It once was the toughest division in baseball. But that is about to change in 2013. Yes, the Yankees and Red Sox still play in the vaunted American League East. But both are shells of their former selves, and that has changed the tenor of a division in which parity is now the buzzword.
Just look at the retreads Boston and New York are trotting out. The Red Sox have a mess in the outfield with veterans Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes playing key roles. Mike Napoli, another post-30 vet, will hold down first base, and David Ortiz may not be healthy enough even to serve as an effective designated hitter. If the rotation doesn't rebound from 2012's disaster -- still a possibility given the talent level there -- then Boston is really in trouble.
The Yankees are hurt by key injuries (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez) but likely have enough to remain in contention as long as a win total in the high 80s or low 90s is enough to finish in first place. And that gives hope to the surprising Orioles, with a promising, young core, that 2012 was not a fluke. And it validates the Rays' belief that their philosophy -- draft well and use cheap, cost-controlled stars and organizational depth to their advantage -- can help them consistently compete with their bigger-market peers.
And it fuels the Blue Jays' courage to leverage their massive fan base -- virtually all of Canada outside of Quebec -- and the seventh-largest North American market. If they win, they're capable of printing money. Now, there's no guarantee that their gambit of grabbing multiple former Miami Marlins stars will work. But if the rotation stays healthy, the Jays are easily capable of winning the division for the first time since 1993.
It's possible -- if the Orioles regress, the Yankees find it hard just to push for a winning season and the Red Sox sink into the abyss -- that the division earns just one of five playoff berths. Either way, all five clubs have flaws, and there isn't a 100-win team in the bunch. It's a different world.
- Brian McNally