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Cleveland Indians will have lowest payroll in AL Central

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Puff Daddy told me it was all about the Benjamins. Was he wrong?

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There will be a few minor adjustments to the 2015 payroll for most teams between now and Opening Day, but few major ones. We can get a pretty good sense of what sort of number each team will be operating with to start the season. Craig Edwards at FanGraphs used data from Cot's Contracts and put together a look at how much each team is on the books for, and how things compare to last year.

Here's a nifty chart from Edwards' article:

The Dodgers are at close to $270 million, which is roughly comparable to the combined payroll of every MLB team 30 years ago. The Yankees are also above $200M, and the Red Sox, Giants, Tigers, and Nationals are all above $150M. A total of 19 teams are above $100M. Farther down, at ~$85 million, you find the Indians, who rank 26th of the 30 teams. Every other team in the AL Central is above $100M, and so by a pretty comfortable margin, the Indians will have the smallest payroll in the division.

I've said numerous times that baseball's systemic financial inequalities put certain teams at a competitive disadvantage, and I continue to believe that. That said, multiple teams (including the Indians) have been very competitive in recent years despite their relatively limited revenue streams. Those teams will have a harder time keeping their window of opportunity propped open, but it's clearly not an impossible task for a team to compete without spending as much as all their rivals.

Early projections and betting lines have the Indians as something like co-favorites in the AL Central. The projected standings at FanGraphs currently have the Tribe and Tigers both at 85 wins, tied atop the division and for the 3rd-best record in the AL. The PECOTA standings at Baseball Prospectus have the Indians two games behind Detroit. As of last week the Indians had the highest over/under betting line at the Westgate in Las Vegas.

It's fair to wonder how good the Indians might look if they'd had an additional $25-30 million to spend this offseason, but even with the payroll where it is, they seem to have a better shot at making the playoffs than it's had going into any season since 2008. It will be interesting to see if ownership will be willing to push the payroll higher midseason, if in fact the team is in contention and there's a clear upgrade available.

If the Tribe's arbitration-eligible players have solid seasons and are all brought back for 2016, the Indians are going to have a payroll very close to $100 million even without adding anyone new. The continual inflation of baseball salaries means that sort of payroll is going to be the floor soon enough; hopefully revenue gains can keep up with that, and we get to watch this very talented core stay together for a while. The potential for multiple postseason appearances is certainly there.

Once a team makes the postseason, anything might happen.