Wouldn’t that be a thing?
Las Vegas – Nothing personal, but with the exception of a certain team in the Bronx, everyone in the Middle East is deeply drawn to Aaron Judge’s return to his California home.
Then again, every AL East team outside of area code 617 is hoping All-Star Xander Bogaerts gets so angry with the Boston Red Sox during their negotiations that he abruptly leaves, and third All-Star captain Raphael Davers follows in. door a year later.
The Toronto Blue Jays, who spent $200 million for their second biggest win since a 1993 world title team, have four American teams in their division pleading not to reach into their wallets for more free agents.
Couldn’t the Tampa Bay Rays, the minor baseball engine that can feature in eight playoff games (including in each of the past four seasons) and two Major League badges since 2008, have a temporary lead time?
Why can’t the Baltimore Orioles, who became the laughingstock of baseball after losing 368 games between 2018 and 2021 before winning 83 games last season, rest on their winning record?
Welcome to AL East, the home of the toughest and fiercest cats in the game, the only division in baseball where the five teams have legitimate hopes for the future.
“Our oath is brutal,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said Tuesday at Major League Baseball’s annual general meetings. “We have three giant global cities with great resources (New York, Boston and Toronto), and we have the smartest running organization (Tampa Bay) in the sport.
“It’s hard to deal with those teams.”
Try saying that to the Rays, whose paychecks are permanently dwarfed by the Yankees and the Red Sox. They managed not only to survive, but thrived well with their clever moves.
“It’s life in the Middle East,” says Rays GM Peter Bendix. “Each of these teams are very well managed, have a lot of resources, they have a desire to win. If they have a down year or a relegation period, it is only a matter of time when they come back. No matter how much any of these teams spend, in Any given year, they would be a threat to win 100 matches and the World Championship.
“With a well-balanced schedule, you could see five teams win 90. Wouldn’t that be a thing?”
Oh, yes, the balanced schedule to be implemented in 2023 may be the best friend of the Middle East. They still spend all summer beating each other’s brains, but now it will only be 13 times, down from 19, as every MLB team plays each other now.
“I would trade for fewer nice dinners in NYC, as opposed to playing in another stadium,” Bendix said.
Why, with the extra wild card berth, it’s now possible to see four AL East teams in the playoffs. We’ve had three AL East teams in the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, and four of the last seven.
“The less we can play with these guys,” Elias says, “the more we should probably get a little boost in the rankings from him, in theory. I think we’re looking at diversity, and the benefits of the three (anchors) teams that are on the tougher divisions. We should. We benefit from changing the rules.”
Perhaps no one will have a greater advantage than the Red Sox, who were defeated by their division rivals last year. The Red Sox went 26-50 against AL East, and their 0.300 win percentage was the worst since AL East was founded in 1969.
“Look, I don’t expect we’ll have the same experience in the Middle East,” said Haim Blum, Red Sox general manager. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Throughout my career, it’s been the best department in our sport, and it’s probably never been better than it is now – top to bottom.
“And we saw that in ’22, and we took the short end of the stick. We have to be better against our division even with this new scheduling format to have the success we want.
“But no matter what anyone will say, if you put all the AL East teams under a truth serum, I think we’re all pretty happy that we’re not going to beat each other very much.”
GM Yankees Brian Cashman says, “I know it’s going to be the hardest part of the travel, but this (was) the hardest section in baseball, I think, for 30 years. It’s very rare for anyone to be better than the Eastern League.. So it was very difficult to play so many matches against so many distinguished opponents while other divisions might not play the same level of schedule.
“I’m curious to know how that will be done.”
Then again, if you ask everyone but the Yankees, they’ll be fine with the old schedule – provided they no longer have to see the judge on a regular basis.
The Yankees, who have played in Playoffs 24 over the past 28 years with five World Series titles, are willing to spend about $300 million to bring back the tournament’s best player, and keep number one freestyler Anthony Rizzo as well.
The judge’s sweepstakes was the main attraction at these meetings, and the Yankees, of course, don’t hide how important the judge is to their future.
Optimally, said Cashman, “If you can wave a magic wand, we’ll secure Aaron Judge, hold him, and ask him to sign as soon as possible. But he’s a free agent. He’s earned the right to be a free agent. So, he’ll dictate the dance steps.” …
“Things usually work slowly, but every circumstance is unique and different.”
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It’s no different for the Red Sox, who desperately want to bring Bogart back, as Bloom said, “He was our top priority, our immediate priority. We want him here.”
However, Bogaerts has officially opted to withdraw from the remaining three years and $60 million in his contract, as the Red Sox tries to lock up Rafael Devers for a contract extension as well.
“Ultimately, success comes when both parties sincerely want it,” says Cashman. “But it obviously gets a lot of interference when other people are invited to the party, and that takes a life of its own. Free agency is designed to create this kind of outcome, so it’s hard to predict. But in the end, if both sides hearts in The right place, and they can find the sweet spot.”
The sunflower audition may prevent negotiations from becoming public, as Cashman still vividly remembers the feud that arose when Hall of Fame’s Derek Jeter became a free agent.
“We got skewed in our negotiations with the DJ,” Cashman said. “It was ugly sometimes, and you try to keep it under wraps, but sometimes you get drawn into the middle of the PR side of it.
“There’s a lot of interest, and when you’re in a bigger market, there’s more interest. And when you’re talking about great players, there’s more interest. Even though I’ve been 1,000 times though, it seems, that doesn’t make the next phase any easier.” …everyone is doing their best, and then you have to live with it however it goes.”
Now, for the first time since I started rebuilding the Orioles in 2018 with a 115th loss season, they can actually join the big boys and take part in the free agent fun too.
“We are in a very different strategic situation,” Elias said. “I think we’re looking at this as a time when we hope to make some major league acquisitions that will increase our chances of making the playoffs. We think the team is ready for that.
“We’ve got sort of an empty payroll, and it’s a really good time to start ramping up the resources we’re dedicating to the major league roster.
“It doesn’t mean we’ll go from zero to 60 in one year, but we’ll start the process of raising it.”
Let the hot burner action begin, this time as everyone pays all their chips, competing on the greatest and most compelling baseball teams.
This time, without a single weak link.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: AL East is set once again to be MLB Divisional Best in 2023