In case you missed it, yesterday was a big day in the AL East. The Red Sox clinched the division, even if that had already become a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, the Rays and Orioles churned through a record twenty-one pitchers in an epic, 18-inning contest that left Tampa in the driver's seat of the Wild Card race. Here are some notes on the division:
- The Red Sox' turnaround exceeded even the team's internal expectations, writes Alex Speier of WEEI.com. While the Sox pegged the likeliest outcome as an 86-win campaign, with an outside shot at a low-90's figure, Boston has already notched 94 W's with seven left to go. "I think we're all in a bit of shock," said team chairman Tom Werner.
- Speier provides a detailed explanation of how the team effected its dramatic turnaround, ranging from the return to form of several regulars (especially in the rotation), development of an impressive bench (including the DFA'd Mike Carp), and improved focus and chemistry. As Speier notes, the front office "nailed one bull's-eye after another while turning over roughly a third of its roster."
- Under GM Ben Cherington, Boston has transformed its organization and with it the product on the field, writes Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com. As with the Speier piece, you'll want to read the entire article, but the most interesting bits relate to the GM's philosophies. Approaching his post with a long-term focus, humble evaluative framework, and open mind, Gammons explains how Cherington has infused solid, hard-working pieces into the organization.
- Rotation stalwart Andy Pettitte's forthcoming retirement is yet another reminder that a Yankee era is ending, writes Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com. The team faces a wide array of roster challenges heading into 2013, says Knobler, with age and injury questions around the diamond, no attractive catching options, and a meager free agent market to play in.
- Of course, given the team's unequaled spending capacity, one is always loath to count out the Bronx Bombers. Indeed, GM Brian Cashman has navigated countless hurdles this season to deliver a contender, though the team is now highly likely to miss out on the postseason for just the second time in the last nineteen years. Looking ahead, the Yanks have relatively meager overall commitments in comparison to their historical $200MM+ payroll levels: $89MM in 2014 (six players, one buy-out); $68.1MM in 2015 (three players); $69.1MM in 2016 (three players); and $26MM in 2017 (one player, one buy-out). And that is before accounting for any dollars saved via the yet-to-be-finalized Alex Rodriguez suspension. Of course, those amounts do not account for a new deal for Robinson Cano, and it is looking increasingly likely that the team's long-term commitments may deliver little in on-field production.
- The Blue Jays have long been the lone AL East team with nothing left to play for in 2013. The team's brass has already begun evaluating and planning for next year, reports Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. Addressing a reader question, Griffin says that the team has little reason to waste its energy pursuing star second baseman Robinson Cano, but could instead take advantage of salary coming off the books after 2015 to make a back-loaded offer to a free agent pitcher.
- Looking forward, Toronto has a heavily front-loaded set of salary obligations after carrying a franchise-high $119.3MM payroll on opening day this year. The Jays have the league's fourth-highest contract commitments for both 2014 ($110.5MM) and 2015 ($91.2MM), but are locked into a below-average $27.6MM in 2016. To back-load money to a free agent this offseason, however, would mean giving out at least a three- or four-year deal, and there do not appear to be many starters on the market that would warrant that kind of commitment.