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AL East Preview
By Joe Sheehan
Special to RotoWire
Joe Sheehan is the former co-founder and writer for Baseball Prospectus
who currently writes for Sports Illustrated and Basketball Prospectus.

More division previews by Joe Sheehan:
AL West | AL Central | AL East
NL West | NL Central | NL East


AL East Preview

It can be hard to come up with interesting angles when 40% of this division is over-covered like a Lindsay Lohan meltdown. The three best teams in baseball may well be in this division, however, which was nearly the case in 2008 and could be the standard for the next few seasons. Only two can make the playoffs, while some team from the AL Central is going to get in. Baseball is not a meritocracy.

Baltimore Orioles

They're maybe two years away, and you can see the formation of a championship core in Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman. They have to nail the next few drafts, and be prepared to sign the right free agents after 2011 and 2012. This year, their record will be worse than their underlying performance because they play more than a third of their schedule against the aforementioned monsters. This also means that the stats of their individual players will be less than they should be. Speaking loosely, you have to knock down every single Oriole a notch, especially the hitters.

Closer Watch: They signed Mike Gonzalez to take this job, and while Gonzalez is a power arm who can beat both righties and lefties and misses a ton of bats, he has a history of fragility and is coming off a career high in innings pitched. Throw in a move to the toughest division in baseball and there's more downside here than anything else. For the prices involved, give me Jim Johnson instead. Although his ERA nearly doubled last season as his home-run rate returned to normal, Johnson improved his strikeout and walk rates and is a power/groundball pitcher who has upside. There's some chance Johnson saves more games than Gonzalez. I know I was disappointed to miss him in AL Tout last week.

Ugh: While they wait for Josh Bell to arrive, the Orioles have assembled a truly ugly collection of corner infielders. Garrett Atkins hasn't hit righties since 2007, and his skills have been deteriorating ever since. He's slow, poor defensively and has rarely been anything special outside of Coors Field. The Orioles had a better version of him in Ty Wigginton, who himself is limited to mashing lefties and catching balls hit directly at him. The O's also brought back Miguel Tejada to play third base, a position he has played once as a professional, that 14 years ago. Suffice to say, this is not a strength. Throw in Cesar Izturis and Kevin Millwood, and there's a lot of money being spent on players whose greatest asset is knowing the best restaurants on the road.

The Orioles could be better immediately with one move: releasing Atkins. That would allow them to play Nolan Reimold at first base, platoon Felix Pie and Luis Montanez in left field, and Wiggington with Luke Scott at DH. It is essentially giving Atkins' playing time to the left-field platoon, which is clearly the better choice from both a 2010 and future perspective. The Orioles simply don't need a limited, declining player soaking up playing time.

Do Not Want. Brian Roberts has been a rock the past three seasons, playing in 452 of 468 games, and as a leadoff batter, has been enormously productive for fantasy owners because of the sheer quantity of at-bats he gets. His back problems this spring have caused great concern, and for me, they make him a player I would never take at his expected price. Roberts is a 32-year-old second baseman who has logged an enormous amount of innings at a punishing position. He's not a big guy, and you can see some degradation in his performance over the past few years. He's running less, his K/BB data is deteriorating a little, and he's losing range. The back problems provide a convenient excuse, but Roberts was going to be a risk anyway, one you should pass on.

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