During my entire 15-year career in baseball as a GM and through today, commissioner Bud Selig has emphasized improving the game’s competitive balance.
He said his goal was for all 30 clubs’ fan bases to have “hope and faith” on Opening Day that their team would be able to contend for a postseason berth. However, full parity has eluded one division for more than a decade. The American League East stood as an example of how wide the chasm can be between winning and losing teams.
Case in point: The New York Yankees have finished in first or second place in the AL East 12 of the past 13 years, with a third-place finish in 2008. Likewise, the Boston Red Sox have finished first or second in nine of those same 13 years, while the rest of the division could only look on and wonder when it would be their time.
The 2013 season, however, is the first year when all five teams in the AL East legitimately can contend for the division title, or at the very least a wild-card berth.
Here is a quick breakdown of the AL East and how suddenly in just one offseason, this division arguably has as much competitive balance as any division or conference in professional sports.
New York Yankees
The Yankees’ offseason included the re-signing of veterans Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki, three of whom are north of 40. They also signed Kevin Youkilis, but like many of his new teammates, he is on the wrong side of 30 and appears to be in decline.
And consider whom they won’t have. Nick Swisher departed for the Indians and a four-year, $56 million deal, leaving the Yankees short 20 homers and 80 RBIs in right field. The Yankees’ corner outfielders will be Ichiro in right, who hasn’t hit more than nine home runs in a season since 2009, and Brett Gardner in left field, and he's never hit more than seven. Speed and defense can work, but it will mean occasional power outages for the Yankees' lineup.
Also gone is catcher Russell Martin, who left for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a two-year deal worth $17 million. He took with him 21 homers, his game calling and late-season clutch hits. So the Yankees don’t know who their starting catcher will be.
They also have little help in the upper levels of their farm system and very little depth at the major league level. As the plight of Alex Rodriguez illustrates (he will be sidelined until at least the All-Star break because of hip surgery), this is not a team that will be able to weather injuries well.
Don’t get me wrong: This still is a contending team that will be in the race, but also a team that could easily become the Los Angeles Lakers of baseball and be one of the most disappointing Yankees teams in recent memory. With no-trade clauses, age and few options, there is very little margin for error. General manager Brian Cashman doesn’t have a lot of flexibility to improve the club via trade if things go south.
Can win division: If they stay healthy