I agree with Buster. It just seems like the AL, as a whole, is more free spending than the NL. The NL has lost so many stars in the last 5-6 years it is tough to bounce back.
AL paid good money for success
The American League won 8 of 14 interleague games Friday -- an off-day for the AL, really, considering its overall domination -- and now has racked up 139 victories and just 85 defeats.
Tommy Lasorda said the other day that this is all cyclical, and that the National League had a similar domination in the '60s and '70s. I don't think it's that simple, or that random, and I don't think the situation is going to change any time soon.
1. Baseball's two financial superpowers, the Red Sox and Yankees, both play in the American League, and their rivalry -- and spending -- forces responses from other AL teams. In almost every offseason in recent years, most of the best free agents sign in the AL.
Look at the salary structure in baseball. The four highest-spending teams are in the AL, and the 14 AL teams have spent a combined total of $1.168 billion in salaries, an average of $83.4 million. The 16 NL teams, on the other hand, have spent $1.158 billion, an average of $72 million. Sure, the AL teams might be overzealous in their competitiveness, and there are deals like the Carl Pavano signing that are basically lost cash. But an average difference of $11 million is steep; the AL pays for talent, as B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett will tell you.
2. The low-budget teams in the AL have been more successful than their NL counterparts, generally speaking, raising the overall quality of the league. The Minnesota Twins rank 19th in payroll, overall, but have been a contender in every year in this decade. We all know the track record of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. The Indians are having a bad year, but they have been very competitive the last couple of seasons, despite ranking near the bottom in total payroll.
3. The designated hitter. AL teams field nine-deep lineups -- they pay good money for that extra hitter -- and generally, the design strategy within the league is to wear down opposing starting pitchers. No NL team other than the Mets really does that kind of thing, and some executives believe it really affects the interleague play. "When an AL team plays in a NL park, they're struggling with the tough decision of who to take out of the lineup -- David Ortiz or Kevin Youkilis, for example," said one talent evaluator. "But when an NL team plays in an AL park, they really have to stretch to find that extra hitter. They're not going to spend to get that extra veteran hitter on their roster, just for the sake of a few interleague games."
My own view is that the best three teams in the majors right now are all in the AL -- the Tigers, White Sox and Red Sox -- and then you could make a case for the Mets being fourth. After that, it's the Yankees, the Twins (with the emergence of Francisco Liriano), Toronto, Oakland and Texas. And then St. Louis.
The difference between the leagues is staggering right now, and it's not going to change until the Dodgers, the Cardinals or the Mets start spending very big dollars and forcing the other NL teams to ante up.