It is a well-known fact that the American League East is the toughest division in baseball and has been for years. One reason why the AL East is so tough is money. The New York Yankees ($207 million in 2010) and the Boston Red Sox ($160 million) have the highest pay rolls every season. This allows them to add the best players in the game to their respective teams. As a result, since 2003 the division has dominated baseball. Just to put the dominance into perspective, every season except 2006 the AL East’s second-place team has had more wins than the average of the five other division champions.
A few seasons ago, the Tampa Bay Rays made the division even tougher. The Rays built their team solely through the draft instead of the free agent route, and their success has made the other two teams in the division, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles, look even worse.
The Blue Jays have not been nearly as bad as one might assume. They are just a victim of a strong division. Since the division established dominance, the Blue Jays have had a winning record for five of those eight seasons. They even finished 2nd in 2006 with 87 wins. Had they been in the NL Central that season, they would have finished first. Toronto also had more wins in 2008 (86) than the NL West victor yet finished 4th in the AL East behind the aforementioned Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays.
The case can be made that the Blue Jays have not been at all bad and could have even made the playoffs had they been in another division. Now consider who Toronto has to play the majority of their games against-the AL East. That is 18 games with New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay. The teams from the weaker AL Central would only have to play against the same teams for seven or eight games a year. Let’s take the Minnesota Twins, for example. Last season, they played 18 games against three teams with a record worse than the Jays. It would be safe to assume that Toronto would be able to win a few more games against AL Central teams and have an even better record as a result.
It is easy to play the ‘if’ game. But the Blue Jays, like it or not, are in the American League East. John Farrell, the new manager, has inherited a good line up and pretty decent pitching but not enough to stand out in a superb division. Even if they improve their win total from last season, they are looking to finish 3rd at best. Even that is a tall order, considering they traded away their top starting pitcher, Shaun Marcum. But it isn’t all doom and gloom; they could even make a run at the division title in a couple of years. They aren’t that far away. Realistically this season they will finish 4th, but if the regress too far 5th is possible.
To make things worse on Toronto, this off season the Baltimore Orioles were busy rising from abysmal to average. Buck Showalter’s club added some heavy bats to their infield, trading for 3rd baseman Mark Reynolds and signing 1st baseman Derek Lee. In Reynolds’ first three full seasons, he has averaged 34 home runs. The O’s also traded for short stop JJ Hardy. In addition, they signed closer Kevin Gregg through free agency.
Both teams are set up to compete for the division in a couple seasons. With the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays showing no signs of letting up, however, it looks like the unthinkable could happen again. Baseball’s toughest division is only going to get tougher in the next few seasons.