The life of baseball's traditional economic powers isn't getting any easier.
Here's the latest development in this saga. There are two basic ways to measure competitive balance:
1. Which teams are in the postseason.
2. Which teams are not in the postseason.
In that second category, 2014 potentially offers something completely different. For the first time since the Wild Card era began in 1995, there could be a postseason without either the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox.
This is not about either rejoicing or moaning about the possibility. This is about noticing it, and thus noticing the way the game has changed.
There were years when the narrative of the American League postseason was dominated by the Red Sox and the Yankees. Their epic seven-game battles in the 2003 and 2004 AL Championship Series reinforced their status, and, in the case of the 2004 ALCS, became a historical comeback and a historical breakthrough for the Boston club.
The Red Sox are currently retooling, but they are the only team to win three World Series in the new millennium. Still, apart from the 2013 championship, if they don't make the 2014 playoffs, the Red Sox will have missed the postseason in four of the past five years.
The Yankees are the kings of the postseason with 27 World Series championships and 40 World Series appearances. But 2009 was their only World Series championship in the past 13 years.
What is striking this year is that if the Yankees miss the postseason, this would be the only time since the expanded playoff system began that the Yankees did not qualify in consecutive years. For a club that was a postseason team every single year from 1995 through 2007, this is a different universe, not to mention a lesser universe.
The Yankees are still in the postseason chase, but realistically what they are competing for now is a Wild Card berth. And they'd have to play catch-up to reach even that. There's a late-season scenario that would have been unimaginable not that long ago. Maybe the Yankees can squeeze in as a Wild Card.
What gives, apart from mere chance, freak occurrence, and random luck? Some completely explicable, totally understandable factors, that's what.
The game's economic structure has changed dramatically since the Yankees' last great run of dominance in the late 1990s through the year 2000. Revenue sharing, unknown when Bud Selig first became Commissioner of Baseball 22 years ago, is now an economic fact of baseball life.
This is the leading edge of Selig's legacy. His background was as the owner of the franchise in baseball's smallest media market, Milwaukee. He believed that fans of every team were owed by baseball the sincere "hope and faith" that their team could compete and could win. Revenue sharing was the device that brought hope and faith to more franchises than ever.
The free-agent market now isn't what it once was. Small- and medium-market clubs that once gave up their best talent as a matter of course, when that talent became eligible for free agency, can now retain that talent. And with that talent, they also retain a chance to win. But it becomes more difficult for a club such as the Yankees to purchase the postseason.
So, in this century, 28 of the 30 Major League teams have reached the postseason. (Make that 29, if the Kansas City Royals, currently leading the AL Central, can hang on for a postseason berth.)
Baseball, as a competitive proposition, has been headed in the direction of inclusion for some time. Still, it would be difficult to grasp a postseason that contained neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees. You take a notion like this and it doesn't really fit into any conventional baseball source material. Maybe a better fit would be "Ripley's Believe It or Not."