The Yankees and Red Sox will always be the center of the baseball universe. No one is (or should be) debating that fact. No other organizations in baseball can generate as many fans and as many enemies as these two teams. Sure, the Phillies and Braves also have legions of dedicated fans, but in sheer volume, novice fans' first baseball cap they purchase is most likely to be navy blue with a white NY or red B on it. This is the way of the world. And up until this year, there was never any question about who would have the highest payroll in the game (the Yankees), but by how much?
But it wasn’t just the Yankees and Red Sox that dominated the baseball climate. Virtually the entire eastern half of the United States dominated baseball. The Yanks, Red Sox, Tigers, White Sox, Braves, Phillies, and Cubs were all beloved beyond measure of the teams out West. But for the first time ever, things have changed. Obviously, it has been reported time and again that the new power structure in baseball resides in the west with the Dodgers and the Angels and we aren’t here to dispute that. But is this a growing fad in baseball or is this a permanent shift in the focus of fans?
At first glance (it’s still very early) it appears this isn’t going away. The west has a lot going for it right now.
1. San Francisco Giants. They may not receive as much airtime on ESPN as the east coast teams, but last time we checked, the Giants have won two of the last three World Series and completely embarrassed the favored Detroit Tigers by sweeping them in the most recent Fall Classic.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers. It isn’t just about the payroll, though $230 million is a figure I’d never dreamt of seeing. It’s the sheer amount of talent and hype surrounding this team (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun Jin Ryu). With the spending power this team has, they won’t go away, ever. If they aren’t competitive, they’ll simply buy every free agent until they are.
3. Texas Rangers. All-American type of image? Check. International sensation as the staff ace? Check. Beautiful backdrop? Check. Baseball Icon as the owner? Check. Minor League system chocked so full of talent they’ll churn out major league regulars for the next decade? Check. Perhaps the only thing threatening this organization is Michael Young, Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton’s exodus and Nelson Cruz’s reported steroid use.
4. Los Angeles Angels. For the next six years at least, fans will have the opportunity to watch the former greatest player on Earth (Albert Pujols) team up with the current greatest player on Earth (21 year old Mike Trout). Oh yeah, then there’s the whole Josh Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, Jered Weaver group too who are sticking around for another four to five years. Not to mention they too seem to be willing to spend money (150 million dollar payroll).
5. Rivalry. The first four teams listed here also happen to be rivals. The Giants and Dodgers rivalry is second only to the Yanks Red Sox. It is bitter, hard-fought and a metaphor for a greater dislike between Nor-Cal and So-Cal residents. The Dodgers also have an inner-city (in name only until the Angels inevitably leave Anaheim for downtown LA, but that's for another article) rivalry with the Angels. The Freeway Series has always been a big draw for local fans. The Angels and Rangers also have perhaps the fastest growing rivalry in the sport as well. The Angels embody California with their fresh faces (Trout), long blond hair (Weaver) and the occasional beach ball that annoyingly interrupts the game. Fans generally don’t show up until the bottom of the second inning and the environment is extraordinarily relaxed in comparison to teams back east. By contrast, Texas hates everything California. Their fans will drive 12 hours straight just to attend games and often television broadcasts depict the sort of down home, American, family atmosphere the Rangers strive (and succeed if you ask me) to achieve. They typically view California fans (Giants, Angels, and Dodgers) as everything they oppose both morally and politically.
6. The Oakland A’s actually upset both the Rangers and Angels and won the AL West last season. Their starting rotation features five pitchers all under the age of 25 with an ERA under four.
7. The D-Backs finished right at .500 last season but have a starting rotation that is literally eight men deep (Kennedy, Cahill, McCarthy, Hudson, Miley, Skaggs, Corbin, and Delgado), many of which are also under the age of 25.
8. The Padres have a plethora of talent with Carlos Quentin, Chase Headley, Yonder Alonso, and Yasmani Grandal. They also may end up moving power hitting 3B prospect Jedd Gyorko to 2B, which would give San Diego a stellar infield to go with a deep pitching staff that fits their ballpark and a minor league system bursting at the seams with prospects.
9. The Mariners added sluggers Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse via trade to boost their offense and have a rotation that features King Felix (3.06 ERA), Hisashi Iwakuma (3.14 ERA), and Erasmo Ramirez (3.36 ERA). Their minor league system has two lefties (Danny Hultzen and James Paxton) and two righties (Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer) that should be ready within the next two seasons and project toward the front of a rotation.
10. The Rockies have Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer and Willin Rosario all in the same lineup, in a park that favors hitters. They’ll also be adding A-Grade prospects (B+ actually) Trevor Story, David Dahl, Nolan Arenado, and Kyle Parker to their lineup soon. They may score 800+ runs a year for the next decade. If they get any starting pitching, they may do some serious damage.
Does all of this mean that fans won’t be cheering on the Yankees and Red Sox anymore? No. Does it mean the best teams in baseball are all out west now? No, the Braves, Yanks, Blue Jays, and Nationals are all situated back east and should all be good for a while. I think the best way to describe the power shift would be to say that it’s the natural growth of the sport. Teams out west now have money to spend and have been in place long enough to grow a dedicated fan base to support them. In fact, it may not be as much of a power shift as much as it is a greater balance. Now that powerhouses are situated on both sides of the country, and teams with bright futures line the AL and NL West, the power structure of baseball will now be more balanced than it ever has before.