The American League East, featuring the sport’s financial superpowers, is undoubtedly the premier division in all of baseball. The Boston Red Sox, with two titles in the past four seasons, are now the game’s model franchise.
Under the guidance of progressive owner John Henry and general manager Theo Epstein, it appears as if the tremendous success is only beginning in Boston. Following the end of the media-driven Curse of the Bambino, the organization has put numerous financial resources into its focus on the amateur draft and player development, which has replenished the Red Sox’s farm system. In addition, Boston places a strong emphasis on statistical analysis, helping its front office make baseball-related decisions relying on objective facts. Essentially, the club has struck the right balance in the scouting/stats equation, as Epstein and his staff attempt to get their hands on as much information as possible before pulling the trigger on any deal.
New York has the luxury of being able to make inefficient-payroll decisions. While several small-market franchises bear more risk when tying up millions into individual players over the long-term, the Yankees always have the ability to reload when a Carl Pavano situation arises. The Yankees represent a powerful International brand and sell out Yankee Stadium nearly every night. Plus, with a state-of-the-art new ballpark set to open in New York next spring, the unprecedented revenue stream is not expected to stop anytime soon.
Thus, even with revenue sharing, the Yankees will always have a tremendous advantage when constructing a roster while other organizations could never sustain this level of spending over an extended time period. With the Steinbrenner family, of course, rebuilding is never really an option for a club whose fans expect a World Series title every year.
Making things more complicated, the remaining three teams in the division—with the exception of the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the Stuart Sternberg era—are not too shabby, either.
The Toronto Blue Jays have had a lock on third place in the division ever since Boston emerged as a powerful brand in its own right. Toronto currently has an excellent starting rotation, but its offense is among the worst in the league. Still, if placed in the inferior National League, the Blue Jays would be in the postseason mix.
Peter Angelos repeatedly refused to rebuild the Baltimore Orioles franchise after a decade of mediocrity. Angelos has finally seen the light now, and Baltimore is putting its eggs into the right basket, focusing on improving from within through adding depth to its farm system. While the Orioles have exceeded all expectations in 2008, they are still a few years away from reaping the benefits of the rebuilding effort. Regardless, it is a good start.
Tampa Bay has a savvy front office as well. The Rays are one of the best stories of the year, awakening from a 10-year slumber to post the highest winning percentage in the majors in the first half. With Sternberg and his young management staff—even though their vision for constructing a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg has been put on hold—the recent success is no fluke. Tampa Bay, in fact, has locked up several of the premier youngsters in the league, including Scott Kazmir, Evan Longoria and James Shields, and is stocked with talented arms down on the farm. Therefore, the days of Tampa Bay serving as the division doormat appear to be over for good.
With two teams on the rise in Baltimore and Tampa Bay, and two teams that generate tremendous revenues, the American League East is only going to get tougher. If the Rays' young talent flourishes as expected when it reaches the next level, the battle for first place in the East is going to be exciting to watch.
Radio Appearance: This afternoon, Rays Digest writer Tyler Hissey will be appearing on Happy Hour With JP On CBS Sports Radio in Tampa to discuss the Rays' chances of remaining in the AL East race. Hissey will come on at 3:30 P.M.
Click here to listen live.