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Average MLB salary down 4.8% in two years

by The Associated Press | April 17, 2021 at 2:32 a.m.
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is the highest-paid player in 2021 at $38 million. According to a study of major-league contracts by The Associated Press, the average major-league salary dropped 4.8% to just under $4.17 million on opening day from the start of the previous full season in 2019. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

NEW YORK -- The average major-league salary dropped 4.8% to just under $4.17 million on opening day from the start of the previous full season in 2019.

The average has fallen 6.4% since the start of the 2017 season, when it peaked at $4.45 million, according to a study of major-league contracts by The Associated Press.

Baseball's middle class has borne the brunt of the drop. The median salary -- the point at which an equal number of players are above and below -- is $1.15 million, down 18% from $1.4 million two years ago and a drop of 30% from the $1.65 million record high at the start of 2015.

Of 902 players on opening-day rosters, 417 (62%) had salaries under $1 million, including 316 (35%) under $600,000.

The 50 highest-paid players are getting 33.4% of all salaries, up from 28.6% in 2017, and the 100 highest-paid are receiving 52.4%, an increase from 42.5% in 2017.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is the highest-paid player in 2021 at $38 million after agreeing to a $102 million, three-year contract he can terminate after one season. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is second at $37.1 million, followed by Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado ($35 million), who was acquired in an offseason trade with Colorado.

The World Series champion Dodgers topped the major leagues at $241 million, the highest big-league total since the Dodgers set the record at $270 million at the start of the 2015 season.

Players are unhappy with the slide in salaries under the current collective bargaining agreement, even before last year's pandemic-shortened season, and intend to press for changes during labor talks this year to replace the contract that expires Dec. 1.

The average was just over $500,000 when AP started its salary studies in 1989 and went down just twice before 2017: after the 1994-95 strike and between the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

The average has dropped 4.9% under the current labor agreement, which started after the 2016 season. The average rose 15.3% under the 2007-11 contract and 32.6% under the 2012-16 deal.

This year's average was depressed by the opening-day absence of Houston pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who was left off the initial roster, and infielder Rougned Odor, who had been designated for assignment by Texas and later was traded to the New York Yankees. Their presence on opening day would have increased the average by roughly $24,000, cutting the drop over two years to 4.2%.

Add the money Boston owes second baseman Dustin Pedroia, on the voluntary retired list after missing most of the prior three seasons while hurt, and the average would have been down 3.9% to $4.2 million. Termination pay, option buyouts and portions of signing bonuses paid to released players are not included in the average.

In addition, the average likely was lowered slightly by the expansion of active rosters to 26, which probably caused teams to add 30 players making near the $570,500 minimum.

The New York Yankees are second at $201 million and the New York Mets, under new owner Steven Cohen, third at $186 million. The Angels are next at $181 million, followed by Washington ($179.6 million), Boston ($179.5 million), Houston ($176.5 million), San Diego ($175.7 million) and Philadelphia ($174.8 million).

Twelve teams are under $100 million, with Pittsburgh at $46 million the lowest on opening day in a full season since Houston's $44.6 million in 2014. Slightly above the Pirates are Cleveland ($51 million), Baltimore ($56 million) and Miami ($57 million).

FILE - Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout, right, is congratulated by Jose Iglesias after hitting a two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Anaheim, Calif., in this Tuesday, April 6, 2021, file photo. Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the second highest-paid player in 2021 at $37.1 million. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
FILE - Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout, right, is congratulated by Jose Iglesias after hitting a two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Anaheim, Calif., in this Tuesday, April 6, 2021, file photo. Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the second highest-paid player in 2021 at $37.1 million. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
FILE - New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole winds up during the first inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in New York, in this Tuesday, April 6, 2021, file photo. Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole is the third highest-paid player in 2021 at $36 million. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
FILE - New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole winds up during the first inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in New York, in this Tuesday, April 6, 2021, file photo. Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole is the third highest-paid player in 2021 at $36 million. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
FILE - St. Louis Cardinals' Nolan Arenado doubles down the line during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in St. Louis, in this Saturday, April 10, 2021, file photo. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is the highest-paid player in 2021 at $38 million after agreeing to a $102 million, three-year contract he can terminate after one season. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is second at $37.1 million, followed by Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado ($35 million), who was acquired in a trade with Colorado. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
FILE - St. Louis Cardinals' Nolan Arenado doubles down the line during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in St. Louis, in this Saturday, April 10, 2021, file photo. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is the highest-paid player in 2021 at $38 million after agreeing to a $102 million, three-year contract he can terminate after one season. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is second at $37.1 million, followed by Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado ($35 million), who was acquired in a trade with Colorado. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
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