It’s hard to imagine a year where both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are on the outside looking in on the American League playoff picture in September. The last time where at least one of the two teams did not earn a playoff spot was 1993 (we can attribute that mostly to the Yankees, who have earned a playoff spot in every year during that span except for 2008). However, given a relatively unprecedented offseason for both teams, there is strong evidence that for at least the short term, we may be entering a new era in the AL East.
While Boston general manager Ben Cherrington was busy signing the likes of Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, and Mike Napoli in attempt to build a team of overpaid, league average veterans with… wait for it… “a positive club house influence!” the Toronto Blue Jays were busy actually improving their team. After acquiring one of the best shortstops in baseball, an all-star corner outfielder, the NL 2012 Cy Young award winner, and two additional top of the rotation starters, the Blue Jays enter the season as the Vegas favorites to win the AL East.
A large portion of the player additions the Jays made this offseason came from a trade that surprised everyone except Marlins fans who remember the fire sale of 1997. The Miami Marlins traded essentially their whole team to Toronto in an attempt to dump salary. The Miami-Toronto trade was also unique because it wasn’t the traditional AL East juggernauts coming out ahead in the salary dump coup, but the traditionally mid-market Blue Jays. Historically the Red Sox and Yankees have used their financial muscle to improve their team by taking on contracts unaffordable to teams from smaller markets. This year we have seen a total role reversal.
The previously high spending Yankees have spent the entire offseason sitting on their hands, watching the rest of the AL East improve around them as they continue to age, potentially out of the playoff picture. All of a sudden, owner Hank Steinbrenner seems to value staying under the luxury tax in 2014 over winning championships. How else can you explain the New York Yankees walking away from the offseason with Kevin Youkilis as their biggest acquisition? This looks to be one of the weaker Yankee teams inrecent memory.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays, who have recently replaced the Oakland Athletics as the darlings of the sabermetric community, have shown no signs of falling under the 90-win plateau they’ve built for themselves the last three years.
Despite losing pitcher James Shields, the Rays added twenty-two year old slugger Will Myers, who by all accounts figures to haunt New York and Boston pitching staffs for years to come.
Lastly although the Baltimore Orioles overachieved last year (its hard to believe a team that almost gave up as many runs as they scored last year won 93 games), they have a young talented core, and finally broke their lengthy playoff drought last year. While it may be asking for too much to expect them to make another playoff run, the days of them being easy fodder for Boston and New York are long over.
The Red Sox and Yankees have dominated the American League East in the 21st century because they have made good player evaluation decisions, and used their money to cover up their mistakes when they didn’t. More simply, they have won because they’ve had the best players. The current talent on each of their rosters, however, do not compare with the talent on their rosters just two years ago. In an environment where the young upstart Orioles are coming off a 93-win season, the Tampa Bay Rays have established themselves as perennial contenders, and Toronto Blue Jays enter the season as AL East favorites, this very well may be the first season since 1993 that both juggernauts miss the playoffs.
Projected AL Standings:
Toronto Blue Jays- 93-69
Tampa Bay Rays – 90-72 (Wild Card)
New York Yankees – 86-76
Boston Red Sox – 81-81
Baltimore Orioles – 78-84