Parity is a word often used regarding equality among NFL teams. There's two main reasons why it exists: free agency and the salary cap. Seemingly contradictory, these two elements have created a system where every team at least should be able to compete every year. Obviously it doesn't turn out this way: it's no coincidence that the Patriots and Steelers have become perennial Super Bowl contenders over recent years.
Baseball is different. The lack of a salary cap allows the teams with the greatest financial aptitude (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies) to dominate in the free agency market. New York, Boston, and Philadelphia - all ranked in the top four in MLB payrolls in 2010 - are three of the best teams in baseball; and it makes sense too.
Surprisingly, many financially-limited MLB teams find a way to compete every year. A recent example would be the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, who were beaten by the Phillies in five games in the World Series.
It's Monday, May 30. Besides being the day that commemorates the members of the U.S. military that have passed away during service, Memorial Day serves as a measuring point of sorts for Major League Baseball teams. It may still be early, yes. Yet, at this point, we are beginning to see who will still be contending at season's end.
There are currently two division leaders who - in terms of pay rolls - ranked 24th and 25th respectively in 2010. I'm talking about the Cleveland Indians and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Cleveland currently holds a six-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. Picked by most to finish at or near the bottom of this division, the Indians are the league's biggest surprise thus far. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera has been Cleveland's best offensive player. But, the main reason for their success is their starting rotation. Do they have staying power? The only team I could see catching this young group is the Detroit Tigers. Kansas City is still a year or two away, Minnesota has dug themselves way too big of a hole, and Chicago is a mess.
And what about those Arizona Diamondbacks? Kirk Gibson, in his first full season as manager, has created a new culture in the locker room. Unlike other years, the players now expect to win on a nightly basis. The D-Backs are currently leading the World Champion San Francisco Giants by half a game. This team may be young; but, due to recent developments, they could certainly contend in this division. Two major, season-ending injuries over the past week - Buster Posey and Jorge De La Rosa - have weakened the division's two "best" teams (San Francisco and Colorado). This alone may allow Arizona to finish on top.
I know, it's not even June yet. Regardless, the fact that these teams are leading their respective divisions is good news for Major League Baseball. Maybe the teams with the most money don't always win... Well, they usually do. Unless, of course, we're talking about the Mets.