AL East, AL Central: Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery

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AL East, AL Central: Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery

Think about the general perception of the AL East over the last 15 years.

Since I have been following baseball (McGwire and Sosa's [PED induced] HR contest is the starting point) the AL East has had a similar set of storylines.

The hated Yankees spend money like it's going out of style, and the Red Sox are not far behind. Miring in the annual competition for third place (or second, but no Wild Card berth) are the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rays.

Perennially, the Yankees have been successful with a simple strategy: have a hole in the lineup? Plug it with an All-Star free agent. Have a hole in the bullpen? Plug it with a 40-homer FA. Have only three quality starters? You get the idea.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox were once seen as a hapless franchise, mired in constant failure: to the Yankees, to the AL playoff teams when they beat the Yankees, and to the NL pennant winner when they beat the AL. This is clearly no longer the case. The Red Sox are the defending champs and in the midst of an "almost" dynasty.

Every year a pundit or two sees the Blue Jays are seen as a "sleeper" pick, but nobody can get hurt and everybody needs to have a bounce back year for that to happen.

The Orioles are a once proud franchise that is now in the midst of a massive rebuilding. This begins with the departure of their left-handed ace for a blue-chip centerfielder.

The Rays are an up-and-coming team chalk full of prospects, but with no proven success and a long history of losing.

The roles that these teams occupy within their division are clear-cut and generally accepted by casual fans and obsessive stat-geeks alike.

Now think of the AL Central.

The Tigers have a ridiculous lineup. They acquired the lineup by trading away their best prospects.

The Indians have had a series of heartbreaking postseason losses, despite continued success in the regular season.

The White Sox have good parts and recent success. But they need "everything" to go right and their entire lineup to have a bounce back year in order to regain form.

The Twins are coming off a string of recent success and are in the midst of rebuilding.  They do this, most notably, by trading away their left-handed ace for a blue chip centerfielder.

And the Royals have up-and-coming big leaguers and a good core of players to make their loyal fan base forget the long history of losing teams.

From top to bottom, the teams in these two divisions resemble each other.

The Tigers are the Yankees of 10 years ago (pre-Cashman), the Indians are the Red Sox pre-2004, the White Sox are the Blue Jays from the post-Carter walk-off, the Twins are the Orioles today, and the Royals are just a couple years behind the Rays.

Perhaps this is just a coincidence. A consequence due to the fact that each division has two (seemingly) dominant teams, and the remaining teams fall into a certain pecking order naturally behind them.

Perhaps there is a cyclical nature that the divisional playoff format manifests as each team battles to win their particular division first, and the World Series second.

But, it is worth considering that each of these teams is trying to imitate each other, knowingly, or unknowingly, for better or for worse.

The Tigers have an owner who is willing to pull out all the stops. GM Dave Dombrowski is willing to go out and get all the best players, no matter what the cost down the line. The fact is, while good hitters are often available, good pitching rarely is. So the practice of acquiring the "best" players leads to a stacked lineup.

The Indians have a long-term minded GM, excellent scouts, and a balanced roster. This makeup lends itself to strategic selling of parts to acquire new pieces that will provide continuity. However, it also disallows the accumulation of talent that leads to championships.

The White Sox are forced to compete with two more talented teams and must scramble to appease their loyal fan base eager to relive their recent successes. But, the parts aren't there. Each season looks more and more like a failing Frankenstein collection of parts than like a growing organization.

The Royals had a promising 2003, winning 83 games. But that season was an aberration, and 2004-2005 signaled time to blow things up and start over. The Royals are now two to three years behind the Rays in terms of organizational development. They had to start over because they didn't even have the pieces to reload their system through trades.

The Twins made their run at the World Series with top-notch pitching. Now, after realizing they don't have the horses anymore, they have traded away the face(s) of their franchise and are building upon budding stars Morneau and Mauer.

I don't know if the Tigers used the Yankees as their business plan, or if the White Sox liken themselves to the Blue Jays. But it is very apparent that the similarities between these two divisions and their respective teams runs deeper than the superficial structure of having two dominating teams.

The thought process of the fan bases, players, and management are in sync with each of their bizarre selves. As a fan of not just baseball games and teams, but a fan of organizations and the sport of baseball, I can't help but admire the way that things sort themselves out in such a particular manner.

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