Of course, the Indians do not play baseball in a vacuum, because that would be difficult for the players. As the Indians move forward, there are four other teams that have some say regarding the Tribe's playoff hopes, many of the players on the five teams currently will be gone, and even the players around will be a few years older. To try to get a grip on how these teams might look in 2014, I looked at the payroll patterns of each team, the existing contract commitments for beyond 2013, as well as a very cursory look at the farm system. All payroll information comes from Cot's Contracts.
In the table below are the payrolls for each of the five teams over the last half decade:
|Payroll (in millions of dollars)|
Presented without comment: the 2010 Tigers paid $55 million dollars to Magglio Ordonez, Jeremy Bonderman, Carlos Guillen, and Dontrelle Willis, higher than 2011 Opening Day payrolls of the Indians and Royals.
I don't think there's anything in that table that we didn't know. The Tigers and White Sox spend a lot of money, the Twins payroll has increased thanks to Target Field, and the Indians and Royals remain at the back of the pack. Three of the other four teams double the Tribe's payroll, and the Royals have so much cheap talent on the way that this statistic is slightly misleading for them.
Here are the current payroll commitments for each team from 2014 to 2017, as well as the number of pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players each team will potentially have in 2014 (based on current 40-man rosters), and John Sickels' farm system ranking for each team (as of late January):
|Payroll Commitments (in millions of dollars)|
The Tribe's only 2013 commitments are potential buyouts for Travis Hafner ($2.75 million) and Ubaldo Jimenez ($1 million), if their club options are not picked up. It's amazing in terms of flexibility, but with it comes a great deal of uncertainty. I personally feel like the Tribe's in great position. The farm system rates poorly because much of the talent is at the lowest levels of the minor leagues, and there have been a number of recent graduations.
Kansas City's commitments are from extensions for Alcides Escobar, Billy Butler, and Salvador Perez. Perez, with 50 days of major league service time, just signed a five year contract with three club options. He's guaranteed just $7 million over the first five years of the contract. Detroit will pay Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Prince Fielder $78 million in 2014. After that, Martinez and Verlander are off the books and Cabrera has an extra year at $22 million.
I honestly have no idea what the Twins are doing. For 2014, they're committed to Joe Mauer ($23 million), Denard Span ($6.5. million), and Josh WIllingham ($7 million). Their three "best" players (Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Francisco Liriano) all have huge question marks surrounding them moving forward. They owe Mauer $161 million over the next seven years though, which is a pretty big albatross if they ever went the route of a complete re-build.
The White Sox commitments are even uglier: Alex Rios ($13 million), Adam Dunn ($15 million), Alexei Ramirez ($9.5 million), and John Danks ($15.8 million). Ugh. Kenny Williams has basically admitted this offseason that his bevy of high profile moves over the last three or four years haven't worked out, and they need to start again. The farm system is awful, and the existing major league roster has holes all over. Despite their spending advantages, it might be awhile before the White Sox are contenders again.
The Indians are in a good position, but the work isn't done. The only thing that stops me from worrying about a future Kansas City domination of the AL Central is that, well, they're still the Royals and they might find ways to screw this up. But the Royals are coming and the Tigers aren't going anywhere.