Carl Crawford and a new playoff format

Updated: December 12, 2010, 3:06 PM ET
By Buster Olney

Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman was joking the other day when he mused that the impossible task of winning the American League East has become more impossible in the aftermath of Boston's acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

Well, he was sort of joking.

Or maybe he wasn't joking at all.

The New York Yankees will spend more than $200 million in 2011, and the Boston Red Sox won't be far behind. Meanwhile, the Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles will bring knives to the Boston-New York gunfight. Baseball has more parity than it is given credit for, but the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles are in a special class. Although the Giants, Rangers or almost any other team can go toe to toe with the Red Sox or Yankees in a short series, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore must do it throughout 162 games to make the playoffs.

The Rays got it done in 2008 and 2010 through extraordinary management and good fortune. But it has been 13 years since the Orioles made the playoffs -- largely through mismanagement -- and 17 years since the Blue Jays appeared in the postseason. The ballpark seats in Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Toronto remain empty during the teams' best seasons partly because few fans buy into the notion that those clubs can sustain success. (There are other factors, of course.)

Imagine selling season tickets for the Rays. Your script would include a recitation of the team's remarkable performances in recent years and the Cy Young worthiness of David Price. But the guy on the other end of the line could respond: What about Crawford? What about Carlos Pena? What about the exodus of the entire bullpen? Do you really expect me to believe they'll contend in 2011?