Optimism abounds in parity-rich AL

January 3rd, 2016

Something remarkable has happened in the American League this offseason: Every team has caught every other team. No, seriously. At least it seems that way.

All 15 AL teams believe they're good enough to make the postseason in 2016. Has it ever been this way before? There's some generous optimism in play here, but the larger point is valid. And this is a cool thing for baseball.

Every team is going to show up at Spring Training next month with some justifiable confidence that this might just be one of those special seasons. Baseball has never had more competitive balance than right now, and we've been reminded of that the last few weeks in how aggressively teams have pursued talent.

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If the Royals and Mets can do it, if the Pirates and Astros can do it, then no club has an excuse for not doing it. The thing is, the AL already had balance, as 12 of 15 teams have made at least one postseason appearance the last three seasons.

Of the five postseason teams in 2015, only the Royals also made the playoffs in '14. Now take a look around. Better yet, look at the bottom of the '15 standings and check out the three last-place teams: Red Sox, Tigers and Athletics.

Would you wager a dollar on all of them making the playoffs in 2016? For instance:

Red Sox: New president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has significantly upgraded his club by adding David Price to the top of his rotation and Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith to the back of his bullpen.

Dombrowski has done enough that the Red Sox could be favored to win the AL East. Plenty can still go wrong. Can Clay Buchholz stay healthy? Can Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly be healthy and productive? Can David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia still play at a high level? Finally, will Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. continue to get better?

Maybe it's optimistic to pencil in the Red Sox atop the division. The Blue Jays are still solid, and the Yankees are sure to be competitive. The Orioles and Rays are works in progress, and who knows how they will turn out?

But the Red Sox, after finishing last three of the past four seasons with a World Series title mixed in, appear capable of a dramatic turnaround. And isn't that the definition of parity?

Tigers: Dombrowski's former team has gotten way better, too. New general manager Al Avila added Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey to a rotation that still has Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. He upgraded the bullpen by getting Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe. If the big guys in the middle of the lineup -- Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez -- stay on the field, the Tigers have a chance to win a division that could be as evenly matched as any.

The Indians could enter Opening Day as the AL Central favorites despite the Royals having won back-to-back pennants. And the Twins and White Sox have gotten better as well. The Tigers, Twins and White Sox attacked this offseason with the understanding that they had ground to make up. They also approached it with the confidence that any of the five teams could win it.

Athletics: The men in charge, Billy Beane and David Forst, have had a quiet offseason thus far -- in that they didn't make a single earth-shaking deal. Rather, they made a string of moves that impacted every area of their roster.

To a poor bullpen, they added Ryan Madson, Marc Rzepczynski and Liam Hendriks. To the rotation, they added Henderson Alvarez and Rich Hill. Finally, they remade the right side of the infield with Jed Lowrie and Yonder Alonso. If Jarrod Parker and Coco Crisp are healthy and Sonny Gray and Jesse Hahn are productive at the top of the rotation, the Athletics might just be good enough to contend in the AL West.

These are snapshots of what is happening inside the AL. Three other teams -- the Rays, White Sox and Mariners -- also had losing records in 2015, and all of them appear to have improved this offseason.

Does anyone think all 15 teams will enter September within five games of a playoff berth? Of course not. Don't be silly. But on Opening Day, all 15 teams are optimistic about their chances to do just that. They all approached the offseason as if no teardown-and-rebuild was necessary.

If you're wondering about what's unique about this era of baseball, this just might be it. Optimism abounds. And is justified.