A League of Their Own
Lou Piniella smiled. He admitted being happy to be out of the American League. "I am glad I am here," he said of being manager of the Cubs.
And why wouldn't he be? The AL has become a beast. The Yankees and the Red Sox were the trendsetters, but now many teams are following suit, building and building for what should be a race next year in which you very possibly can have 90-plus-win teams miss the playoffs.
Keeping up with all of the behemoths in the American League is getting tougher and tougher. Teams are forced to make big moves in order to simply keep up with everyone else. To make matters worse, the Yankees and the Red Sox have extremely good farm systems to pair up with their ability to spend exorbitant amounts of cash.
It is a truly scary thought and even the Tigers, who have liquidated their farm system over the past two off-seasons between graduation to the bigs and trades, have Rick Porcello in their farm system who could be a future ace on short order. The teams on top of the American League are not going anywhere anytime soon and many teams in the AL have to make the all important decision to blow it up or try to hang with them. Most teams have decided to hang with them and step up their game.
Despite the difference being reported by the media between the two leagues, I always thought the AL was deeper while the NL was simply more top heavy. Sure they were not as deep as the AL, but surely their top teams could hang with the AL's big boys and direct evidence of that was the fact the NL has managed to walk away with some World Series Championships over the past few years. The Diamondbacks won in 2001, the Marlins won in 2003, and the Cardinals won in 2006. The NL's big boys could hang with the AL, no? Not so much.
I took the records of the top three teams in each division in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 and found out how well they did against the other league. The AL's top teams had a .602 winning % while the NL's top teams had a .495 winning %. Just let that one sink in. If you want to really put up an embarrassing stat, the bottom two teams in each division of the AL over that same period up time put up a .518 winning% while their NL counterparts performed exactly as you would expect last place teams to perform and had a .402 winning%.
When people say, the Devil Rays could be contenders in the NL, I do not doubt them. In fact, every team but the Orioles, Royals, and Rangers would be considered contenders in the National League. There is basically no justifiable way I can defend my favorite league any more and it is becoming quite embarrassing.
The real crux of the problem is outlined by a GM of a National League team.
"If we played in the other league, I'd probably do that," he said. "But in this league, I don't have to do it. If we keep the guys we'd give up, we have just as much chance to be playing in October as we would if we made the deal. So why do it?"
The only good thing I can think of is that the NL teams are hanging onto their youth and looking towards the future. The Reds have something brewing, the Dodgers are on the up and up with a group of top prospects, the Diamondbacks appear loaded, the Brewers have some solid youth, the Mets are on the right path if they could develop some pitching, etc. However, at this point in time no one feels compelled to take any giant leaps out front because they simply do not have to.
Omar appears to be the only guy will to make some bold moves, but no one wants to even deal with him for the parts he is looking for. Overall though, it seems that these GMs do not feel challenged enough to be compelled enough to start making some power moves to shift the balance of power overwhelmingly into their favor. I am not quite sure if that is a smart or ill-advised move, but that is what is going on and not much happened this year to close the gap between the two leagues and things actually seemed to have widen.