Our MLB editor files dispatches from this year's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas in Notes From Sin City.
Three managers of AL East teams spoke with the media this afternoon/evening (for a more extended look at the Rays, try this), and with very little actually happening on the first day in Las Vegas, it's a good time to look at baseball's most imposing division.
The standard for excellence in the other divisions in baseball is roughly 90-92 wins. That's not the case in the East, where 95 wins are almost always required to guarantee a spot in the postseason.
For a team like the Orioles, that can be awfully intimidating. While the Yankees have their hand in virtually every free-agent pie, Baltimore is relegated to building slowly, to nurturing the farm system and hoping its young players pay off big in the near future.
"It's a great time to be an up and coming prospect in our organization," said manager Dave Trembley. But even with a collection of impressive young talent -- names like Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Nolan Reimold -- the O's are facing long odds and Trembley has no pie-in-the-sky aspirations, merely repeating the mantra "we have to get better."
Well, yeah, but the rub is just how much better they actually have to get.
The Red Sox and Yankees aren't going anywhere, and while the Rays offer hope that a team without limitless coffers can conquer the AL East, they also now represent a hindrance to the underclass in the division.
Joe Maddon talked about how much he loves the division his club plays in, saying it has and will "bring out the best" in his team, but will it bring out the best in the Orioles? "Once [the Rays] tasted what it was like to win, there was no turning back," said Trembley. He can only hope that the same is true for Wieters, Tillman, Matusz and the rest.
The Rays aren't going away. The Yankees are going to get several big-name free agents -- some combination of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Ben Sheets and Derek Lowe -- and lurking are the Red Sox, who might just be the true power in the AL East these days.
If Dr. Frankenstein took the best parts of the Yankees and Rays and made them into a monster, it'd probably look something like the Red Sox do now.
They always have money to spend, but that's particularly so this winter with a number of major contracts coming off the books. "I would bet Theo [Epstein]'s checking in with everybody," said manager Terry Francona of the Sox's free-agent pursuits here in Las Vegas.
But they also have tremendous organizational depth. "We don't feel the need to go sign someone for more years than we're comfortable with," he added later.
The AL East is hard enough to handicap heading into next season. How daunting must it be then to try and climb out of the cellar of the division after a decade of futility and try to get to the top of a 95-win mountain?
Notes From Sin City: Checking In on the Best Division in Baseball, the AL East originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Mon, 08 Dec 2008 23:20:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.