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Offseason moves boost competition to new heights

Parity should make for great races in all six divisions in 2015
MLB.com

As the 2014-15 winter snows its way toward the finish line, 23 Major League teams can consider themselves genuine postseason contenders. This is admittedly an unofficial estimate. But it is also could be a conservative estimate.

After a offseason of wheeling and dealing, some teams previously categorized as "have-nots" have become big-time "haves." In an era characterized by competitive balance, the whole parity thing could be reaching record levels.

As the 2014-15 winter snows its way toward the finish line, 23 Major League teams can consider themselves genuine postseason contenders. This is admittedly an unofficial estimate. But it is also could be a conservative estimate.

After a offseason of wheeling and dealing, some teams previously categorized as "have-nots" have become big-time "haves." In an era characterized by competitive balance, the whole parity thing could be reaching record levels.

When Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig preached for years about baseball owing its customers "hope and faith" in as many franchises and in as many places as possible, this was close to what came to mind. Nearly 77 percent of Major League clubs should be solidly in the postseason hunt in 2015.

Let us briefly review, division by division.

American League Central
This might be the best division in the game. The Tigers won the division, the Royals went to the World Series, the Indians were already in the hunt and the White Sox are now vastly improved. You can't categorize the Twins as postseason contenders, but they are distinctly improved. Four out of five teams should be in contention, but this season, that might be the average race in all divisions.

Video: White Sox introduce Samardzija, Cabrera and Robertson

AL East
You can make an argument for or against any of these five teams, although the arguments for the Red Sox and the Blue Jays seem more convincing than most. There isn't a dominant team here, but that's the whole point. In any case, Toronto needs to reach the postseason, to clean up an unfinished parity statistic. In this century, 29 of 30 Major League teams have reached the postseason. Thirty of 30 is a lot cleaner than 29 of 30, when the competitive balance argument is made.

Video: Martin looking forward to playing in home country

AL West
There can't be any debate about the Angels and the Mariners. But the Rangers, after a demoralizing season on the health front, have made some useful additions. And they have to be healthier, because that is the only direction left. They'll be back in the mix. There can be an endless debate about the near-total makeover the A's engineered. But general manager Billy Beane is not often wrong in these matters. His club won't be doing a disappearing act, either.

Video: Outlook: Slugger Cruz moves to spacious Safeco Field

National League Central
It's another five-for-five, with the arrival of the Cubs. The Cardinals have become perennial participants in the NL Championship Series. The Pirates have qualified for the postseason the past two seasons, and they are still progressing. The Brewers were in first place for 149 consecutive days last season, and they believe they can return to that level. The Reds lost some pitching, but they have considerable talent returning, and they'll be better simply because they'll get more than 62 games played from Joey Votto. And the Cubs are ready to forget about the whole 107-year drought deal.

Video: Outlook: Rizzo becoming one of MLB's top sluggers

NL East
All right, this is the anti-parity division, courtesy of the Nationals. They had the league's best record last season, then they added Max Scherzer to a rotation that was already as good as any in the game. The Braves are positioning themselves for future success. The Mets' young pitching gives them a future as well. But for 2015, the Marlins have made remarkable progress in this offseason. Miami not be able to take the division from Washington, but it can be fairly regarded as a legitimate NL Wild Card contender.

Video: Outlook: Scherzer remains top-tier pitching option

NL West
The Giants (winners of everything in even-numbered years) and the Dodgers (truly talent-laden) have been joined in contention by the Padres. San Diego staged one of the more remarkable offseasons in the history of offseasons. A new outfield, a new offense, a new ace in James Shields and a new outlook in this division race. There was not much more that could have been humanly possible.

Video: Corey Brock evaluates the Padres' busy offseason

But that appears to be the nature of Major League Baseball in 2015. More franchises have given themselves more genuine chances for success. As Spring Training draws nearer, hope and faith are not only present, they are with us in abundance.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.