Lee's impact on the AL

Newly signed Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee stands near his jersey and cap after a news...

Newly signed Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee stands near his jersey and cap after a news conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 15, 2010. (REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

CHRIS TOMAN, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

TORONTO -- In a shocking turn of events, prized free- agent pitcher, Cliff Lee, spurned the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies to form the most dynamic pitching rotation in recent memory. Not only does the Phillies' signing of Lee, who joins a rotation already consisting of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, make the club favorites to win the National League, it has a profound impact on the American League as well.

Now, not every team in the AL is going to reap the benefits of Lee going to the other league - as the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians are still going to be the Royals and Indians - but, the playing field just became much more balanced. For starters, two of the best teams in the league have gotten worse (Rangers) or failed to improve (Yankees) in a department (pitching) that was at the forefront of their weaknesses.

In the Rangers case, they're now without an ace and have to rely on a young staff led by C.J. Wilson to help them duplicate their success of 2010. As for the Yankees, they failed to acquire their main off-season target, which inevitably leaves their rotation with as many holes as it had last season. Mind you, these two teams squared off in the American League Championship Series so it's not as if they are digging themselves out of the bottom, but let's also remember that they are both worse off without having Lee at their disposal.

As for the rest of the pact, there are some very good teams in the AL who, minus an interleague series against the Phillies, don't even need to think of Lee until October - if in fact that month becomes a reality.

One thing is for sure, October is much more of a possibility to some, if not many, now that Lee has fled to the Keystone State.

Who benefits?

Unless something drastic happens, the Boston Red Sox have the strongest team in all of the American League. However, unlike most years since the Derek Jeter-era began, the Yankees aren't on par with them, which means the path to the postseason for the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays may have just gotten easier.

Life for the Rays didn't look so bright after losing all-star outfielder Carl Crawford and first basemen Carlos Pena to free-agency and it won't get any better when free-agent closer Rafael Soriano finds a new city to call home either. The Rays will be without three vital pieces that have helped them capture the East for two of the past three seasons, but they still boast a strong staff led by lefty David Price, which should, by all accounts, keep them competitive.

The Jays on the other hand, sent 2010 opening day ace, Shaun Marcum, to the Milwaukee Brewers in a move to set themselves up better for the long-term. While his loss isn't expected to cripple them based on a stockpile of young arms, it surely doesn't make them better off for 2011 either. But now, with the Jays not having to worry about Lee wearing pinstripes, or any other uniform in the AL, their chances of a wild-card have become increasingly greater.

As for the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels, who have struckout this off- season, do not have as steep a mountain to climb to catch the Rangers, while the Oakland Athletics, who added some offensive punch to their lineup to complement a pitching staff that led the AL in ERA, could end up being the best in the West. The Rangers are still a strong team without Lee, but they aren't favorites to do what they did last year, which was reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history in their first trip back to the postseason in 11 years.

So how do the teams in the AL Central benefit? Easy, if they can't capture their division, they now have a much better shot at the wild card, which is essentially the domino effect Lee left on the AL.

The Detroit Tigers can feel more at ease throwing big money at Victor Martinez, while the Chicago White Sox should be going into the season with plenty of optimism after signing slugger Adam Dunn to help them get back to the playoffs.

For the teams in the West and Central, winning the division is not as imperative as it used to be, in the sense that the teams from the East, outside of the Red Sox, are not leaps and bounds better than the rest, if at all.

It's the first time in a while the East is not an automatic to produce the fourth and final playoff spot. While there's still a good chance it will, as it remains the best division in baseball, it wouldn't be a shock to see a new team emerge in the AL.

There is plenty of time from now until the start of the season so for teams like the Yankees, there is still room to shore up on their deficiencies. Regardless of what the Yankees or any other team from the AL does to get better before April, it won't involve getting someone of Lee's stature, because that breed rarely exists.

Make no mistake, Lee's signing not only improved the Phillies, it created a more level playing field across an entirely different league.


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