No introduction needed. Here’s my AL East preseason All-Star team for 2011. If I do well, I'll be sure to revisit at the end of the season.
Catcher -- Matt Wieters, Orioles. This is the best division in baseball, but the catching position is surprisingly weak, with the Yankees banking on Dodgers castoff Russell Martin, the Red Sox counting on ex-prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the Rays going with a John Jaso/Kelly Shoppach platoon and the Blue Jays starting power-hitting rookie J.P. Arencibia. Jaso was productive in 2011 (.372 OBP), but if Wieters can match his Baseball Prospectus projection -- .268/.339/.417 with 16 home runs -- he gets the nod when factoring in his excellent defense.
First base -- Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox. Gonzalez may not be the best all-around player in the AL, but he’s the best bet to capture the MVP Award. He’ll probably bat cleanup, with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Carl Crawford hitting in front of him and providing a ton of RBI opportunities. And MVP voters still swoon over RBI guys. Mark Teixeira is a player in decline. His OPS+ totals since 2007: 161, 152, 141, 125.
Second base -- Robinson Cano, Yankees. Tough call over Pedroia, but Cano’s 2010 exceeded Pedroia’s 2008 MVP campaign. And Cano’s big season wasn’t the result of a hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium; he actually hit 43 points higher on the road, with similar power numbers.
Third base -- Evan Longoria, Rays. A loaded position, especially with Jose Bautista playing here. But nobody matches Longoria’s combination of hitting and fielding prowess. If the Rays can stay close, Longoria is an excellent MVP candidate.
Shortstop -- Derek Jeter, Yankees. Really, any of the five guys -- Marco Scutaro, Reid Brignac, J.J. Hardy, Yunel Escobar -- could end up being the top guy. Scutaro’s season with the bat was very similar to Jeter’s and he’s a better fielder, but Jeter’s durability is better and Jed Lowrie will take some of Scutaro’s playing time. The sleeper is Escobar, if he regains his 2009 stroke (.299/.377/.436 with Atlanta).
Left field -- Carl Crawford, Red Sox. You know who finished 14th in the majors in OPS last season? That’s right ... Luke Scott. Even adjusting for Camden Yards, he was one of baseball’s best hitters. He is, however, not one of baseball’s best fielders and baserunners, and Carl Crawford is.
Center field -- B.J. Upton, Rays. This is the year. No, really. Hits .275, 25 home runs, 40 steals, Gold Glove. I feel it ... maybe.
Right field -- Nick Markakis, Orioles. His homers have dropped from 23 in 2007 to 12 last season, but he still hits doubles (40-plus four years in a row), gets on base (.370 OBP) and plays a solid right field. Big breakout potential from Toronto’s Travis Snider, however. Small regression predicted from Nick Swisher.
Designated hitter -- David Ortiz, Red Sox. Does he have any kind of Hall of Fame shot? He’s sitting on 349 home runs, 1,170 RBIs, five top-five MVP finishes. Throw in some postseason heroics. If he pounds out three more 30-HR, 100-RBI seasons, he enters the conversation, but he’s 35 now.
Right-handed starter -- Clay Buchholz, Red Sox. Nasty, nasty stuff. He may not match last year’s 2.27 ERA, but I look for him to increase his strikeout rate and top 200 innings for the first time.
Closer -- Mariano Rivera, Yankees. I think he only has about 10 more good seasons left in him.