The cracks have been showing for a few years now. But it's about time we put to bed the notion that the American League East is the exclusive playground of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox -- and maybe even the idea that it is the best division in baseball.

That would have been heresy as recently as a few years ago. The Yankees have won the AL East 13 times since 1995, and Boston has won it twice and finished second 10 other times. New York has five World Series titles with 17 playoff appearances during that stretch. The Red Sox have won two World Series with nine postseason berths. The only other division winners were Baltimore (1997) and Tampa Bay (2008, 2010). The only other teams to finish second were the Orioles (1996, 2012), the Rays (2011) and Toronto (2006).

But all good things must come to an end. Boston has missed the playoffs three years in a row, and last year was a 69-93 disaster. It was its fewest wins in a non-strike season since 1965. A healthy Jacoby Ellsbury will help. But otherwise Boston's offseason additions were Mike Napoli (first base), Stephen Drew (shortstop), Shane Victorino (right field) and Jonny Gomes (left field). David Ortiz is still a formidable offensive threat, but he's also 37. The Red Sox need rebound seasons from starters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, but even then the rotation lacks depth.

Meanwhile, the Yankees won the division again in 2012 -- but just barely. And they have no idea how shortstop Derek Jeter will recover from his fractured ankle sustained in the ALCS against Detroit. Alex Rodriguez continues to be a sideshow with his latest alleged connection to performance-enhancing drugs, and he is out until mid-summer -- at best -- anyway after hip surgery. New York lost outfielder Nick Swisher, catcher Russell Martin and reliever Rafael Soriano. It added designated hitter Travis Hafner and third baseman Kevin Youkilis and gets Brett Gardner back from injury. But while it's hard to imagine a collapse like the Red Sox endured, making the playoffs is no guarantee, either. The last time both these teams missed the postseason? 1993.

- Brian McNally