The Angels will sign Josh Hamilton. What does that mean for the playoff picture the Red Sox are hoping to sneak back into?
The Angels will sign Josh Hamilton to a five-year deal, according to Jon Morosi. The obvious impact on Boston here is that, no, there will be no surprise swoop for Hamilton on a reasonable 3-4 year deal. The Angels got desperate after their cross-town (well, nearby town) snapped up Zack Greinke from under their noses, and Arte Moreno decided to pull the trigger and open that huge wallet of his.
The other effect, though, is that the AL West is extremely different. The Rangers, who took the division last year, seem significantly weaker. The Angels have gotten a boost. Is there more competition now for that wild card spot the Sox are (realistically) eyeing? Or less?
It's not hard to make a case for either side. On the one hand, Texas took that wild card spot last year by a good four games over the Angels, who finished in third place with an 89-93 record. If you are of the mind that the Rangers remained the better team as the year wound down and entering into this offseason, then shifting Hamilton from Texas to Los Angeles could be enough to either flip the two, or bring them closer together in terms of quality.
If, on the other hand, you're of the mind that full year of Mike Trout and the possibility of a resurgent Pujols are enough to offset the loss of Torii Hunter and the uncertain contributions Texas will get from Jurickson Profar, then this move might serve to solidify power that the Angels already had.
In the former case, there will be more competitors for the two wild cards, but less competition from each. In the latter, there will be fewer competitors, but if Oakland stays strong than either they or the Angels will likely be in a pretty dominant position.
The question then becomes: is it better to have more, stronger competitors for two spots, or fewer, weaker competitors for one. And in that situation you have to look around at the rest of the competition.
The real competition outside of the West will most likely be coming from within our own division. While it's possible that the Central gets super-lopsided, for now it seems like the moves of the offseason will serve not to polarize it, but to bring everyone closer to the middle. Except maybe Houston. Still, though, it doesn't seem likely to produce a real challenge.
Over here on the coast, though, all five teams are in play, and while one playoff spot is guaranteed, the rest is in flux. The Jays are a complete crapshoot who could win 95 or 75 games next year (and while they could look all the way to Florida to see that, they really need go no further than Boston). The Rays are still themselves even knowing that Wil Myers isn't likely to equal James Shields' production just yet. The Yankees always seem to pull off 90+ wins even as their roster gets older and more dilapidated by the year. And who can say if the Orioles are one-year wonders or a burgeoning power? For all their luck in one-run games, there are some young guys there who can really play.
That leaves us with three competitors in the A.L. East besides the Red Sox. Let's go ahead and say that the competition and random variance leaves one of them disappointed, and it's not us (because, if it is, there's no point to this exercise to begin with). After all, when's the last time five teams in a division finished above .500? In that situation, we've got either three teams to compete with for one spot, or four to compete with for two.
Personally, I'm of the mind that the Angels have really flipped the tables on the Rangers. I'd still put money on the Rangers being a good team, but I'm not sure if 90 wins isn't their ceiling now barring some significant move or Profar going all Mike Trout on the league. For my money the Angels will contend for the West while not spending much time in September worrying about a playoff spot, which will leave the Red Sox hoping to semi-Cinderella their way into the final spot.
And, frankly, that's probably the best-case scenario for Boston. Hopefully this insane AL East will serve to keep the records muted. If so, it's certainly better to be facing a bunch of other teams gunning for 88-90 wins rather than two out West who each think 95 is in sight.