball on paper. Both are legitimate Cy Young candidates on their own, but in Safeco Field and in front of another year of stellar defense, it would not surprise us if they ended up in an Adam Wainwright-Chris Carpenter type of situation by the end of the year. Behind those two the picture is less clear.

Ryan Rowland-Smith can be a solidly average starter, and Ian Snell could be anywhere from awful to good depending on which version shows up. There are numerous candidates for the fifth spot in Doug Fister, Luke French, Garrett Olson, Yusmeiro Petit, and Jason Vargas, and the ones left out will help provide some decent depth both in the bullpen and in Triple-A.

The Bullpen: The bullpen appeared good last year, for a time leading the league in ERA, but it was never actually all that successful, getting by with good luck. David Aardsma was legitimately good, though, as were Mark Lowe and Shawn Kelley. All three return this year and should be bolstered by the addition of Brandon League, a dynamite reliever and another flamethrower. Four above-average righties give the Mariners pen some much better potential this season. Leftovers from the fifth starter competition, along with a few other names like Nick Hill, should round out the back of the pen.

The Starting Lineup: It’s not a menacing lineup on paper, and offense is not likely to be a strong suit for the 2010 Mariners, but there’s some upside here. Mostly, it’s upside over the 2009 team, which scored a league-worst 640 runs. Using 2009 totals to estimate 2010 performance is always a bad idea, since people tend to forget to regress those 2009 totals beforehand. Starting from scratch and building up projections focused solely on 2010 is always the best way to go. Doing so for the offense this season gives us an unexpected conclusion. While seemingly unimproved from 2009, the group of players project to score in the range of about 730 runs, a massive improvement. The reasons for this are an improvement in OBP among hitters and general regression away from the totals received at shortstop, third base, and left field, which were universally black holes for the 2009 team.

In addition to improved discipline at the plate, the Mariners lineup in 2010 is much better suited to the confines of Safeco Field. Both newcomers Milton Bradley and Chone Figgins are switch-hitters, giving manager Don Wakamatsu more flexibility and allowing the team to put as many as five hitters in the left-handed batter’s box, where Safeco actually helps offense.

The Bench: Bench depth could be a weak point for the Mariners. Carrying Ken Griffey Jr., whose only role is basically as a backup DH, hurts the flexibility that the starting lineup provides. To that end, the Mariners might consider carrying an 11-man pitching staff in order to add another bench slot. One of Adam Moore or Josh Bard will be the backup catcher, and Jack Hannahan and probably a yet-unsigned right-handed outfield bat will be in place to cover the other seven positions in the field.

2010 Colorado Rockies Preview

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
Aaron Cook, RHP
Jorge De La Rosa, LHP
Jeff Francis, LHP
Jason Hammel, RHP

Closers and Setup
Hustin Street, RHP
Rafael Betancourt, RHP

Starting Lineup
Carlos Gonzalez, CF
Clint Barmes, 2B
Todd Helton, 1B
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Brad Hawpe, RF
Ian Stewart, 3B
Seth Smith, LF
Chris Iannetta, C

Player in Decline

The easy answer is the 36-year-old Todd Helton, but he has skills (hitting for contact and line drives) that have traditionally aged well. Instead, there is a distinct possibility that Clint Barmes loses his everyday role. Barmes doesn’t walk, doesn’t have much power or speed, and strikes out a lot.

Player on the Rise

If Clint Barmes falters at all, speedster Eric Young Jr has shown he’s ready to get on base and run. He is a great sleeper for steals in fantasy this year. If Ian Stewart can harness the strikeouts a little, we know he has power, so he deserves a mention.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Troy Tulowitzki – Elite
Ubaldo Jimenez – Elite
Carlos Gonzalez – Average
Brad Hawpe – Average
Todd Helton – Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Christian Friedrich, LHP
2. Jhoulys Chacin, RHP
3. Tyler Matzek, LHP
4. Wilin Rosario, C
5. Hector Gomez, SS
6. Rex Brothers, LHP
7. Esmil Rogers, RHP
8. Eric Young Jr., 2B
9. Mike McKenry, C
10. Tim Wheeler, OF

Overall team outlook: Coming off of its second straight Wild Card postseason appearance, the Rockies have found an interesting and competitive mix of youthful promise and veteran leadership. Going forward, their unique situation will continue to be the struggle to put together a workable and affordable Coors-friendly pitching staff around their strong youth up the middle.

The Starting Rotation: Coming off his second four-plus WAR season, Ubaldo Jimenez is the unquestioned ace of the staff. His ability to consistently rack up ground balls and strikeouts bodes well for his future. Some projections have him returning to the higher walk rates of his early career, but after last year’s nice walk rate, a rosier outlook on Jimenez is defensible. Aaron Cook also uses a nice ground-ball rate to forge passable real-life production, but because of his strikeout rates is usually only usable in deeper fantasy leagues.

The returning Jeff Francis has showed promise but is coming off of shoulder injuries and never really showed standout ability in either the strikeout or ground-ball categories. Jorge De La Rosa is the ultimate wild card in terms of performance. Last year, the strikeouts and walks came in bunches, and he had the best season of his career… while putting up a 1.38 WHIP. In deeper leagues, the strikeouts are worth a pick, but in normal leagues De La Rosa is only a late round flier. Jason Hammel doesn’t do enough of anything to be very interesting. If Francis is not healthy, Franklin Morales and his still-existent upside may find himself back in the rotation.

The Bullpen: Huston Street had his regular health hiccups in 2009, but he returned to dominance with a double-digit strikeout rate and a miniscule walk rate. Even conservative projections have him putting up another excellent season in 2010 and only trepidation about his health, or the slight worry that Street gets traded to a team with a closer, should cause any hesitation for potential Street owners on draft day. Rafael Betancourt and Morales lurk should one of these scenarios bear fruit, with Morales the possible long-term option if the Rockies take a step back and need to look to the future.

The Starting Lineup: You’d have to think that his scorching second half last year earned Carlos Gonzalez the leadoff role permanently, especially since early returns have him better than Dexter Fowler defensively in center field. That pushes Fowler into a platoon with Seth Smith, and since Fowler does his best against lefties, it will take a Brad Hawpe trade to recover Fowler’s (admittedly strong) fantasy upside in the short term. Hawpe will eventually go, and then this will be an outfield that will sport great D, good speed, and power alongside their ability to get on base. Buy on all of the Rockies’ outfielders outside of the defensively limited Hawpe.

Clint Barmes hit second most of last year, but that spot in the order is volatile and will probably rotate during the year. Todd Helton is the old man among the boys whose production depends on how well his back holds up, but either way he has the powerful Ian Stewart ready to knock him in. Finally, Chris Iannetta could have some BABIP-induced bounceback next year, which would get his powerful but cheap bat into fantasy lineups in leagues of all sizes in 2010.

The Bench: The loser of the Fowler/Smith battle/platoon will find himself on the bench more than he’d like. Until Hawpe leaves, though, there’s also the talented, but so far underperforming, Ryan Spilborghs languishing on the bench. If Eric Young, Jr can play a passable second base, he should be starting (and stealing bases) as soon as this year. Bringing in Miguel Olivo the same year as signing Iannetta to a long-term contract was a little surprising. Hopefully Iannetta’s play will keep Olivo and his tiny walk rate on the bench, but if Olivo starts he’s at least interesting for his power.

2010 Detroit Tigers Preview

Justin Verlander, RHP
Max Scherzer, RHP
Rick Porcello, RHP
Jeremy Bonderman, RHP
Nate Robertson, LHP

Closers and Setup
Jose Valverde, RHP
Joel Zumaya, RHP

Starting Lineup
Austin Jackson, CF
Carlos Guillen, DH
Magglio Ordonez, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Brandon Inge, 3B
Ryan Raburn, LF
Scott Sizemore, 2B
Gerald Laird, C
Adam Everett, SS

Player in Decline

Brandon Inge’s HR/FB rate, 15.4%, was much higher than his career average entering 2009: 9.8%. A decline in home-run rate, and thus homer total, is likely. Inge will turn 33 in the 2010 season and played a big part of his career at catcher — a physically demanding position — so getting 637 PAs again is not a given.

Player on the Rise

The organization has a slew of potential breakout players and predicting exactly who will be bust out is impossible. But Scott Sizemore is definitely someone to keep an eye on. He has the opportunity – the starting second-base job – and had a solid 2009 in Triple-A.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Miguel Cabrera: Elite
Justin Verlander: Elite
Jose Valverde: Average
Max Scherzer: Average
Rick Porcello: Deep League

Top 10 Prospects
1. Casey Crosby, LHP
2. Jacob Turner, RHP
3. Ryan Strieby, 1B
4. Alex Avila, C
5. Scott Sizemore, 2B
6. Daniel Fields, SS
7. Wilkin Ramirez, OF
8. Andy Oliver, LHP
9. Robbie Weinhardt, RHP
10. Cody Satterwhite, RHP

Overall team outlook: The Tigers club made a big trade to get younger and cheaper, but in so doing, it lost two keys players from its near-playoff team in ‘09. Still, the organization should have the talent to be competitive, though it may not be the favorite in a weak AL Central.

The Starting Rotation: Justin Verlander broke out in a big way in 2009, leading baseball with 269 strikeouts and tying with three other pitchers for the lead with 19 wins. He will be a top-10 fantasy pitcher in 2010. The Tigers traded No. 2 starter Edwin Jackson for a new, cheaper No. 2 in Max Scherzer. He has the potential to be even better than Jackson. Health is a concern with Scherzer, but when he is on the mound, he can be a top-of-the-rotation starter and strike out more than a batter an inning.

Rick Porcello was the beneficiary of some BABIP luck in 2009 and will probably not repeat his sub-4.00 ERA. Also, his low strikeout rate limits his fantasy value. Jeremy Bonderman is slotted into the rotation as this point, and he is probably worth a late-round flyer on the off chance he is healthy and regains his 2006 magic. Still, don’t count on it. Nate Robertson has the inside track for the fifth starter job (while Armando Galarraga, Dontrelle Willis and Phil Coke remain as other possibilities), but is an option only in deep AL-only leagues.

Bullpen: Newly acquired Jose Valverde will be handed the closing duties heading into 2010. He is a talented pitcher, and his history of saving games for Arizona and Houston gives him a longer leash if he struggles a bit. But if he goes down with an injury or experiences a sustained period of ineffectiveness, Joel Zumaya is probably first in line for his job, although Ryan Perry or Daniel Schlereth could be in the running if Zumaya cannot re-find the strike zone.

Starting Lineup: Miguel Cabrera qualifies at only first base now, but he hits more than enough to make up for it; he shouldn’t make it out of the first round in most drafts. After Cabrera, though, the rest of the Tigers’ lineup should probably be avoided in most 12-team mixed leagues. Magglio Ordonez, who should start in right, saw his power evaporate in 2009. He should see some improvement in 2010 but probably not enough (although he still hits for a good average). Ryan Raburn should get the job in left and, given a full year, has the power to hit 25 or more homers. Carlos Guillen will be the starting DH, though he qualifies in the outfield. Over the past two years he has had a hard time staying healthy and, when he has played, his numbers have been down.

Brandon Inge, Gerald Laird, and Adam Everett return to their positions in 2010, but none hits enough to justify consideration outside of AL-only leagues. Finally, the Tigers club will hand starting jobs to two guys who have no Major League at-bats: Austin Jackson will take over in center and Scott Sizemore will man the keystone. There is a good possibility of a rough initial adjustment period for both, but they offer some upside with the speed to steal some bases and at least some power.

Bench: Another rookie, Alex Avila, could get some time at catcher. For a catcher he has good power, so keep an eye on his playing time. Clete Thomas and Wilkin Ramirez could see time in the outfield, and if they do should get a fair number of steals. If Guillen is injured or ineffective then Jeff Larish could get some time at DH and has big-time power, but his average will not be pretty.

2010 Florida Marlins Preview

Josh Johnson, RHP
Ricky Nolasco, RHP
Chris Volstad, RHP
Anibal Sanchez, RHP
Sean West, LHP

Closers and Setup
Leo Nunez, RHP
Dan Meyer, RHP

Starting Lineup
Chris Coghlan, LF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Dan Uggla, 2B
Jorge Cantu, 3B
Cody Ross, RF
John Baker, C
Gaby Sanchez, 1B
Cameron Maybin, CF

Player in Decline

Dan Uggla. Don’t expect him to fall off the map entirely, but we are talking about a less-than-athletic player who has a good chunk of his value tied with whether or not he can stay at second base.

Player on the Rise

Ricky Nolasco is just too easy of a choice to pass up because of his shiny peripherals. Cameron Maybin is chock full o’ tools, but will need to be more aggressive on the base paths then he was last year to have a lot of fantasy value.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Hanley Ramirez: Elite
Josh Johnson: Elite
Ricky Nolasco: Average
Chris Coghlan: Average
Dan Uggla: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Michael Stanton, OF
2. Logan Morrison, 1B
3. Matt Dominguez, 3B
4. Gaby Sanchez, 1B
5. Chad James, LHP
6. Ryan Tucker, RHP
7. Bryan Petersen, OF
8. Scott Cousins, OF
9. Brad Hand, LHP
10. Isaac Galloway, OF

Overall Team Outlook: Say what you will about Jeffrey Loria’s slumlord ways, few teams can match The Fish in production per dollars spent. Perhaps that’s easy to do when you’re flipping stars with escalating contracts for top prospects, but maybe, just maybe, some low-budget teams could learn a thing or two about knowing when to deal from the Marlins’ pattern. In order to continue the success, the club will rely upon its young core of star players while hoping that other youngsters like Cameron Maybin find their stride.

Starting Rotation: Josh Johnson ascended into the rarefied air of “Ace” this past year, putting together a spectacular 5.5 WAR season. Johnson was the subject of many a trade rumor this past hot stove season, but after the MLBPA publicly shamed the Marlins organization for pocketing its revenue sharing money, the club gave Johnson a nifty four-year, $39 million extension. If there is any concern, ’09 was the first time Johnson ever approached the magical 200-inning threshold, so it will be interesting to see how he holds up next season. Behind Johnson is the enigmatic Ricky Nolasco, owner of the Jekyll-and-Hyde-iest FIP-ERA differential of 2009, and his performance re-opened a whole can of worms in the debate on the merits of using FIP when calculating a pitcher’s WAR. He posted golden strikeout and walk numbers, 9.49 K/9, 2.14 BB/9, but he finished the season with an ugly ERA of 5.06 despite a sterling 3.35 FIP. Will the real Ricky Nolasco please stand up?

After Johnson-Nolasco, the rotation picture gets clouded. The stinker, er, I mean sinker-balling Chris Volstad was third on the team in innings pitched with 159, and pitched at replacement level last year. Anibal Sánchez, Rick VandenHurk, Sean West, and Andrew Miller will fight for the remaining three spots. All four pitchers have promise, but for one reason or another they have been unable to live up to their billings. Sánchez made headlines when he threw a no-hitter back in 2006. He was the first rookie to do so since Bud Smith threw one in 2001. Sánchez’s pitching career unfortunately is going down the path of Smith’s, as he has not been able to stay on the field due to injuries.

Bullpen: I’m fishing for positives here and coming up empty (pun intended). Right now, the closer is Leo Nunez, a proud owner of a career 4.72 xFIP. Nunez was the worst closer in all of baseball in terms of WAR last season at -0.8 WAR, yet he managed to rack up 26 saves, which goes to show you how worthless of a stat saves really is. Behind him is a mixed bag of middling middle relievers that includes Dan Meyer, Burke Badenhop, Reynel Pinto, Brian Sanches, Jose Veras, and Cristhian Martinez. To make things interesting, the Marlins invited Derrick Turnbow to spring training.

Starting Lineup: The offense starts and ends with Hanley Ramirez, the one Marlin even casual baseball fans know about. After “The Manley” there is Dan Uggla. This is one player the Marlins probably have waited a bit too long to trade, but most projections have him continuing his Three True Outcome ways in South Florida. Chris Coghlan wasn’t the sabermetric-group-think NL ROY of choice, but he was the BBWAA’s, and that’s all that matters, so suck it up! But I digress. A second baseman by trade, he’s in the outfield for now until/if/when Uggla gets traded.

To Coghlan’s credit, a .372 wOBA is nothing to sneeze at coming from a rookie, even if it was aided by a .366 BABIP. Expect some regression to the mean, but Coghlan will be a valuable cog in the lineup for years to come. Cody Ross is approaching the overrated zone after posting a 24-homer, 90-RBI season last year, but is a solid-average player, good for a .340-.350 wOBA with average-ish defense.

Jorge Cantu is in a similar class as Ross, sans the defense. He is an average player with gaudy RBI totals that make him overrated. At any rate, his defense is average at first, but if all goes well, he’ll be playing at third with Gaby Sánchez at first base. Sánchez bombed in his last spring training, and it led to manager Fredi Gonzalez losing his mind and giving Emilio Bonifacio more than 500 plate appearances before the organization traded for Nick Johnson.

Sánchez is somewhat of a poor man’s Nick Johnson, although that comparison might be a bit of a stretch; he doesn’t hit for power, but he has good plate discipline and draws a fair share of walks. He posted a .378 wOBA in the graveyard that is Zephyr Park in Triple-A New Orleans while Bonifacio hogged up all his playing time while playing at replacement level. Did you know that John Baker and Ronny Paulino teamed up to form a 4 WAR platoon at the catcher position for Florida last season?

Finally, the wild card is Cameron Maybin. The graceful and athletic Maybin, not Coghlan, was predicted to run away with the NL ROY. He ended up stumbling out of the gate and getting sent to Triple-A, where he reclaimed his uber-prospect status. His projections diverge greatly, but all he has to do is be league average as a hitter to offer value to Florida, thanks to his solid defense.

Bench: Brett Carroll might be the new Gabe Gross, in that he’s a minus with the bat, but is so freakishly good at defense that he merits his fair share of playing time. I’ve already touched on Paulino and Bonifacio. Jai Miller is a strikeout machine but has decent power and can play solid outfield defense. Wes Helms, Brian Barden, and Danny Richar will battle for who is the less fungible infielder in spring training.

I’m thankful for Michael Jong of MarlinManiac. com, whose suggestions were invaluable in penning this preview.

2010 Arizona Diamondbacks Preview

Brandon Webb, RHP
Dan Haren, RHP
Edwin Jackson, RHP
Ian Kennedy, RHP
Billy Buckner, RHP

Closers and Setup
Chad Qualls, RHP
Juan Gutierrez, RHP

Starting Lineup
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Stephen Drew, SS
Justin Upton, RF
Mark Reynolds, 3B
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Conor Jackson, LF
Chris Young, CF
Miguel Montero, C

Player in Decline

It’s hard to think of Conor Jackson in decline at the age of 27, but it’s more his role that’s in decline than anything else. With the presence of Parra in the fourth outfielder’s role, Jackson is likely to see a reduction in his playing time in left field.

Player on the Rise

As mentioned, the move from the AL East to the NL West should certainly do Ian Kennedy some good. His durability is in question to some degree but he should prove a good WHIP, respectable ERA and a modest K-rate.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Justin Upton – Elite
Dan Haren – Elite
Mark Reynolds – Elite
Brandon Webb – Average
Edwin Jackson – Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Jarrod Parker, RHP
2. Brandon Allen, 1B
3. Bobby Borchering, 3B
4. Mike Belfiore, LHP
5. A.J. Pollock, OF
6. Chris Owings, SS
7. Marc Krauss, OF
8. Matthew Davidson, 3B
9. Cole Gillespie, OF
10. Collin Cowgill, OF

Team Outlook: The return of its ace will certainly help the club, and the team has a shot at the NL West title based on the starting rotation. However, the offense is nothing to write home about. On the plus side, though, none of the teams in the division are overly improved, and the Dodgers organization has never been more vulnerable, thanks to the ongoing storyline away from the diamond.

The Rotation: A healthy Brandon Webb, returning from shoulder surgery, will help anchor a rotation that sees some new, youthful faces join the fray. Webb is expected to be at full strength in April, but it remains to be seen how durable he’ll be over the course of the season. Dan Haren is one of the best No. 2 starters in all of baseball. He’s also one of the safest bets for both 200+ innings and strikeouts. Edwin Jackson comes over from Detroit and he should find the National League more to his liking. You can’t argue with his pure stuff, but Jackson is still searching for consistency and command of his heater. Ian Kennedy is a perfect sleeper for 2010, as his stuff will play much better in the NL and he appears to be over his health issues. The fifth spot is still open, but Billy Buckner is the favorite for the spot.

The Bullpen: After saving 24 games with a 3.14 FIP in ’09, Chad Qualls enters 2010 as the early favorite for saves if he’s recovered from knee surgery. He has a good chance of saving 30+ games. If he falters, the club’s options are limited after trading prospect Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers. Juan Gutierrez filled in for Qualls when he hurt his knee (nine saves in 10 tries), so the right-hander is probably first in line. Veteran right-handers Bob Howry (66 career saves) and Aaron Heilman were both brought in during the offseason to help solidify the relief corps. Clay Zavada, a second-year player, should be the go-to southpaw.

The Starting Lineup: The club lacks a true leadoff hitter at this point. Both Chris Young and Stephen Drew could hit near the top of the order, but neither is well-suited to the role due to their poor on-base numbers. Young also strikes out far too much to be an effective leadoff hitter, but he does have some speed. The club might try Kelly Johnson near the top of the order, too, although he’d probably benefit from hitting in the No. 8 hole. The heart of the order will consist of Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche, a free-agent acquisition. It remains to be seen where Conor Jackson fits in to the lineup. Both LaRoche and Jackson should provide a little more protection for Reynolds than he received in ’09. The club should receive above-average offense from the catching tandem of Miguel Montero and Chris Snyder. However, it’s also possible that, if Snyder can prove himself healthy in the spring, he’ll be traded, which will clear the way for John Hester to assume the back-up role. Reynolds and Upton provide the bulk of both speed and power in the lineup; a rejuvenated Young could also be tossed into that group.

The Bench: As mentioned, Montero and Snyder should split the catching chores, with Montero receiving the bulk of the work. Ryan Roberts was earmarked for the second-base job before the club brought in Johnson, so the former Jays prospect should now serve as an offensive-minded utility player. Veteran Augie Ojeda was also retained and should have the other infielder job, but he’ll be pushed by both Tony Abreu and Rusty Ryal. In the outfield, Jackson’s return will likely shift Gerardo Parra to a fourth outfielder’s role, but he should play all over the outfield and receive significant playing time.

2010 Atlanta Braves Preview

Derek Lowe, RHP
Tim Hudson, RHP
Tommy Hanson, RHP
Jair Jurrjens, RHP
Kenshin Kawakami, RHP

Closers and Setup
Billy Wagner, LHP
Takashi Saito, RHP

Starting Lineup
Nate McLouth, CF
Martin Prado, 2B
Chipper Jones, 3B
Brian McCann, C
Troy Glaus, 1B
Yunel Escobar, SS
Melky Cabrera, RF
Matt Diaz, LF

Player in Decline

Chipper Jones provides an easy answer, but his age and health risks are all tied into his lowered price tag these days. Jair Jurrjens, on the other hand, has a high price tag and some luck-related statistics that may go the other way and detract from his value in 2010.

Player on the Rise

Everyone is wondering about Jason Heyward, who has considerable upside but may run into an adjustment period as a young Justin Upton did before him. Jordan Schafer could surprise if he has put that adjustment period behind him and is ready to cash in some of his potential.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Brian McCann – Elite
Tommy Hanson – Average
Billy Wagner – Average
Jair Jurrjens – Average
Chipper Jones – Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Jason Heyward, OF
2. Freddie Freeman, 1B
3. Julio Teheran, RHP
4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
5. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
6. Randall Delgado, RHP
7. Mike Minor, LHP
8. Zeke Spruill, RHP
9. Christian Bethancourt, C
10. Cody Johnson, OF

Overall team outlook: After 14 straight years of playoff appearances, any year without extra games is considered a failure in Atlanta. Then again, this team seems to be coming together nicely with a combination of the fruit of the club’s prodigious talent development system and some decent free-agent acquisitions. The Braves will be interesting in 2010.

The Starting Rotation: Because of their veteran status, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe remain the titular No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers in the rotation. However, both have shown decline and Hudson is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Though both veterans could provide some nice bounce-back value in the short term, the “real” top two starters on this team are wunderkind Tommy Hanson and the surprising Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens doesn’t quite do it with smoke and mirrors, but there’s been some luck in his numbers and he may come back to earth a little. He’s already a risk because of his lower strikeout rates.

Though the departed Javier Vazquez had a top-five season among NL starters last year, this team always seems capable of coping with loss. Even fifth starter and Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami was decent last year, and Jo-Jo Reyes and Kris Medlen are the young swingmen that have shown promise in the upper minors.

The Bullpen: Replacing two young studs like Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez with old men like Billy Wagner and Takaishi Saito seems like two large steps in the wrong direction, but in terms of real-world baseball, the decisions were laudable. Instead of sinking long-term money into a fungible position, the team has two reliable veterans on short-term contracts. This could all work out and create the bullpen of a contender, or it could fall apart and the team will see a lot of Peter Moylan. Either way, the club won’t be on the hook for a ton of bullpen salary in 2010.

The Starting Lineup: Nate McLouth returns and gets a chance to improve on his poor Turner Field numbers, and he’ll be followed by a lineup that could shape up to be strong in 2010. Martin Prado gives us no real reason to doubt his natural progression and development, Chipper Jones is stellar when he’s in the lineup, and catcher Brian McCann is a young stud with real power at a premium position.

Where Troy Glaus lands depends on how his surgically repaired shoulder holds up, but as recently as 2008, Glaus was a powerful corner infielder. He could easily return to his old status. Yunel Escobar doesn’t do any one thing at a superstar level, but he has enough on-base skills to supplant a struggling Prado and enough power to fill in for an injured Glaus. He might hit anywhere in this lineup, as he did in 2009. The outfield is still up in the air, with as many as five candidates for the corner outfield positions. Melky Cabrera does just enough to guarantee at-bats, and Matt Diaz is a lefty killer at the very least. Beyond that, projecting the corner outfield in Turner Field is a mystery in 2010.

The Bench: Depending on what happens with wunderkind Jason Heyward, the outfield is in a state of flux. Cabrera and Diaz could platoon if Heyward makes the team, and that would be the best use of their talents. If one is pressed into a full-time role, that means Jordan Schafer is getting a shot to recoup his former status as a rising star. Eric Hinske backs up the corners and could be useful if Glaus isn’t healthy. Gregor Blanco can play all over the outfield, and Omar Infante will back up the infield, but neither should be relevant in most fantasy leagues.

2010 Baltimore Orioles Preview

Kevin Millwood, RHP
Jeremy Guthrie, RHP
Bradley Bergesen, RHP
Brian Matusz, LHP
Chris Tillman, RHP

Closers and Setup
Mike Gonzalez, RHP
Jim Johnson, RHP

Starting Lineup
Brian Roberts, 2B
Adam Jones, CF
Nick Markakis, RF
Miguel Tejada, 3B
Luke Scott, DH
Garrett Atkins, 1B
Nolan Reimold, LF
Matt Wieters, C
Cesar Izturis, SS

Player in Decline

Garrett Atkins wasn’t exactly a world-beater in 2009 with Colorado (posting a wRC+ of 67), and, yes, his .247 BABIP was considerably below his career average. That said, Atkins’ home/away splits over his career suggest that he’s unlikely to provide the sort of production a first baseman ought to.

Player on the Rise

Pick a pitcher, any pitcher. Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brandon Erbe, and Jake Arrieta are all poised to produce at the Major League level sooner than later. Matusz probably has the most polish right now, though, and CHONE agrees: 4.59 ERA, 7.20 K/9, 3.42 BB/9.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Brian Roberts: Elite
Nick Markakis: Elite
Adam Jones: Average
Miguel Tejada: Average
Luke Scott: Deep League

Top 10 Prospects
1. Brian Matusz, LHP
2. Josh Bell, 3B
3. Brandon Erbe, RHP
4. Jake Arrieta, RHP
5. Zach Britton, LHP
6. Matt Hobgood, RHP
7. Brandon Snyder, 1B
8. Caleb Joseph, C
9. Kam Mickolio, RHP
10. Mychal Givens, SS

Overall team outlook: Though unlikely to compete in 2010, the Orioles organization is building a core of young, talented players who will make the team interesting for the next few years. In the meantime, a couple of curious veteran signings are bound to raise questions about the savvy of the front office.

The Starting Rotation: New acquisition Kevin Millwood will be the nominal No. 1 in 2010, and the move from Texas might have a somewhat tonic effect on his numbers. Jeremy Guthrie lost 17 games in 2009, and, even more worrisome, saw his strikeout rate fall below 5.00 K/9 and ground-ball rate below 35%. CHONE projects a slight rebound, but the outlook isn’t fantastic. Brad Bergesen isn’t necessarily a sweet fantasy play with his 4.5 or so strikeouts per nine, but he avoids walks and gets ground balls at about a 50% clip, which should give him success as a Major Leaguer.

Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman were, until last year, the most promising pitching prospects (say that five times fast) in the organization. This year, the O’s hope that they develop into the most productive pitchers on the staff. Despite an underwhelming 100 innings in 2009, David Hernandez remains an interesting case, due to his excellent minor league strikeout numbers.

The Bullpen: Flush with cash entering the offseason, Baltimore signed Mike Gonzalez to two-year deal worth $12 million. Gonzalez has fantastic stuff – there’s no ignoring it – but the wisdom of such a decision is questionable, as (a) Gonzalez is an injury risk, and (b) that sort of money might’ve made sense elsewhere on the roster. Jim Johnson closed games last year after Baltimore shipped George Sherrill to Los Angeles. Reliever Cla Meredith has a wacky 67.1% ground-ball rate for his career.

The Starting Lineup: Brian Roberts remains a fixture at the top of the Baltimore lineup. CHONE and ZiPS both like him to sustain about a .360 OBP and steal 30 bases. Adam Jones is in a race with Chris Tillman to embarrass former Seattle GM Bill Bavasi, who orchestrated the Erik Bedard trade a couple seasons ago. He raked last year before injury curtailed his production. Nick Markakis’ 113 wRC+ last year didn’t live up to his excellent 2008. He’s signed through 2014, so the Baltimore front office will be crossing their collective fingers.

Miguel Tejada returns to the site of at least some of his conquests. His walk rate slipped to troublingly low levels in Houston. Basically, as his batting average goes, so goes Tejada. Acquired by Baltimore in the trade that sent Tejada to Houston in the first place, Luke Scott is a useful piece – and a better fielder than the DH label would suggest. Oh, Garrett Atkins. Nolan Reimold took advantage of his first shot at Major League pitching, posting a 123 wRC+. An Achilles injury apparently harassed him for much of last season. Not everyone believes in God; Matt Wieters, on the other hand… Cesar Izturis is hanging around for his glove. He’s actually been worth about a win afield each of these last three years.

The Bench: Ty Wigginton is a unique back-up infielder in that he plays all infield positions with equal levels of mediocrity. You can say this for him: he can hit. As Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold dealt with injury last season, Felix Pie demonstrated why he was once a highly rated prospect in the Cubs’ system, flashing the leather to the tune of 6.9 runs above average in less than half of a season’s worth of playing time. He enters 2010 as Baltimore’s fourth outfielder.

2010 Chicago White Sox Preview

Jake Peavy, RHP
Mark Buehrle, LHP
Gavin Floyd, RHP
John Danks, LHP
Freddy Garcia, RHP

Closers and Setup
Bobby Jenks, RHP
J.J. Putz, RHP

Starting Lineup
Juan Pierre, LF
Gordon Beckham, 2B
Mark Teahen, 3B
Paul Konerko, 1B
Carlos Quentin, RF
Alex Rios, CF
A.J. Pierzynski, C
Alexei Ramirez, SS
Andruw Jones, DH

Player in Decline

Paul Konerko played in 30 more games in 2009 than the previous year, which made his counting stats go up. But his BB/K, LD% and HR/FB rates all declined. The guy who averaged a .291-39-110 line from 2004-06 is but a distant memory.

Player on the Rise

Gordon Beckham came up and held his own as a 22 year old last season. Six of his 14 homers came in the final month of the year and a 25-homer season is within reach if he can take advantage of his home park. Beckham hit just four homers in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular last year.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Jake Peavy: Average
Gordon Beckham: Average
Carlos Quentin: Average
Alexei Ramirez: Average
Bobby Jenks: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Tyler Flowers, C
2. Daniel Hudson, RHP
3. Jordan Danks, OF
4. Jared Mitchell, OF
5. Brent Morel, 3B
6. Dayan Viciedo, 3B
7. C.J. Retherford, 2B/3B
8. Clevelan Santeliz, RHP
9. Trayce Thompson, OF
10. David Holmberg, LHP

Overall team outlook: The White Sox finished 12th in the American League in runs scored last season and will feature an overhauled offense in 2010. The club said goodbye to Jim Thome late last year and let Jermaine Dye go after the season. Chicago hopes its new imports can lead to a more versatile and balanced attack to support a pitching staff that should be one of the best in the American League.

The Starting Rotation: Jake Peavy won all three starts he made for the White Sox down the stretch and takes over as the staff ace. He battled injuries to his ankle and elbow last year but, when healthy, the former Padre is one of the top starters in the game. Mark Buehrle has always given the club innings and, for the past three seasons, he has also given consistency, as he has averaged a 3.75 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Gavin Floyd had better peripherals in 2009 but worse results. His FIP was a full run lower than in 2008 but he dropped from 17 to 11 wins. In his final 21 starts of the year, John Danks had a 3.21 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. Freddy Garcia and rookie Daniel Hudson will battle for the fifth starter’s job. Garcia’s velocity is heading towards Buehrle territory but his slider is once again an outpitch. Hudson jumped from Class-A to the Majors last year and showed a good fastball (93.4 mph) in his limited action. He has a 10.6 K/9 in two years in the minors.

The Bullpen: Despite rumors to the contrary, the White Sox kept Bobby Jenks as their closer, inking him to a new deal and avoiding an arbitration hearing. Last year, Jenks saw a rebound of his K rate. Unfortunately, he also saw his HR/FB rate more than triple. But the real reason for his struggles was a tough July, when he allowed seven earned runs in 7.1 innings pitched, all without a homer allowed. In early August, Jenks passed a kidney stone. He finished the season with a 2.50 ERA in his final 17 games, despite allowing three homers in that stretch. Chicago inked J.J. Putz to be a set-up man/back-up closer while Matt Thornton, Tony Pena and Scott Linebrink add quality depth.

The Starting Lineup: The White Sox brought in Juan Pierre to be the leadoff hitter and he replaces Scott Podsednik. Pierre was productive when he led off for the Dodgers, but it remains to be seen if he can thrive in the lineup where Podsednik had just 75 runs in 132 games. Chicago hopes to recoup some lost power with full seasons from Gordon Beckham and Carlos Quentin. Despite playing in one of the best home-run parks in baseball, the White Sox were league average in homers last year and may struggle just to reach that mark in 2010. They will need better production from Alexei Ramirez, newcomer Mark Teahen, and late-season addition Alex Rios, who flopped in his brief time in Chicago last year.

A.J. Pierzynski is in the final year of his contract, likely his last with the White Sox, as top prospect Tyler Flowers is all but ready to take over. Perhaps the biggest change in the team is at designated hitter. After several years of having Thome man the position, manager Ozzie Guillen plans to use the spot among several people, with newcomer Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay expected to get the bulk of the time. Guillen also hopes to use the spot to give regulars a partial day off. Thome led the club with a wRC+ of 127 last year, a number the club will struggle to replace.

The Bench: The White Sox will have a veteran bench, with 42-year-old Omar Vizquel joining holdovers Kotsay (34) and Ramon Castro (34) and newcomer Jones (33). Jayson Nix (26) brings some youth, along with the ability to play both the infield and outfield. Because of the versatility of Kotsay, who can play first base and the outfield, and Nix, the White Sox have flexibility in their final bench spot which could be filled with Brent Lillibridge, Alejandro De Aza, or potentially even Flowers as a C/DH.

2010 Chicago Cubs Preview

Carlos Zambrano, RHP
Ted Lilly, LHP
Ryan Dempster, RHP
Randy Wells, RHP
Tom Gorzelanny, LHP

Closers and Setup
Carlos Marmol, RHP
John Grabow, LHP

Starting Lineup
Ryan Theriot, SS
Kosuke Fukudome, RF
Derrek Lee, 1B
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Alfonso Soriano, LF
Marlon Byrd, CF
Geovany Soto, C
Mike Fontenot, 2B

Player in Decline

Carlos Zambrano has seen his innings workload decreased in two consecutive seasons. Going 200+ innings in each of his first five full seasons may be taking a toll on the usual workhorse. He may still throw between 160-190 innings, but banking on 200 seems like a poor idea.

Player on the Rise

Sean Marshall’s role is undecided. For now, he seems to be a potential high-leverage reliever at Sweet Lou’s disposal – something that could lead to save opportunities if Marmol falters. Otherwise he could find himself competing for a starting job and doing quite well.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Derrek Lee: Average
Aramis Ramirez: Average
Carlos Zambrano: Average
Carlos Marmol: Average
Ryan Theriot: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Andrew Cashner, RHP
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Josh Vitters, 3B
4. Hak-Ju Lee, SS 5.
Jay Jackson, RHP
6. Chris Carpenter, RHP
7. Ryan Flaherty, SS
8. Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP
9. Logan Watkins, 2B
10. John Gaub, LHP

Overall team outlook: A disappointing season capped by disobedience and disappointment, the Cubs finished just above .500 and seven-and-a-half behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. With mostly the same team intact, the Cubs will attempt to rally around a rejuvenated clubhouse atmosphere and claim the championship for the first time since 1908.

The Starting Rotation: Carlos Zambrano is always a spontaneous dugout tantrum waiting to occur. Last season marked the first in his career that he recorded more than 25 starts and failed to win double-digit games. Expect his ERA to climb as his home-run rate regresses towards league-average rates. Ted Lilly is coming off the best season of his career and shouldn’t be expected to replicate those numbers in full, especially the ERA. Ryan Dempster continued his new-found success as a starter in 2009 by again reaching 200 innings and double-digit victories. His ERA increased but his xFIP actually remained relatively static. Randy Wells figures to have a job locked in following his strong rookie season, but the fifth spot may come down to a battle between two recent acquisitions: Tom Gorzelanny and the green elephant in the ledger, Carlos Silva. Neither figures to be a particularly great fantasy option, but if you have to root for one, Gorzelanny seems more likely to succeed.

The Bullpen: Carlos Marmol is what some would call “wild” and what others would call “Rick Vaughn.” Barring manager Lou Piniella playing hot potato with the closer’s role, Marmol should be the ninth-inning guy. Marmol is one of the few pitchers in baseball who can claim a nearly 2:1 ratio on BB/9 and blown saves. John Grabow returns on a rather peculiar contract as the left-handed set-up man, and Angel Guzman, as well as Sean Marshall, should see some high-leverage opportunities.

The Startling Lineup: The Cubs organization doesn’t possess what many would call a prototypical leadoff hitter. Alfonso Soriano’s appalling season led to his removal from the spot in late June, which gave way to Kosuke Fukudome, and then Ryan Theriot. Cubs’ leadoff hitters scored nearly 100 runs last season, and whichever of the three gets the job this year should be a decent bet for similar production. The underappreciated Derek Lee figures to drive in most of his runs from the three spot while hitting his usual 20-25 homers and walking 70-75 times. If Aramis Ramirez can stay healthy, similar power production should be expected; just don’t bank on him repeating the .300 batting average, as his BABIP was considerably high. Newcomer Marlon Byrd, second baseman Mike Fontenot, and catcher Geovany Soto figure to fill out the bottom portion of the lineup with whoever remains from the top two spots’ battle. Soto had a rough run at things, with a failed drug test in the World Baseball Classic, and then a career-low BABIP and ISO. He’s worth gambling on for a bounceback with the rewards potentially high.

The Bench: Jeff Baker, Koyie Hill, Sam Fuld, and Micah Hoffpauir aren’t the most spectacular of groups, but at least they carry a better reputation than the Lemons of Dusty Baker’s time. Baker is the most versatile of the group and figures to get the largest amount of playing time, as he can play at either corner infield position, second base, or even the outfield. Hill is a no-hit catcher with relatively no fantasy value while Fuld and Hoffpauir’s jobs are hardly secure.

2010 Tampa Bay Rays Preview

James Shields, RHP
Matt Garza, RHP
David Price, LHP
Jeff Niemann, RHP
Wade Davis, RHP

Closers and Setup
Rafael Soriano, RHP
J.P. Howell, LHP

Starting Lineup
Jason Bartlett, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Evan Longoria, 3B
Carlos Pena, 1B
Ben Zobrist, 2B
B.J. Upton, CF
Pat Burrell, DH
Matt Joyce, RF
Kelly Shoppach, C

Player in Decline

Carlos Pena possesses the infamous old-player skills. He walks, he strikes out, and he hits home runs with a few shift-beating bunts thrown in for fun. With that said, Pena is entering his 32-year-old season and probably shouldn’t be counted upon to match his recent production with a high degree of certainty.

Player on the Rise

Matt Joyce is intriguing if for no other reason than because most will have forgot about his presence. He should receive the lion’s share of plate appearances in right field and has strong power and walk abilities with some speed as well.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Carl Crawford: Elite
Evan Longoria: Elite
B.J. Upton: Average
Ben Zobrist: Average
Carlos Pena: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Desmond Jennings, OF
2. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
3. Tim Beckham, SS
4. Wade Davis, RHP
5. Matt Moore, LHP
6. Nick Barnese, RHP
7. Luke Bailey, C
8. Reid Brignac, SS
9. Alexander Colome, RHP
10. Kyle Lobstein, LHP

Overall Team Outlook: The Rays club figures to be competitive for the third consecutive season. Whether or not it has enough to secure a playoff position will be the question.

The Starting Rotation: One of the strengths for the team figures to be the rotation. Led by the underappreciated James Shields and the fiery Matt Garza, the Rays also boast a few tantalizing young arms alongside which their playoff hopes may ride. Shields is a workhorse who has topped 200 innings each of the past three seasons and should break the franchise single-season record for wins (14) sooner than later. Lacking offensive support has led to so-so win-loss records, but have no doubt about it, he’s the Rays’ best starter.

Garza shares something in common with the duo of David Price and Wade Davis in the sense that this could be a coming out season of sorts with a high probability at a career-best ERA. The highly touted Price started last season in Durham amidst much controversy but upon reaching the Majors showed he still had some things to learn. Davis, on the other hand, exceeded expectations in his brief showing with the Rays. His first start included striking out six batters through two innings.

With all that talent it’s easy for Jeff Niemann to be lost in the crowd, something the 6’10” righty is not used to experiencing. Niemann will have to wine and dine Lady Luck once more to repeat or top his rookie season. Each has double-digit win potential.

The Bullpen: One of the more surprising moves of the offseason was the Rays acquisition of Atlanta closer Rafael Soriano. In Atlanta, Soriano was flanked by lefty Mike Gonzalez; with the Rays he’ll be paired with J.P. Howell, who is equally as talented. The hard-throwing Grant Balfour and blasé veteran Dan Wheeler should also play big roles, but most of the saves will go Soriano’s way.

The Starting Lineup: The most glaring change for the Rays will come behind the plate. Incumbent starting catcher Dioner Navarro will take a smaller role with Kelly Shoppach on board. Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist figure to man the right side of the infield while the amazing Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett cover the left. In the outfield, stolen-base threats Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton will welcome the long-awaited Matt Joyce, while Gabe Kapler receives a fair share of playing time as well. Despite their best efforts, the Rays figure to roll with Pat Burrell as designated hitter.

Last year, the Rays sent each of their non-catcher infielders to the All-Star game, a feat unaccomplished in some 40 years. Unlike some of the Rays’ recent lineups, this one figures to pack some power with the addition of Shoppach (who has as many home runs as Joe Mauer over the past two seasons) and Joyce. Zobrist and Bartlett don’t figure to replicate their 2009 performances, but then again, neither do Upton or Burrell. Look for Crawford and Bartlett to score runs while Longoria, Pena, and Zobrist drive them in. Nearly every starter has either home-run or stolen-base potential, as well.

The Bench: Willy Aybar, Navarro, and Kapler seem locked in as the top three bench players. The Rays have a plethora of positional players on the cusp of contributing to the big league club, including Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac. The question is more or less which can help more now and whose development will be hurt less.

2010 Boston Red Sox Preview

Josh Beckett, RHP
John Lester, LHP
John Lackey, RHP
Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP
Clay Buchholz, RHP

Closers and Setup
Jonathan Papelbon, RHP
Daniel Bard, RHP

Starting Lineup
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Victor Martinez, C
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
David Ortiz, DH
JD Drew, RF
Mike Cameron, CF
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Marcos Scutaro, SS

Player in Decline

All of David Ortiz’ numbers, raw and peripheral, have been moving in the wrong direction for the past three years. He is 34 and has a body type that does not age gracefully. Maybe he will rebound a tad in 2010 from his dreadful 2009, but his 40-homer, 130-RBI seasons of 2004 to 2006 are long gone.

Player on the Rise

Clay Buchholz pitched an OK 92 innings for the Sox in 2009. But during his minor-league career, he averaged double-digit strikeout rates and a K/BB ratio over 4.00. He has the potential to be a very good fantasy pitcher.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Victor Martinez: Elite
Dustin Pedroia: Elite
Jon Lester: Elite
Kevin Youkilis: Average
Jacoby Ellsbury: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Casey Kelly, RHP
2. Ryan Westmoreland, OF
3. Junichi Tazawa, RHP
4. Josh Reddick, OF
5. Lars Anderson, 1B
6. Stolmy Pimentel, RHP
7. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
8. Derrik Gibson, SS
9. Ryan Kalish, OF
10. Reymond Fuentes, OF

Overall team outlook: In 2009, the Red Sox made the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years but were bounced by the Angels in ALDS, so anything but a playoff appearance, even in a tough AL East, would be a disappointment in 2010. The organization has the resources to do it by virtue of its big budget, dedication to player development, and shrewd player acquisition, highlighted this offseason by a number of free agent signings aimed at shoring up the rotation and defense.

The Starting Rotation: The rotation is headed by three pitchers who posted ERAs and FIPs below 4.00 in 2009, and all three have a solid shot at repeating the feat in 2010. Jon Lester had a breakout 2009, adding an amazing strikeout rate while repeating the excellent walk and ground-ball rates he showed in 2008. Josh Beckett has had a FIP under 4.00 in seven of the last eight seasons. After starting the season on the DL, newcomer John Lackey had a very good 2009. Lester and Beckett are worth a little more in fantasy leagues because they have slightly higher strikeout rates, but all three are great fantasy pitchers.

After that trio, the Red Sox will split the last two spots in the rotation between Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Wakefield, depending on health and effectiveness. Matsuzaka had a year lost to injury in 2009 and his walk rate has been troublingly high in the past two years, but his strikeout rate makes him an intriguing gamble. Buchholz had an okay – though disappointing based on his excellent minor-league numbers – 2009, but is worth a look in 2010 because he is young and those minor league numbers portend a good pitcher.

The Bullpen: Jonathan Papelbon’s peripherals were down in 2009 (lowest K/BB ratio and GB% since taking over as closer), but his performance was still excellent, and poor peripherals for Papelbon are still very good (FIP of 3.05). Even with the dip in peripherals, he enters 2010 with about as solid a hold on the closer’s role as one can have. Fireballer Daniel Bard would most likely take over the role if anything were to happen to Papelbon.

The Starting Lineup: The Boston starting lineup welcomes three new members in 2010: Marco Scutaro, Mike Cameron, and Adrian Beltre. Scutaro played way above the level of play he established in the previous seven years, and big true talent shifts from 33-year-olds are rare, so his numbers should come down a bit. Cameron and Beltre will benefit from hitting in an RHB-friendly park and high-OBP lineup, so both should see slight bumps in their numbers.

Then the Sox club has four elite fantasy hitters in the lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury will shift to left to accommodate Cameron, but that will not affect his stolen-base-driven fantasy value. Victor Martinez, the second best fantasy catcher heading into 2010, will also get games at first base and DH to keep him in the lineup as much as possible. Kevin Youkilis’s power breakout in 2008 carried on into 2009, and he qualifies at both corner infield positions. Dustin Pedrioa should provide value in all five categories while playing one of the scarcest fantasy positions.

The two remaining regulars don’t offer a ton of fantasy value. JD Drew is a great baseball player, but his main skills – great defense, tons of walks, a solid number of doubles – are not valued in most fantasy leagues. He also comes with health concerns. David Ortiz qualifies only at DH and his power numbers have been in decline for the past three years.

The Bench: The Sox will keep Martinez fresh by giving him substantial time at other positions, which will open up playing time for Jason Varitek behind the plate. Newly acquired Bill Hall and Jeremy Hermida should also pick up a good number of plate appearances filling in for the outfield. Hall will man the infield, too. Mike Lowell remains on the roster, but how much and for which team he will ultimately play remains an open question.

2010 Texas Rangers Preview

Rich Harden, RHP
Scott Feldman, RHP
Derek Holland, LHP
Tommy Hunter, RHP
Brandon McCarthy, RHP

Closers and Setup
Frank Francisco, RHP
C.J. Wilson, LHP

Starting Lineup
Julio Borbon, CF
Michael Young, 2B
Josh Hamilton, LF
Vlad Guerrero, DH
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Nelson Cruz, RF
Chris Davis, 1B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Elvis Andrus, SS

Player in Decline

Vlad Guerrero and Michael Young are the only projected regulars more than 30 years of age. Both should be fine, although Vlad’s knees (and plate discipline) are always of some concern.

Player on the Rise

Neftali Feliz set the baseballing world — and catchers’ gloves — on fire during his 31 relief innings in 2009. The Rangers will give him a chance to crack the starting rotation in 2010.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Ian Kinsler: Elite
Michael Young: Average
Nelson Cruz: Average
Rich Harden: Average
Frank Francisco: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Justin Smoak, 1B
3. Martin Perez, RHP
4. Tanner Scheppers, RHP
5. Kasey Kiker, LHP
6. Robbie Ross, LHP
7. Wilmer Font, RHP
8. Mitch Moreland, OF
9. Max Ramirez, C
10. Jurickson Profar, SS

Overall team outlook: Last year marked the first season since 2004 that Texas posted a winning record. A group of promising, cost-controlled players (Nelson Cruz, Julio Borbon, Elvis Andrus) and an improved pitching staff (including Rich Harden) should help the club remain competitive while preserving fiscal sanity.

The Starting Rotation: Last year, Rich Harden was the best of all starters at making batters swing and miss. That’s a pretty good skill for a pitcher to have. Of course, he’s also a perpetual injury candidate. The only question for the Rangers, who signed the righty for $7.5MM plus incentives, is: “Do you feel lucky?” Scott Feldman probably won’t win 17 games in 2010. That said, his cutter should continue to depress his BABIP numbers and control lefties. Derek Holland is better than his 6.12 ERA. He should strike out more than seven per nine while walking about three. Last year’s 4.38 xFIP is probably more likely as 2010’s ERA.

Young Tommy Hunter’s 4.10 ERA last season is a bit surprising. It’s also unlikely to be repeated, as the righty strikes out fewer than six per nine and seems unlikely to top a 40% ground-ball rate. His walk rate makes him serviceable but unexciting. The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs. Brandon McCarthy is a safe choice but gives up a bunch of long flies. After dominating in Japan, Colby Lewis is a contender for the fifth spot. Finally, Neftali Feliz will try to harness his electric stuff in the service of a starting role.

The Bullpen: Frank Francisco is the closer in Texas. The big righty has posted a 3.41 K/BB ratio over the last two seasons. His only nemesis is injury. If and when such a thing were to happen, C.J. Wilson has closed out games before. His 2009 was particularly impressive: 10.26 K/9, 3.91 BB/9, 55.4% GB. Former closer Chris Ray came to Texas in the trade that sent Kevin Millwood to Baltimore.

The Starting Lineup: Word on the streets (and in the newspapers) is that Julio Borbon will be leading off and playing center for Texas. He’s a very promising fantasy player, combining a .300 batting average with 30 or 40 stolen bases. Some players are more productive in fantasy than in real baseball. Michael Young is one of them. He’s not bad at all. It’s just, he’s reliant on his average for production. Josh Hamilton will look to stay injury-free and build on his success in 2008. His new position is left field. How much does Vlad Guerrero have left? Enough, probably, but he’s also not much better than, say, Luke Scott at this point. Ian Kinsler hit 13 more homers in 2009 than in 2008 to become the only member of the 30-30 club in 2009. Only problem is, his increased fly-ball rate created a pretty serious dip in his BABIP. It’ll be interesting to see if he sticks with that approach in 2010.

Right fielder Nelson Cruz entered 2009 still attempting to evade the Quad-A label. He left 2009 as roughly a four-win player, displaying an above-average bat and glove. His 20/24 stolen base rate was pretty good, too. No, he didn’t bat .300 as Bill James’s projections suggested he might – in fact, he didn’t even bat over .240 – still, Chris Davis is only 24 and possesses awesome power. CHONE likes him to rebound (.268/.321/.487), while ZiPS is more bear-ish (.251/.300/.475). It’s a rule in baseball that a team needs to field a catcher. Neither Taylor Teagarden nor Jarrod Saltalamacchia distinguished himself in that role last season. Finally, Elvis Andrus probably won’t post league-average offensive numbers anytime soon, but he was worth about a win in the field in 2010. Also, he’s a good candidate to steal 30+ bases again.

The Bench: For the first time in his career, Khalil Greene could play in something resembling a hitter’s park. Between the baleful effects of PETCO and then the baleful effects of the anxiety disorder he suffered through last season, it’s hard to say exactly what Greene is now. It’ll be interesting to see. Outfielder David Murphy is an above-average hitter and, as a corner outfielder, defender. Max Ramirez almost went to Boston for Mike Lowell in the offseason. Whether he’s still a catcher remains to be seen.

2010 Toronto Blue Jays Preview

Ricky Romero, LHP
Shaun Marcum, RHP
Brandon Morrow, RHP
Marc Rzepczynski, LHP
David Purcey, LHP

Closers and Setup
Kevin Gregg, RHP
Scott Downs, LHP

Starting Lineup
Alex Gonzalez, SS
Aaron Hill, 2B
Adam Lind, LF
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
John Buck, C
Randy Ruiz, DH
Travis Snider, RF

Player in Decline

As mentioned in the Jays team review, Lyle Overbay could be motivated in 2010, as it is his walk year. But his strikeout rate has also increased each of the past three seasons and hit his highest mark in six years (22.5%).

Player on the Rise

Marc Rzepczynski doesn’t blow you away with his stuff but he has good command of his pitches (His control needs work, though) and induces an above-average number of ground-ball outs. Add in the fact that he throws left-handed with some deception, and you have a perfect breakout candidate.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Adam Lind: Elite
Aaron Hill: Average
Ricky Romero: Average
Scott Downs: Average
Travis Snider: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Brett Wallace, 1B/3B
2. Kyle Drabek, RHP
3. Zach Stewart, RHP
4. J.P. Arencibia, C
5. Chad Jenkins, RHP
6. Moises Sierra, OF
7. Brad Mills, LHP
8. Travis d’Arnaud, C
9. Jake Marisnick, OF
10. Henderson Alvarez, RHP

Overall Team Outlook: Based on some projections circling around the Internet, it could be a very bad year in Toronto, with three very strong clubs in the division (Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay). The club is in rebuilding mode, so fans will just have to enjoy watching some talented young players learn the ropes with an eye to 2011 and beyond. It should be particularly fun to watch some of the hitters, including Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Travis Snider.

The Starting Rotation: No matter how you slice it, the rotation took a huge hit with the loss of ace Roy Halladay and his 220+ innings of work. Sophomore Ricky Romero is suddenly the No. 1 guy and he’s struggled with his confidence in the past, so it remains to be seen how well he’ll respond to the added pressure. Shaun Marcum, returning from Tommy John surgery, is earmarked for the No. 2 role, although he’s more of a No. 3 or 4 starter. He’s expected to be at full strength for spring training, but expecting 200 innings from him is probably foolish.

Brandon Morrow was acquired from Seattle during the offseason and the club is hoping that the former No. 1 draft pick can finally establish himself as a MLB starter, but his control needs to improve quite a bit. Marc Rzepczynski zoomed through the minor league system in ’09 and made 11 starts in the Majors. His heater is average, at best, in terms of velocity but he induces a crazy number of ground-ball outs, which increases his value. The fifth spot in the rotation will be highly contested between the likes of Brett Cecil, Scott Richmond, David Purcey, and (if healthy) Dustin McGowan. Purcey may get the nod if he shows improvement in his command in the spring. He’ll turn 28 in April and the former first-round pick has yet to establish himself at the MLB level. He’s almost out of chances.

The Bullpen: The closer’s role was split between Scott Downs and Jason Frasor in ’09 and both players had their moments. Downs will likely receive first crack at the gig since he only lost the role due to an injured toe. Frasor will be waiting in the wings as the eighth-inning guy. The club lost reliever Brandon League in the Morrow trade, but the club still has immense depth with the likes of Shawn Camp, Jeremy Accardo, Dirk Hayhurst, Jesse Carlson, Brian Tallet, Zech Zinicola, Josh Roenicke, Merkin Valdez, and Casey Janssen. Tallet has an outside shot at the No. 5 starter’s role, while Roenicke has the best chance at being the future closer on the club.

The Starting Lineup: There is not a lot of turnover in the lineup from ’09, although one particular change is sure to have a major impact. The loss of on-base machine Marco Scutaro to the rival Red Sox will definitely hurt the team’s ability to score runs. New shortstop Gonzalez does a much worse job of getting on base (.279 vs .379 OBP). Edwin Encarnacion, a former teammate of Gonzalez’, will look to rebound from a season filled with injuries and inconsistencies. He has the potential to be a very good offensive player, but his defense tarnishes his overall value. Aaron Hill is looking to build off of a breakout offensive season, but the reality is that he’s not likely to repeat his 36-home-run outburst.

Adam Lind, on the other hand, has a good chance of duplicating his .305-35-114 season and could be the club’s long-term No. 3 hitter. With another year of experience under his belt, Travis Snider will hopefully make the necessary adjustments to grow as a hitter and reach his immense talent level (which rivals or exceeds Lind’s). The club will likely look to deal Lyle Overbay at the first chance, and he should be extra motivated as he’s a free agent at year’s end. Now healthy, it remains to be seen what the club can expect from Vernon Wells. A rebound season from him, though, could have a profound effect on the entire lineup.

The Bench: The club retained John McDonald in the offseason even though his much-lauded glove took a step back in ’09, according to UZR. Jose Bautista will provide pop (but a poor batting average) at a variety of outfield and infield positions. Raul Chavez is currently earmarked for the back-up catcher’s gig, although the club is still looking at other options and could make a trade in the spring. The final spot on the bench will likely go to one of two non-roster candidates: Joey Gathright or Jeremy Reed. Gathright is the better bet to help fantasy owners thanks to his speed.

2010 Washington Nationals Preview

John Lannan, LHP
Jason Marquis, RHP
Scott Olsen, LHP
Ross Detwiler, LHP
Matt Chico, LHP

Closers and Setup
Matt Capps, RHP
Brian Bruney, RHP

Starting Lineup
Nyjer Morgan, CF
Adam Kennedy, 2B
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
Adam Dunn, 1B
Josh Willingham, LF
Elijah Dukes, RF
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Ian Desmond, SS

Player in Decline

Adam Dunn has old people skills, and players with those skills decline faster than others. That said, he’s only 30 years old, and a player like Jason Marquis offers a more obvious probability of regression to a career mean. (He’s just not that good!)

Player on the Rise

Stephen Strasburg is the obvious mention, but he may not make it to the Majors in his first year in the pros. If he doesn’t, surely it will be middle infielder Ian Desmond breaking out or maybe outfielder Elijah Dukes will finally make good on all of his promise.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Ryan Zimmerman: Elite
Adam Dunn: Average
Nyjer Morgan: Average
Matt Capps: Average
Josh Willingham: Deep League

Top 10 Prospects
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP
2. Derek Norris, C
3. Ian Desmond, SS
4. Drew Storen, RHP
5. Danny Espinosa, SS
6. Chris Marrero, 1B
7. Michael Burgess, OF
8. Bradley Meyers, RHP
9. Aaron Thompson, LHP
10. Destin Hood, OF

Overall team outlook: Mantra: bad teams are where fantasy fortunes are made. There’s plenty of opportunity on this squad, with youngsters competing for three or four spots in the lineup and the Mother of All Pitching Prospects on the way. Watch the Nationals closely in 2010 because no one knows what will happen in the nation’s capital.

The Starting Rotation: You really have to be desperate to roster a Nationals’ starting pitcher in a standard mixed league next year. Even Jason Marquis was barely rosterable last year and, with his inevitable regression next year, it will get even uglier in Washington in 2010. Stephen Strasburg is only one man, and he’s not even guaranteed to show up in the capital in 2010. Instead, fantasy managers will have to sift through the wreckage that is ground-ball-inducer John Lannan, oft-injured Scott Olsen, the underwhelming-but-young Ross Detwiler, and TJ surgery survivor Matt Chico. It’s possible that someone surprises and steals a starting job from this mediocre group, because they certainly won’t have much competition – not one of the four pitchers even boasts an average strikeout rate. It’s just that, beyond Strasburg, there’s not really a prospect coming up the pipeline this year. In general, the Nats rotation is an “avoid.”

The Bullpen: After quite the makeover, the Nationals’ bully looks much improved. Gone is walk-the-lineup Mike MacDougal and in his place is the anti-MacDougal, Matt Capps. Capps might not have the velocity or the strikeout rate of an established closer, but he won’t walk an amazing six per nine either, making him a great late-round option at closer. He should be good for nice ratios and 30 saves given his BABIP and walk rate returning to normal. Brian Bruney is the gas-throwing wild man behind him, and while Sean Burnett may look like the better pitcher, some numbers just say he was luckier. Drew Storen, another ’09 first-round pick, is not far from making the Majors once he cleans up his control.

The Starting Lineup: This middling offense (ninth in the National League) boasts some underrated fantasy players. Nyjer Morgan won’t be as good as he was after the All-Star break last year, but he’s good for a decent batting average and a bunch of steals. Adam Dunn may do some damage to your batting average, but he’s almost a lock for 40 home runs and good RBI totals.

Josh Willingham and Elijah Dukes are decent fliers in deeper leagues, particularly those leagues that use OBP instead of batting average. But the real gem in this lineup is third baseman super-stud Ryan Zimmerman, who finally put together all the parts of his game last year. Some may not believe that he’s as good as he was last year, but even with a few steps back in his game, he’s a top option at a tough position. His growth has seemed organic, for what it’s worth.

Rookie Ian Desmond is expected to push veteran Cristian Guzman from shortstop to second base. In a perfect world, Guzman would never have been signed to his current contract, but that’s the Nats for you. Desmond should provide replacement-level offense at worst, while displaying average to above-average defense.

The Bench: The signing of Ivan Rodriguez is unfortunate because it pushes a young Jose Flores to the bench, but perhaps his upside will persevere. He can’t get on base, but his power is interesting. Willie Harris should be eligible at multiple positions and offers some speed to deep league benches. Justin Maxwell used to be well thought of as a speed-and-defense outfielder, but he’s getting a little long in the tooth to be considered a prospect. Mike Morse looks like the infield backup and 1B Josh Whitesell has shown that he can get on base, but we’re still waiting on the rest of his game.

2010 St. Louis Cardinals Preview

Chris Carpenter, RHP
Adam Wainwright, RHP
Brad Penny, RHP
Kyle Lohse, RHP
Rich Hill, LHP

Closers and Setup
Ryan Franklin, RHP
Jason Motte, RHP

Starting Lineup
Skip Schumaker, 2B
Brendan Ryan, SS
Albert Pujols, 1B
Matt Holliday, LF
Ryan Ludwick, RF
Yadier Molina, C
Colby Rasmus, CF
David Freese, 3B

Player in Decline

Even though he saved 38 games and posted an ERA of 1.92, Ryan Franklin was not that spectacular. His xFIP of 4.27 and BABIP of .269 indicate a turnaround is likely in 2010. He still may pick up saves, but the outstanding ERA will not return.

Player on the Rise

Colby Rasmus was a very effective base stealer in the minors, but swiped only three bags last season. His average, power numbers, and steals should all increase this year.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Albert Pujols – Elite
Matt Holliday – Elite
Adam Wainwright – Elite
Chris Carpenter – Elite
Ryan Ludwick – Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Shelby Miller, RHP
2. Lance Lynn, RHP
3. Jaime Garcia, LHP
4. Daryl Jones, OF
5. Allen Craig, 3B
6. Eduardo Sanchez, RHP
7. Dan Descalso, IF
8. Adam Reifer, RHP
9. David Freese, 3B
10. Robert Stock, C

Overall Team Outlook: After being a trendy pick to win the National League crown, the Cardinals faltered early in the playoffs. However, 2009 was the first playoff trip since 2006, and with building blocks in place, the club will look to continue that streak.

The Starting Rotation: The Cardinals rotation features two Cy Young contenders on top of their rotation in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Wainwright sports an outstanding curveball and is working towards improving his sinking fastball. Carpenter has long been an ace-caliber pitcher, but has never stayed healthy long enough to be reliable. Newcomer Brad Penny will be the No. 3 starter this year. After being released by the Red Sox, Penny returned to the NL last year and showed that he can be a big-time pitcher. He throws a nice fastball and, if he can stay healthy, he should provide adequate output for the Cards. Kyle Lohse will help anchor the back of the rotation and is nothing to get excited about. Battling for the fifth spot will be reclamation project Rich Hill, along with Mitchell Boggs and a host of others. Hill is on a minor league deal, and should get the first shot if Dave Duncan can work his magic.

The Bullpen: As with any Tony LaRussa club, the Cardinals bullpen could be defined as a “mess.” Ryan Franklin was the closer last season and surprised everyone with a superb season. However, the advanced statistics show that he was extremely lucky, so projections for 2010 are way down. Other options for the Cards include flamethrower Jason Motte, who blew all of his 2009 save chances, and Kyle McClellan, who will need to lower his walk rate to stay successful.

The Starting Lineup: The Cardinals lineup is filled with absolute studs, as well as some question marks. Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Ludwick are all big, right-handed bats that will occupy the middle of the order in St. Louis. Center fielder Colby Rasmus will have full control of his spot with the departure of Rick Ankiel. The left side of the infield is a big question mark, with rookie David Freese stepping in as the third baseman. Freese had some great seasons in the minors and playing in a good lineup will help him. Brendan Ryan, moustache and all, will be returning as the everyday shortstop, and should provide some nice cheap steals. Skip Schumaker will be back for his second full season at second base, but may have to split time with Julio Lugo. Lugo, acquired from the Red Sox late last year, played well for the Cardinals in his brief time with the team and could also fight Ryan for playing time at short. Behind the plate it is another year of “Name that Molina,” with Yadier Molina anchoring the defense. While he may not add anything special at the plate, the Cardinals rely on him to not hurt them on offense and to drive in runs whenever he can.

The Bench: The previously mentioned Lugo will be the first player off the bench for the Cards, but after that it remains a mystery. Veteran catcher Jason LaRue could see some playing time should Molina become run down or injured, but will not be a big part of the Cardinals’ plans. Infielder Tyler Greene will also be on the roster, but the back-up outfield spots are up for grabs.

2010 San Diego Padres Preview

Chris Young, RHP
Jon Garland, RHP
Kevin Correia, RHP
Mat Latos, RHP
Clayton Richard, LHP

Closers and Setup
Heath Bell, RHP
Luke Gregerson, RHP

Starting Lineup
Everth Cabrera, SS
David Eckstein, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Chase Headley, 3B
Will Venable, RF
Scott Hairston, CF
Kyle Blanks, LF
Nick Hundley, C

Player in Decline

Chris Young has been helped out by luck in his career, as we can see by looking at his FIP rates. His control slipped in ‘09, along with his strikeout rate. His home ballpark certainly helps his fly-ball tendencies, but he’s a huge risk on the road.

Player on the Rise

Kyle Blanks has to potential to provide some massive power numbers for fantasy managers. Add in the fact that he could be eligible at two positions (first base and the outfield) and you have a promising, young fantasy prospect.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Adrian Gonzalez – Elite
Heath Bell – Elite
Chase Headley – Average
Chris Young – Average
Mat Latos – Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Simon Castro, RHP
2. Logan Forsythe, 3B
3. James Darnell, 3B
4. Jaff Decker, OF
5. Donavan Tate, OF
6. Everett Williams, OF
7. Wynn Pelzer, RHP
8. Edinson Rincon, 3B
9. Cory Luebke, LHP
10. Aaron Poreda, LHP

Overall team outlook: The Padres played The Price is Right on the Titanic by throwing anything worth more than a few hundred thousand over the rails. New ownership and management are now in charge, and the club still figures to be relatively low in the payroll rankings, but the organization has some exciting young pieces through trades of Jake Peavy and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

The Starting Rotation: If nothing else, the Padres organization has a rotation that fits its park increasingly well. Chris Young is built like a pole who allows more than 50% fly balls and has issues preventing base stealers. Nevertheless, expect his ERA to improve on a 5.21 figure and consider him a contender to lead the Padres in victories. Correia is a guy who always had issues with the long ball while pitching with the Giants, which is a symptom for disaster. He had a nice run with the Padres last year, but expect his ERA to creep over 4.00.

The rest of the rotation will feature youngsters. Mat Latos looked impressive in his Major League debut and probably has the best stuff on staff, which means the potential for strikeouts, while Clayton Richard is a tallish ground-balling lefty. The fifth spot is going to be decided via a battle royal between a bunch of pitchers with marginal differences. Sean Gallagher, Wade LeBlanc, Aaron Poreda, and Cesar Carrillo figure to be the combatants. Poreda probably holds the highest value in most leagues.

The Bullpen: Heath Bell is surprisingly back, as the Padres chose against attempting to cash in his 42 saves. Most games held within Petco are going to be low-scoring in nature and prone to high-leverage appearances from Bell, which means the save opportunities will come regardless of the quality of team. Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson represent two pretty good set-up men who figure to get a few save opportunities as well.

The Starting Lineup: Everth Cabrera jumped straight from the low minors and displayed an affinity for getting on and then stealing bases. He figures to continue leading off, collecting steals, and touching home once Adrian Gonzalez delivers. It’s unlikely that Gonzalez will pound 40 homers again, as the lineup around him doesn’t provide much incentive to actually pitch to him, but then again, this lineup is an improvement over what the Pads ran out last year, and Gonzalez walked nearly 120 times (22 times intentionally) and still smoked 40 over the fence. Gonzalez is one of two legitimate long-ball and run-producing threats, alongside the unproven Kyle Blanks. Scott Hairston also has some power and absolutely demolishes left-handed pitching. David Eckstein doesn’t do much in the way of things that are valued in fantasy leagues, but Chase Headley could represent a decent choice, if only for his occasional power. Nick Hundley isn’t worth anyone’s time.

The Bench: Scott’s brother, Jerry, figures to be the Padres’ super-utility player, taking reps in the infield and spacious outfield alike; he’s a pinch-running threat as well. Tony Gwynn Jr. will be the back-up center fielder. Meanwhile, catcher Dusty Ryan holds next to no value, and Oscar Salazar likely won’t see enough playing time to be worth a look.

2010 Los Angeles Dodgers Preview

Chad Billingsley, RHP
Clayton Kershaw, LHP
Hiroki Kuroda, LHP
Vicente Padilla, RHP
James McDonald, RHP

Closers and Setup
Jonathan Broxton, RHP
George Sherrill, LHP

Starting Lineup
Rafael Furcal, SS
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Manny Ramirez, LF
James Loney, 1B
Casey Blake, 3B
Ronnie Belliard, 2B
Russell Martin, C

Player in Decline

Rafael Furcal was a down-ballot MVP choice in 2006 when he had a 119 wRC+. But he’s had two years below 95 since then surrounding an injury-shortened 2008. Now 32, he may never sniff 15 homers or 37 steals again.

Player on the Rise

Clayton Kershaw broke out in every way except wins last year, as he posted an 8-8 mark. With better run support he could double his wins total this year.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Matt Kemp – Elite
Jonathan Broxton – Elite
Manny Ramirez – Elite
Andre Ethier – Average
Clayton Kershaw – Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Devaris Gordon, SS
2. Ethan Martin, RHP
3. Andrew Lambo, OF
4. Josh Lindblom, RHP
5. Chris Withrow, RHP
6. Scott Elbert, LHP
7. Aaron Miller, LHP
8. John Ely, RHP
9. Trayvon Robinson, OF
10. Allen Webster, RHP

Overall team outlook: The Dodgers organization has made it to the NLCS in back-to-back years and features a team of exciting youngsters, bolstered by productive veterans. But there is a cloud over the team due to the bitter divorce of owner(s) Frank and Jamie McCourt, which leaves the immediate future of the club uncertain. The organization did not offer arbitration to any of its free agents and has not made any impact additions to the team in the offseason.

The Starting Rotation: Despite losing two pitchers to free agency, the Dodgers still have a nice rotation. Youngsters Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw lead the staff. Billingsley won nine of his first 12 decisions before running into trouble with the gopher ball, as he allowed 14 homers in his final 103.2 innings. Kershaw had a 2.27 ERA in the second half of the season yet managed just one win after the All-Star break. It was a tough year for Hiroki Kuroda, who suffered from an oblique strain early in the year and then got hit in the head by a line drive in mid-August. But when he was able to pitch, batters still had trouble with his fastball-slider-splitter repertoire, which led to an excellent 32.8 O-Swing%. That would have been the best in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify.

One move the Dodgers did make this season was to re-sign late-season pick-up Vicente Padilla, who pitched very well for them until Game Five of the NLCS. In eight games during the regular season for Los Angeles, Padilla had a 3.17 K/BB ratio. The fifth starter’s job is up in the air. James McDonald flopped in his four starts last year but was very effective in the bullpen. The Dodgers like his arm, and he should get another chance to make it as a starter. If McDonald falters, Eric Stults could get some starts like he did last year, and the Dodgers have a trio of former high draft picks in the upper minors who could get a shot.

The Bullpen: After three years as one of the top set-up men in the game, Jonathan Broxton excelled in his first year as the full-time closer. He averaged 97.7 mph with his fastball and complemented that with a wicked slider, a combination which led to a 13.50 K/9 and 36 saves. The Dodgers added Orioles closer George Sherrill down the stretch last year, giving them a strong eighth-inning option. Sherrill was fantastic for the Dodgers, as he allowed just two earned runs in 27.2 innings.

The Starting Lineup: The Dodgers club will feature the same lineup it did during the playoffs last year. Rafael Furcal leads off and he is followed by slugging outfielders Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez. Kemp won both the Gold Glove award and the Silver Slugger last year and should challenge for a 30-30 year. Ethier set a career high with a .237 ISO last season. Ramirez had a tough year, with first the suspension and later a hand injury, but he still posted a 148 wRC+ to lead the team. James Loney has not developed the home-run power the club hoped for, but he has back-to-back 90-RBI seasons. Casey Blake had a .320/.442/.563 line against LHPs last year and is a consistent .275 hitter with 20-homer power.

Ronnie Belliard took over for Orlando Hudson at second base down the stretch and the Dodgers chose to bring him back instead of Hudson, who had just a .707 OPS in his final 114 games. Belliard hit for both average (.351) and power (.636 SLG) in his brief time with the Dodgers last year. Belliard has a weight clause in his contract where if he reports to spring training at more than 209 pounds, the club can release him. In that case, Blake DeWitt would become the starter. Russell Martin struggled at the plate last year and hopes to improve upon last season’s .285 BABIP and 5.4 HR/FB rate.

The Bench: The Dodgers brought in Jamey Carroll to complement DeWitt for infield depth, although DeWitt may start the year in the minors if he does not grab a starting job. Doug Mientkiewicz signed a minor league deal and will likely be the back-up first baseman. Brad Ausmus returns as the second catcher. With the trade of Juan Pierre, Jason Repko becomes the primary outfield reserve. The bench is not a strong point of the club.

2010 New York Mets Preview

Johan Santana, LHP
John Maine, RHP
Oliver Perez, LHP
Mike Pelfrey, RPH
Jon Niese, LHP

Closers and Setup
Francisco Rodriguez, RHP
Pedro Feliciano, LHP

Starting Lineup
Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Jason Bay, LF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Beltran/Matthews, CF
Daniel Murphy, 1B
Omir Santos, C

Player in Decline

People have been talking about the declining peripherals of Francisco Rodriguez for several years and it all came home to roost last season. His 1.92 K/BB was the lowest of his career.

Player on the Rise

In his final 266 plate appearances on the year, Daniel Murphy had a .294/.321/.504 line. In the final month of the season, he had a .580 slugging percentage.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
David Wright: Elite
Jose Reyes: Elite
Jason Bay: Elite
Johan Santana: Elite
Francisco Rodriguez: Average

Top 10 Prospects
1. Fernando Martinez, OF
2. Ike Davis, 1B
3. Jenrry Mejia, RHP
4. Wilmer Flores, SS
5. Jon Niese, LHP
6. Brad Holt, RHP
7. Ruben Tejada, SS
8. Josh Thole, C
9. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF
10. Jeurys Familia, RHP

Overall team outlook: A staggering number of injuries transformed the Mets from a playoff contender to an also-ran last year. The uncertainty surrounding nearly every key player in 2009, whether due to injury or ineffectiveness, makes the Mets the hardest team to predict in all of baseball. The organization has the talent to win 90 games yet enough question marks to make another 70-win season a potential outcome.

The Starting Rotation: For the Mets to have any chance at all, Johan Santana has to return from elbow surgery to be the elite pitcher he was for them at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. In a 27-game stretch over the two years, Santana was 16-2 with a 1.98 ERA. They need a dominant Santana because there is so much uncertainty with the rest of the staff. There is no clear-cut order among John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, and Oliver Perez. Maine and Perez each have 15-win seasons under their belt, but both are coming off injury-plagued seasons.

Maine has thrown just 221.1 innings the past two seasons combined and needs to be healthy enough to throw his slider on a consistent basis to be an effective pitcher. Perez has outstanding stuff but is plagued by wildness. The two seasons when his BB/9 was beneath 4.50, Perez combined for a 3.26 ERA. Overall he has a 4.54 career ERA. He is also coming off knee surgery. Pelfrey was the lone starter to remain healthy in 2009, but he posted a 5.03 ERA. Barring a last-minute trade, the Mets will have Fernando Nieve and Jon Niese battle for the fifth starter’s job. Both players had their seasons end with injuries last year. Nieve had an impressive 2.95 ERA last year but that came with a 5.41 xFIP.

The Bullpen: After bullpen meltdowns cost the Mets a playoff berth in 2008, they imported Francisco Rodriguez last season. He had a fine first half but suffered a post All-Star break meltdown. Rodriguez had a 5.52 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in the second half last year. With his high walk rate, Rodriguez has little room for error and last year everything came crashing down. Rodriguez has made a career out of stranding base runners, with a lifetime 80.4% strand rate. His LOB% was 69.8% last year. Only a .270 BABIP kept things from being even worse. The Mets club needs the first half Rodriguez if it plans to contend in 2010.

The Starting Lineup: The Mets organization hopes the return of Jose Reyes will reinvigorate the lineup. After suffering through various leg injuries last year, Reyes had surgery on a torn right hamstring tendon in October. It remains to be seen if Reyes can once again be the player that averaged 64.5 steals from 2005 to 2008. Luis Castillo had a bounceback season in 2009. His 107 wRC+ was his highest since 2005. David Wright is working with hitting coach Howard Johnson to rediscover his home-run swing. Wright hit just 10 home runs last year after averaging nearly 29 homers the previous four years.

Jason Bay was targeted as a free agent because the Mets thought his pull tendencies would allow him to hit homers in Citi Field. Bay has hit more than 30 homers in four of the past five seasons. A .343 BABIP helped Jeff Francoeur to a .350 wOBA last year with the Mets, and the club hopes that is the real Francoeur, instead of the one that had a .286 wOBA in 2008 and a .278 in 2009 with Atlanta. Carlos Beltran will miss at least the first month of the season after undergoing knee surgery in mid-January. Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. will fill in during his absence. Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis will form a platoon at first base. Murphy led the team with 12 homers last year while Tatis had an .822 OPS versus LHPs. After spending most of the season in a pointless chase for free agent Bengie Molina, the Mets have an unsettled catching situation. Josh Thole is likely to start in the minors to work on his defense while Omir Santos and Henry Blanco battle to see if either can post a .700 OPS.

The Bench: Matthews replaces Jeremy Reed as a reserve outfielder, and brings a 92-point increase in OPS. Alex Cora returns as the primary middle infield back-up. Blanco was brought in mainly for his defense. Pagan was a pleasant surprise last year in his most extended playing time in the Majors. He opens the year in center for Beltran and may see time in right if Francoeur struggles. Tatis is a solid backup at the corner infield and outfield positions and can even play second base in an emergency.

A Brief History of FanGraphs

When I started FanGraphs, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was a fantasy baseball nut whose full time day job was creating reports and graphs in AOL’s operations department. In 2005 I decided to put those skills to use at something I really enjoyed.

Initially, FanGraphs had a few select stats and ten graphs for batters and pitchers that I thought painted a useful picture for fantasy baseball analysis. Since then, the site has taken a turn towards professional baseball analysis, and a lot of the work we do focuses on evaluating real-life transactions.

Fortunately, much of this type of statistical analysis can be applied to fantasy baseball, and in late 2008, we decided to get back to our fantasy roots by launching RotoGraphs, the fantasy baseball blog on FanGraphs.

This past summer, Marc Hulet, editor of RotoGraphs, asked me if I’d be willing to publish a fantasy baseball magazine written by our current stable of writers. And now, seven months and sleepless nights later, we’re very pleased to present you with the 2010 FanGraphs Second Opinion: Fantasy Baseball Companion.

Why the Second Opinion? We know that FanGraphs is probably not your very first source for fantasy analysis, but we think that what we say about a particular player will be valuable in your fantasy league. And we suspect that what we say may not exactly match up with what other publications are saying because of our particular style of analysis, hence the term: second opinion.

As you read through the articles, player profiles, and team previews, you should keep in mind that predicting the future is not an exact science, and hindsight vision is always 20/20. If you disagree with what one of our analysts has written, that’s certainly okay by us, and hopefully we’ve at the very least clearly laid out another side of the argument for you to consider.

With that said, we hope you enjoy the book. We are lucky to have so many open-minded, bright and encouraging readers, and FanGraphs would not be where it was today without your visits, comments and shared enthusiasm for the game.

So thank you for being a great reader, and thank you for purchasing the book and helping support FanGraphs as we continue to strive to supply timely, thought-provoking baseball analysis. If you have any questions or comments about the 2010 Second Opinion do not hesitate to contact me personally.

Best of luck in your 2010 fantasy baseball leagues!

FanGraphs Founder
-David Appelman