1. New York Yankees
Offense: The Yankees led Major League Baseball last season in runs scored (by 76), batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Thatís pretty good, especially when you consider their ballpark is very tough on right-handed hitters. Even though Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada canít be expected to repeat last yearís numbers, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon should all show improvement in an absolutely loaded lineup. With Wilson Betemit, Shelley Duncan and Morgan Ensberg, New York also possesses a deep bench. With Joe Torreís corpse out of town, the team might actually show some passion this season as well.
Pitching: Itís not a great rotation, but with Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte and Ian Kennedy, it should be good enough to let the offense win games. Hughesí returned velocity is terrific news for the franchise. If Joba Chamberlain joins the rotation after the All-Star break, the pitching might even become a major positive. Expect Mariano Rivera to lose a full run off last yearís ERA.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Robinson Cano turns in a .310-25-110-120 season.
2. Boston Red Sox (wild card)
Offense: The Red Sox allowed the fewest runs in baseball last year. Factoring in ballpark effects and their division, there might not have been a more impressive statistic. Their offense scored the fourth most runs, and that was with Manny Ramirez missing 30 games and finishing with his lowest OPS since his rookie season. Despite the media insisting David Ortiz had a down year, 2007 was actually the best season of his career. While Mike Lowell is going to regress, Boston can reasonably expect much better production from Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, Ramirez and their center fielder. Itís a very good lineup.
Pitching: The bullpen is a strength, but Bostonís starting rotation has its problems, starting with the enigmatic Dice-K. His lack of command makes him an unreliable bet to reach the seventh inning on any given night. Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield are decent back-end options, but Clay Buchholz is the key. Heís going to be special, but that still likely means an up-and-down 2008. Josh Beckett, one of the greatest postseason performers in the history of the sport, needs to stay healthy. If he a does, a Cy Young type season is likely to follow.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Julio Lugo swipes 50 bags.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Offense: Although Toronto would likely win the AL West, itís once again destined for a third place finish stuck in the ultra-competitive East. The lineup isnít that impressive, and itíll take healthy seasons from Frank Thomas and Vernon Wells for it to even approach average. Lyle Overbay should bounce back, and Aaron Hill could challenge for the league-lead in homers at his position. Alex Rios is the teamís best hope of any hitter reaching a .900 OPS.
Pitching: Although B.J. Ryan canít be counted on, Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Dustin McGowan form a top-3 with the most upside of any staff in baseball. Of course, Burnettís health is a huge question mark, but heís pitching with his eyes on a big contract next season, so heíll be plenty motivated. During the second half of 2007, McGowan had a 2:1 G/F ratio, the second lowest BAA in baseball and a 2.89 ERC. However, an increased workload is something that needs to be monitored.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Dustin McGowan finishes as the Blue Jaysí most valuable pitcher.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
Offense: There isnít another team in all of baseball better set up for the future. Still, there will be growing pains in 2008, and itís a major obstacle playing in the AL East. The defense should be much improved with Jason Bartlett at short and B.J. Upton in center, but the recent demotion of Evan Longoria for financial purposes only shows the franchise still just doesnít get it. Carlos Pena isnít going to hit a home run every 10.7 at-bats again, but heís here to stay as a legitimate power force. He strikes out too often to be any better than a .280 hitter, but his isolated power reveals a true slugger; heís among the favorites to finish in the top 3-5 in HRs in MLB this season. R.I.P. Rocco Baldelli.
Pitching: The Scott Kazmir injury is a killer; hopefully, itís a minor setback, as the club would much rather him miss a month or two this season and have him healthy when the youngsters are ready in a year or two than the alternative, which features a knife and Dr. James Andrews. The bullpen is a weakness, but Kazmir is a legit ace in the making, and James Shields is a solid No. 2. There isnít a franchise more loaded with pitching talent in the minors than Tampa Bay.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Boss Junior is the next member of the 40/40 club.
5. Baltimore Orioles
Offense: Not a lot to like here, but at least Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and Pacman Jones give the team some hope for the future. Luis Hernandez is probably the worst hitter in baseball, while Kevin Millar is the worst cleanup hitter in the game. Jones could easily approach a 20/20 season in 2008, but he has a ton of work to do as a center fielder, despite having the athleticism to be a gold glover.
Pitching: The Oriolesí rotation is a mess, especially since Jeremy Guthrie is due for a major regression in 2008. Iím not sure if the Leo Mazzone chicken and egg quandary was ever answered, but his stock certainly canít be looked at the same after his tenure in Baltimore. Odds are Daniel Cabreraís top-notch stuff never results into an above average pitcher, but heís the most likely undrafted fantasy pitcher to finish in the top-15.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Nick Markakis is a top-20 player.