There is some sentiment going around that the A.L. East is weak. That could not be more incorrect.
It's true that the road to the World Series no longer seems destined to run through the East. The traditional powerhouses in Boston and New York are not as intimidating as they once were. But the division is making up for it, replacing top-heavy domination with mid-level parity.
It's been the actions of the Yankees, Rays, and Orioles that have set up this situation. The Yankees, usually massive spenders, have been content to sit tight, basically taking a gamble on Kevin Youkilis and not much else at all. The Rays have put on their long-term glasses, sending James Shields to Kansas City for Wil Myers. While it's certainly a good move for the organization, they're probably not going to see immediate dividends, and are certainly not likely to take a step forward given their losses in free agency. And while the Orioles were last year's darlings, they're going to have to fight off some serious regression given how little they've done to improve.
That has allowed the two basement dwellers of last year--Toronto and Boston--to have some hope. The way they've gone about it could not have been more different.
For the Blue Jays, often outclassed in terms of payroll to the point of being also-rans at best, this was their opportunity, and they were not going to miss it. Back in 2007, the Boston Celtics unloaded all the pieces they'd been saving up and spent as much as they were allowed to put together the Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. They mortgaged their future to win immediately, and did just that, taking home the NBA Championship at the end of the season. This is very much what they Jays have done, shipping out a ton of prospects (including four of their top-five) for R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson.
The result is a lot of talent for 2013, a lot of contracts that look worse and worse the further out you go, and far less minor league depth to bail them out should their players age poorly. In 2013 they could well be on top of the league. Any Jays fan looking even as early as 2015 has to be a little concerned, though, and past that point their success will have a lot to do with how well the farm system has recovered.
The Red Sox have taken a longer-term view to things. They will not be the team to beat in 2013, but the team trying to hang on and make a run of it. The additions the Red Sox have made to their 70-odd win team (and they do have a bit more ground to make up than the Jays) are less impressive. Stephen Drew is no Jose Reyes, and if Napoli, Victorino, and Dempster can each be valuable, no one of them can match the potential benefit Dickey can bring, much less when combined with Jonhson and Buehrle. Even Melky Cabrera has the chance to be huge. Add in the fact that the Jays are the only team who could gain as much from the Sox in terms of bounce backs and health, and there's no question which team is more likely to be looking up at the other come July.
That being said, it's hard to be too upset over this. It's true that having a whole bunch of decent teams in the East is a scenario that lends itself to a contending Sox team a lot better than having any sort of possible front-runner like the Jays seem to be. That being said, 2013 and 2014 have always been, to some extent, something of a long-shot. The Sox would make their moves and give each season a shot, but the focus has always been on 2015, 2016, etc. when we're hoping to have tons of production coming from league minimum players.
It's impossible to say what these teams will look like come 2015 and beyond. Six months ago we could not have imagined what the Red Sox would look like in 2013--things can change just that quickly in the MLB. Still, for a Sox team that's looking to 2015-and-beyond, having one of their competitors sell off so much of their future is actually kind of encouraging, even if it comes at the price of the upcoming season becoming all that much more difficult. For the Jays, of course, it's enough that they'll be one of the favorites to win it all going into 2013.