Ah, remember the good old days when the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry still mattered — back before many of the main protagonists got old and moved on, before one team or the other got in the habit of missing the playoffs, and before those pesky (Devil) Rays willed themselves into relevancy and stole some of the juice from the Boston-New York axis?
This year may see a return to the good old days for the division’s old money. The Red Sox , coming off a third-place finish, were the winter’s big winners, opening up the checkbook to lure speedster Carl Crawford and slugger Adrian Gonzalez to Fenway at a cost (once Gonzalez’s extension is officially announced) of nearly $300 million.
Boston now has the most complete team in all of baseball. Not that they are without questions (notably the effectiveness of veterans such as David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, J.D. Drew and Daisuke Matsuzaka) — but their questions are less profound, given the talent surrounding them, than anyone else’s.
The Yankees had a near-disastrous winter, watching Cliff Lee sign elsewhere, Andy Pettitte retire, Derek Jeter bristle at the handling of his contract extension and CC Sabathia imply a willingness to exercise a contractual opt-out after 2011.
But reports of the Yankees’ demise are way premature. They bring back basically intact the most potent lineup in baseball from 2010. Their bullpen was upgraded with the signing of setup man Rafael Soriano. And their dicey rotation might seem less so if A.J. Burnett and/or Phil Hughes pitch to their potentials.
The Rays lost a good chunk of their offense and an even larger chunk of their bullpen. But with their dynamic young pitching staff, the brilliant Evan Longoria at third base and the shrewd Joe Maddon in the manager’s office, they are not to be counted out.
The Orioles , entering Buck Showalter’s first full season as manager, added scores of extra homers to their lineup with the acquisitions of veterans Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy and Vladimir Guerrero. If they can stay healthy, and if a bunch of their young pitchers take steps forward, they could be relevant again. But contention in this division is still a ways away, if it’s possible at all.
The Blue Jays have seen ace Roy Halladay and near-ace Shaun Marcum depart in the last 15 months. With them, the Jays might have had a shot. Without them, they’re just another good team — building around young pitching and 30-year-old sudden-slugger Jose Bautista — with no chance of winning in baseball’s toughest division.