With the Division Series’ now underway in the MLB, one series in particular should show how far the Yankees have to go to get back to not only winning World Championships, but to win the division as a whole. That series begins this afternoon at Fenway Park as the Tampa Bay Rays take on the Boston Red Sox. As New York sits back and watches this postseason unfold, I think back to how I wrote an article on this site this time last year about how Boston’s bad contracts would eventually catch up to them and the Yankees were in the best position to win the division.
One year later, my stance has taken a complete 180. In fact, you can make the argument the Baltimore Orioles are in a better position to compete for the division title than the Yankees. Even though the Blue Jays had a disappointing 2013, it will be interesting to see what moves they make to try to improve for 2014. Let’s start with the Red Sox.
With Ben Cherington running the show as the head man in baseball operations, he made small moves in the offseason for role players such as Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Mike Napoli that brought a spark to the clubhouse and gave the team financial flexibility. They have a solid group of four starters in the rotation and some rising young players in shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Even if they lose to Tampa in the ALDS, they are still going in the right direction.
One of the things that has impressed me about their team this year is not only do they lead the league in runs, but they finished second in on-base percentage. They reminded me of the old Yankees’ teams that would work the pitch count up to opposing pitchers on the mound to grind out at-bats.
As for the Tampa Bay Rays, even with a small payroll, they were able to use their pitching assets to acquire an impact bat in Wil Myers. The Yankees, as of right now, are not in the position to give up any valuable minor league chips to improve their roster. Tampa has the ability to bring people up from their minor league system like Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and outfielder Desmond Jennings while losing players that were mainstays in their franchise like B.J Upton and Carl Crawford. Plus, they have Joe Maddon as their manager who may be the best of the business.
The Baltimore Orioles have developed a core of their own in the lineup with Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, and young phenom third baseman Manny Machado. The question for them going forward will be to improve their pitching that was 23rd in the majors in ERA, particularly in the rotation.
So, where does that leave the Yankees? As they head into an offseason with more questions than answers and the magic number being $189 million, the Yankees need to ask themselves this. They don’t usually react to moves that were made in the division by other teams, but with the AL East being much tougher than it was ten years ago, New York may be looking up in the division for a while if the right moves are not made in the offseason. Unlike Boston, they are now the ones that have lucrative contracts (Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia) to worry about. As you watch this series beginning today, ask yourself this: How far do the Yankees have to go to get back to contending for AL East titles? It may not be championship or bust, but the division is catching up while the Yankees might be lagging behind.