Washington pitcher Max Scherzer took over from Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout as baseball’s highest-paid player at $37.4 million and the World Series champion Boston Red Sox remained the sport’s bigger spender for the second straight year, according to a study of major league salaries by The Associated Press.
Baseball’s average salary dropped for an unprecedented second straight year on opening day, falling about $36,000 to approximately $4,375,000. But the drop was due to signing bonuses in new contracts for Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and a few others. Baseball’s accounting rules allocate signing bonuses in equal portions over each guaranteed year of a contract, and the signing bonuses of nine players caused an $82,000 drop in the opening-day average.
Trout was the highest-paid last season at $34.08 million but his new deal dropped his salary for this year in exchange for a $20 million signing bonus. Scherzer’s salary is discounted because it is deferred with no interest.
The five highest-paid players are all pitchers, with Arizona’s Zack Greinke second at $32.4 million, followed by Boston’s Dave Price and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw at $31 million each and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg at $30.7 million.
Just three position players are among the top 11: Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera at $30 million, New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at $29 million and Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols at $28 million. Kershaw and Cespedes began the season on the injured list.
Boston’s payroll began the season at just under $222 million. In a sign the disparity between the top and bottom spenders has decreased, the figure was the lowest for a top payroll on opening day since 2012.
The Chicago Cubs were second at $209 million, followed by the New York Yankees at $207 million, the Los Angeles Dodgers at $191 million, Washington at $185 million and San Francisco at $176 million.
Just five teams are under $90 million: Oakland ($88 million), Baltimore ($78 million), Pittsburgh ($77 million), Miami ($71 million) and Tampa Bay ($61 million).
MLB’s median salary, the point where an equal number of players earn above and below, rose to $1.4 million following drops from $1.65 million at the start of 2015, $1.5 million in each of the following two years and $1.32 million last year.
The total of players making $1 million or more rose to 482, up from 477. It was 508 in 2015, then dropped to 492 the following season and 487 in 2017.
Thirty-nine players are at the $555,000 minimum, down from 53 at last year’s low salary of $545,000.
There are 39 players also making $20 million, a decrease of one.
Average and median salaries decline over the course of the season as veterans are released and replaced by younger players making closer to the minimum.
The players’ association calculated last season’s final average at $4,095,686 and MLB at $4,007,987. The average is based on rosters and injured lists of Aug. 31, the last day before the active player limit expanded from 25 to 40. The union includes option buyouts in its average calculation while MLB does not.
The AP’s figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income for players on active rosters and injured lists and three players on the restricted list who otherwise would have been active or on the injured list: Boston’s Steven Wright, the Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell and Houston’s Francis Martes. For some players, parts of deferred money are discounted to reflect current values.
Payroll figures factor in adjustments for cash transactions in trades, signing bonuses that are the responsibility of the club agreeing to the contract, option buyouts and termination pay for released players.