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The competition in the AL East isn’t getting any easier

It’s a long road ahead, but it’s one that has to be taken.

League Championship - Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Red Sox, as is no secret to anyone paying a modicum of attention to baseball this summer, have a lot of work to do assuming they want to be good again sooner than later, which I believe they do. There were some extenuating circumstances this year to be sure, some of which affected other teams though not all, but you don’t perform as poorly as the Red Sox unless you have very real flaws. So, as they look ahead to the offseason coming up, the first step is simply getting back to something resembling a contending roster. To get there, the concentration is 100 percent on themselves. They don’t have to compare their roster to anyone else’s at the stage in which they find themselves. It’s only about them and getting their roster to a respectable level, which they very much were not at in 2020 and will not be at again in 2021 without real changes.

All of that said, the hope, and frankly the expectation, is indeed to be at a spot where you do have to compare yourself to another roster. The first step is getting to competence. The next step is getting to contention. And to get to contention, you need to be better than the other teams, specifically the ones in your division. For most of the last couple decades, that hasn’t been all that complicated. Generally speaking, there’s been maybe two other solid teams with whom they must compete. That’s not going to be the case looking ahead for the next handful of years, though. While things change on a dime and nothing is certain for any team, given what we know right now the American League East is going to be tough for a little bit.

League Championship - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Three Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Rays are obviously already good. I say obviously because, well, they’re one of four teams still playing baseball and as I write this at the start of Tuesday’s game they’re two wins away from a World Series berth. They may only be one win away by the time you’re reading this. Tampa Bay has a tendency to change quickly due to their disinterest in spending money, but they have a good enough nucleus to be good for the next few years, and when they decide to turn that over they have the game’s best farm system on which to lean. And when they inevitably trade their stars when they get too expensive, they’ll just restock that farm. It’s certainly not the way I would like to see major-league teams operating and there’s a ton of risk involved, but as much as I hate to admit it the Rays have been a winning team. There’s little sign of that slowing down.

The Yankees have not made a World Series since I was just starting college in 2009, which is a neat fact I like to share with my Yankee fan friends when I get the chance, but that undersells how consistently good they’ve been. People will point to their large payroll, which obviously helps, but A) spending isn’t bad and B) they also are among the best in the league at identifying diamonds in the rough and making the most of them. Again, it pains me to admit it, but Brian Cashman is on the shortlist for best GMs in the game. They still have a core of Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Urshela and Luke Voit in the lineup. Gerrit Cole is still on the shortlist of best pitchers in the game. Luis Severino will be back next year. Deivi Garcia looks like an up-and-coming stud in the rotation. And they still have the Yankees payroll. I hope as much as anyone that their postseason woes continue, but it’s hard to see them not being in the postseason picture every year for the foreseeable future.

Those two were givens coming into this year, but Toronto was seen as a team that had a bright future that weren’t quite there. Yes, they were aided by an expanded playoff field but they arrived in October this year. And, I probably don’t have to say it but Red Sox fans don’t really have a leg to stand on if you’re going to use the expanded playoff field argument. Anyway, the Blue Jays still aren’t complete, but they have a core on offense of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio. Lourdes Gurriel is very underrated. Teoscar Hernandez suddenly became an elite power hitter. Rowdy Tellez is Barry Bonds 19 days a year against the Red sox. While they need pitching, Hyun-Jin Ryu will be a short-term solution at the top of their rotation and Nate Pearson showed what he can do for their future. This postseason run was the beginning for Toronto, not a blip.

Now, you say to yourself, confused as to why you’re suddenly bringing your inner monologue to the external world, at least there’s the Orioles to beat up on! And to you I say, maybe for a little bit! The Orioles clearly have the farthest to go in this division and the Red Sox should still very much be ahead of them in 2021, but their future is brightening. This year, Anthony Santander was legitimately awesome before he got hurt. Ryan Mountcastle came up and showed his bat plays up here. Adley Rutschman, the former number one overall pick, isn’t far away. Trey Mancini should be back next year. Don’t get me wrong. They still have a long way to go, but at the very least they aren’t going to be total punching bags in the near future, and longer term they are trending in the right direction.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you where the Red Sox stand in this hierarchy either short-term or long. We have no idea what rosters will look like next year. I’m also not going to use this as an excuse for them to take a longer time building back up. That will be the argument from some, and there’s some logic to it. Teams are good now, so take an extra year or two to really get it right and hope the good teams decline.

I’m not about that life. They should be trying to win, and win as many games as possible every single season. The reason I point out the division is not to throw my hands up, but rather set the stage for the challenge ahead. It’s going to be even more difficult than it had been in the past to squeeze their way to the top of this division. That’s a challenge, and the front office has to be up for it beginning as soon as transactions start back up following the World Series.