The beast is the East. The numbers prove it and the play confirms it.

As the playoffs begin, that doesn’t mean the Red Sox or Yankees will take it all, but they sure have a shot.

The AL Eastern division is the toughest in baseball. The Red Sox and the Yankees force that issue year after year with their payrolls that attract the likes of Jason Bay and Mark Teixeira.

There is speculation throughout baseball that Roy Halladay of the Jays, arguably the game’s best pitcher now, will join the Red Sox in 2011, if not sooner.

Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore struggle to be competitive. Yes, the Rays went to the World Series last year, but that is an aberration that does more bad than good in obfuscating the real issue: The Red Sox and Yankees are in a money league of their own.

The disparity in payrolls is no secret, but as it grows, damage to the game is being done.

MLB is investigating the Pirates and how they use their revenue-sharing money. If that money gets pocketed by owners who are at the same time trading away an all-star outfield, there is a problem.

The problem is compounded if such teams are asking their fans to be patient while they build from within, trade developed players, lose for decades and pocket the revenue-sharing money.

Major league players are concerned about this possibility and want a rule that all, or at least a large portion of such shared funds, be required to go toward player salaries.

Forbes online reported there is an effort under way by some owners to decrease the payroll number at which revenue sharing kicks in for teams. That would require more teams to share, and you can bet those teams will howl at that proposal.

So far, the Yankees and Sox have been able to pay the fee and still outspend everyone by large sums.

The East has become what my broadcast partner Jim Palmer calls “arena baseball.”

You can never have enough pitching and games grind on with deep counts, foul balls and in the end, lots of homers.

Four of the top five teams in home runs in the AL are in the East: the Yankees, Red Sox, Tampa Bay and Toronto. The fifth is the Rangers, who play in a bandbox where the hot summer heat lifts the balls deep into the heart of Texas.

This means that to compete in the East a team must have both the best of pitching and bats. That costs a lot of money.

The haves get richer and the poor are out of the race early.

Red Sox and Yankee fans have been spoiled by the success of their teams and the rivalry between the two that has become a season unto itself.

There needs to be competitiveness for interest to be sustained in less heavily financed markets. The draft does not do that because drafting young players is a crap shoot.

Even if you get the right ones, too often they head off for the cash as soon as they are free to do so.

The NFL, NBA and NFL all have salary caps of some kind. Baseball needs to seriously consider one.

It may be that or go the soccer route with a premier league, where the rich play each other and the rest dine on leftovers.