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What Will the Division Look Like in 2014?

I'm hoping like everyone else that A's baseball will be fun to watch this year, and it definitely should be interesting in 2013. But even competing then would be ahead of schedule, so to say I'm focused on 2014 would be an understatement. By that time, a majority of this load of prospects should not only have hit the major leagues, but should be making a significant impact.

Of course, by that time it will be a five-team division, many of the players on the teams currently will be gone, and even the players around will be two 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)
Year Angels Astros Athletics Mariners Rangers
2009 113.7
2010 121.1
2011 141.8
94.6 92.1

I'm actually surprised by the payrolls for the Rangers during the last couple years; I suppose I just assumed they had spent more money previously, though they did jump almost 30 million dollars last year. A 50 percent increase in the payroll (hi, Adrian Beltre!) will usually help make your team better. Nonetheless, everyone is outspending the A's currently and have shown the ability to do so. The Angels can spend their way out of mistakes (and into mistakes as well) and to some extent the other three teams have shown an ability to increase payroll when they feel necessary.

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)
Year Angels Astros Athletics Mariners Rangers
2014 90.0 2.5 13.7 21.2 34.5
2015 70.6 0.0 10.5 0.0 28.0
2016 65.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 10.0
2017 26.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 11.0
Pre-Arb. 15 19 22 15 14
Arb. 11 17 8 8 8
Farm System 18 25 10 4 3

The Astros have an option on Wandy Rodriguez for 2014, or they'll have to pay him a $2.5 million buyout. That's their only payroll commitment past 2013. The Mariners owe Felix Hernandez $20.7 million in 2014 and have a $500,000 buyout on Franklin Gutierrez if they don't exercise his option. Texas is on the hook for $17 million to Beltre, $10 million to Yu Darvish, and $6.75 million to Elvis Andrus, as well as a $750,000 buyout for Joe Nathan.

The Angels have five guys on the books for $90 million: Albert Pujols ($23 million), Jered Weaver ($16.2 million), C.J. Wilson ($16.5 million), Howie Kendrick ($9.75 million), and...Vernon Wells for the bargain rate of $24.643 million. That deserved its own paragraph.

The only player the A's have under contract is Yoenis Cespedes ($10.5 million). The other $3.15 million is for buyouts for Brett Anderson, Coco Crisp, and Kurt Suzuki. I think the A's would rank a little higher now with regard to the farm system, given the additional moves and the Cespedes signing.

I think this shows that the Angels are either going to need some significant help from their farm system or they'll have to keep outspending everyone by a bunch to remain the class of the AL West. Remember, the Angels system still includes Mike Trout, consensus Top-3 prospect in baseball. The Astros, just a year ago, were in bad, bad shape, but now they've got new leadership and I think they've righted the ship very quickly. They're still going to be bad for awhile, but there's reason for optimism.

The A's will have more than a puncher's chance; they've made a lot of solid moves and have positioned themselves well for the future. But man, the Rangers are a really well run organization.