Jay Webster, a journalist who specialises in American sports coverage, casts his eye over some interesting developments in U.S. baseball.
Quick, what’s the best rivalry in baseball? Red Sox and Yankees, you say? Not a bad answer, considering that since the play-offs expanded in 1995, either the Yankees or Red Sox have won the AL Wild Card 11 out of 17 times. That effectively means they have been head and shoulders above other teams in the American League for most of the past 20 years.
Of course there is a ton of history and bad blood between the teams going all the way back to the early 1900s to help add fuel to the fire. But as the 2012 season dawns, Red Sox v Yankees is downright passé. For the hottest rivalry around you need to look West, young man (or young lady): the American League West is where the action is.
The Red Sox and Yankees usually have the best teams because they have the deepest pockets to buy the top talent. New York and Boston still have the highest payrolls in the AL at $205 million and $168 million respectively. But with new long-term multi-billion dollar local television deals in place, the Rangers and Angels have loosened the purse strings.
While Boston and New York stayed out of the free agent market this off-season, for a change, the Angels dug deep to sign free agent Albert Pujols – only the best hitter in baseball – to a 10-year, $240 million contract. They then shelled out another $77.5 million over five years to snag the Rangers’ best pitcher, lefty CJ Wilson.
Not to be outdone, the Rangers won the bidding war for 25-year-old Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish for $111 million. Some $60 million of which went to Darvish and $51 million to his Japanese club.
A few years ago, the AL West belonged to the Angels. They made the play-offs six out of 10 years and won a World Series title in 2002. But the Rangers have pushed Anaheim off the top of the heap, reaching the World Series each of the past two seasons, and coming one strike away from winning it all last year.
The Rangers finished 10 games ahead of the Angels in the standing last season, but Pujols is a game-changer. The 32-year-old first baseman leads all active players in career batting average (.328), slugging percentage (.617), and OPS (1.037), and he ranks 37th all time in home runs with 445. He’s a three-time Most Valuable Player, has won two Gold Glove Awards and owns two World Series titles.
This is the best baseball player on the planet, folks. With the Yankees getting older, and the Red Sox coming off one of the worst late-season collapses in baseball history, the sun might just be setting on the east and rising in the west.