Since 1998, only four times a team that’s not the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees has won the AL East. The division is a lot more open than in previous seasons, the pillars of this division remain the same.
The Red Sox won the AL East in 2016. After two years of missing the postseason, they finished first, only to lose against the Cleveland Indians in their first postseason series since winning the championship in 2013. David Ortiz had an incredible retirement season, but the Red Sox won 93 games thanks to their fantastic group of young players: Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rick Porcello, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada, all contributing differently to the season, or have a big part to play in the future. Not one of them is 28. All of them are controllable for at least four more seasons.
The two standouts are obviously Betts and Porcello. Betts, only 24, hit 31 home runs and led the AL in total bases while finishing second in the MVP voting, adding a gold glove and silver slugger award to his incredible 2016. Porcello won the Cy Young award (too much controversy because he received less first place votes than Justin Verlander), going 22-4 as a starter with a career-best 3.15 ERA. The Red Sox have an incredible core to count on for quite some time, even if Ortiz is going to be difficult to replace, not just in terms of numbers.
A few hours South in the Bronx, the Yankees boast an incredibly deep prospect pool thanks to their recent trades. However, when it comes to their “senior” team, they are in a good, but not as good as the Red Sox kind of situation. The four youngsters who stand out among immediate contributors are Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius. Both Sanchez and Gregorius seemed to come out of nowhere this season to help the aging team clear a path for a younger and better future.
Tanaka and Betances are both 28. Sanchez is 23, finishing second in the rookie of the year voting for his 20 home runs in just 53 games, helping the Yankees push Brian McCann out the door. Gregorius, 26, more than doubled his home run production compared to last season, and is controllable through 2019. Tanaka, 7th on the Cy Young voting, is the jewel of their rotation, but can opt out after the 2017 season. He makes $22 million a year through 2020 if he stays.
Bottom line? Things may still change, and the Yankees seem a bit more eager to make impact additions this offseason compared to the Red Sox, but Boston seem to have a stronger core meant to succeed right now, or in the next two years, in place. The Yankees? The future is bright for them, but unless they return to making some sort of splash in free agency, their youth movement is going to need some more time before it becomes the main part of this team, and start leading the franchise to better days.