MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Potential for widespread balance exists in 2016

At least 25 teams appear in position to contend

Potential for widespread balance exists in 2016

There are 25 Major League teams conducting themselves as though they could win the World Series this year. January is no time to tell any of them that they can't.

In fact, 2016 could be a particularly strong season for competitive balance, especially in the American League, where it appears all 15 clubs believe they are in the hunt. And they're not wrong, or victims of being dangerously optimistic.

There is both a supply of legitimate talent and widespread prosperity in the contemporary game -- a perfect formula for parity.

In the National League, five clubs -- Atlanta, Cincinnati, Colorado, Milwaukee and Philadelphia -- have recently traded established talent for prospects. Although they may use different terminology to describe their directions, they are rebuilding.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is a rational reaction to the quality of the rest of the competition. If you're the Reds or the Brewers in the NL Central, for instance, and you're looking at the quality of the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs ahead of you, the sensible conclusion is that no marginal measures will suffice. There will be some short-term pain in exchange for the potential of long-term gain.

The NL Central achieved a remarkable sort of high-level parity last season, with the three best records in baseball. The Cards had 100 victories, the Bucs had 98 and the Cubs had 97.

Cubs have promising young core

When Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked if there was any consolation for winning 97 games and getting only a Wild Card berth, he responded that the consolation was that the Pirates won 98 and only got a Wild Card berth. The Cubs evened things out by beating both the Bucs and the Cardinals in the postseason.

For the rest of it, could it be possible that there will be three five-team races in the AL? The year-to-year divisional dynamic offers evidence of the possibility of rapid change.

In the AL West, the Rangers finished fifth in 2014. In 2015, they won the division. In 2014, the Astros finished fourth. In 2015, they finished second and grabbed a Wild Card berth.

In the AL Central, the Twins finished fifth in 2014 and moved up to second in '15. In the AL East, the Blue Jays moved up from third in 2014 to winning the division in '15. Toronto's postseason appearance meant that all 30 teams have qualified for the postseason during the first 15 years of the new century.

Further movement for 2016 would be suggested by the teams that finished last, surprisingly or not, in '15. The Red Sox, World Series winners as recently as 2013, have made substantial improvements. So have the Tigers, who had won four straight division titles before falling off the pace last season.

The A's, who qualified for the postseason for three straight years before slumping in 2015, have also made encouraging moves. Their stated intention to retain rotation ace Sonny Gray is further evidence of their commitment to be factors in the AL West in 2016.

In the NL West, the Diamondbacks' acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller dramatically upgraded their rotation, and they are a real threat to win the division.

Gilbert on D-backs' rotation

In the NL East, the Mets rode their remarkable rotation of splendid young talent to a division title and the NL pennant. A talented Nationals club that underachieved in 2015 should provide plenty of competition. And the Marlins, another team with substantial talent, could be a real factor as well.

Even in an era of increased parity, the 2016 season could set an unprecedented standard for competitive balance. That would be good news not only for the many contending clubs, but for the baseball public.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.