It's been a busy November in baseball. In the past thirty days, the largest contract in history of the sport was handed out from an unlikely source. Four free agents have signed deals worth north of $68 million and two major trades have relocated outstanding players in the heart of their prime. While much of the action transpired in the American League East, the Yankees have stayed home from the party so far, perhaps curled up on the couch watching reruns of Yankeeography to remind themselves of better days. Outside of the re-upping of Chris Young, the bench warmer-for-middle reliever swap of Francisco Cervelli for Justin Wilson and a minor league deal for hope-and-a-prayer candidate Andrew Bailey, the Yankees have watched their most familiar foes get better while they've stayed the same.
The Red Sox made the most noise of anyone this month, adding a new chapter to their rags to riches to rags again story of the past three seasons by gobbling up the two best hitters on the free agent market - Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval - for a combined guarantee of $183 million. For a club that was critical of the Yankees' free spending ways a year ago, that sure seemed like a trick straight from New York's bag. Regardless of what you think of a five-year commitment to the portly Sandoval or of paying Ramirez $22 mil per to move to the outfield where he's never played an inning (Nelson Cruz could attack the Monster and play bad defense for considerably less), the Yankees arch rivals are better than they were two weeks ago. On top of that they have plenty of depth to deal from to build up their shaky pitching. With the now superfluous Yoenis Cespedes drawing trade interest and plenty of young talent in their coffers - Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. - it wouldn't be shock to see Boston start the season with Cole Hamels, or maybe Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner in their rotation. They could also spend whatever cash they've got left on a Jon Lester return, or on Max Scherzer or James Shields. If the Yankees don't act, the Red Sox seem to have the wherewithal to jump the 13-game gap that separated the two teams in 2014.
Across the border, the Blue Jays went out early on Black Friday and scored a whopper of a door-buster special in Josh Donaldson, whose 14.1 fWAR since 2013 ranks third in the majors. That move came after Toronto had already spent $82.5 million to reel in compatriot Russell Martin and resolve a catching situation that's been a weakness for years. With that duo joining Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes, the Jays will field one of the more daunting lineups in the game next season. They have some holes to plug in the outfield, where Melky Cabrera is likely a goner, and in a rotation led by the solid but unspectacular in Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, but Dalton Pompey will draw Rookie of the Year buzz in center after tearing through three levels of the minors, and contributions from young arms like Marcus Stroman and Daniel Norris could turn their pitching from a weakness to a strength. Toronto finished just a game behind the Yankees in 2014, so there's reason to be concerned about the Jays and their quest to end a 22-year playoff drought.
The Orioles blew everyone away last year as they cruised to a 96-win season and a 12-game division conquest. They'll probably lose Nelson Cruz and his 40 bombs and perhaps even longtime mainstay Nick Markakis, but a healthy year from Manny Machado and some positive regression from Chris Davis would help manage that. The Orioles have had a knack the past few years of making seemingly minor moves that pay huge dividends (Davis, Cruz, Wei-Yin Chen, Steve Pearce), but even if they do nothing of note, the Yankees need to improve in order to fly in their stratosphere.
Finally there's Tampa Bay whose 77-85 record placed seven games behind the Yankees a year ago. The Rays are currently looking like a shell of their former selves after bidding farewell to GM of the past ten years, their manager of the past nine and their ace of the past seven, all in a span of four months. As it stands they look like the meekest of the Yankees' divisional foes, but with a rotation led by Alex Cobb - who held New York's hitters to a line of .153/.225/.194 last year - and buoyed by Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly, along with a bullpen full of strikeout collectors like Brad Boxburger and Jake McGee, they're not pushovers either.
Before you remind me...yes, I am aware that today's date begins with "November." There are still two and a half months of off-season remaining. We've got two days until the non-tender deadline...eight until the winter meetings. There are impact players available in free agency and via trade, and the Yankees won't spend the next eight weeks doing nothing. If we're to believe yesterday's rumors, they may already be working hard to land Scherzer (sources are 100 percent certain they either did or did not offer him a contract), and that would change things quite a bit. They don't need to specifically respond each time an AL East rival makes a move, but as their competitors continue to improve the challenge facing the Yankees front office this winter only gets tougher.