NEW YORK – A year removed from a labor lockout that postponed opening day, major league players are enjoying their biggest salary spike in more than two decades.
The average Major League Baseball salary was up 11.1% to a record $4.9 million to start this season, the largest jump for the sport since 2001, according to a study by The Associated Press.
The surge follows a spending spree in the first offseason since players and owners agreed to a five-year collective bargaining agreement last March.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Texas Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien, part of the union's eight-member executive subcommittee who helped negotiate the CBA.
The New York Mets led the way with a $355 million payroll, $70 million more than the previous high for a season’s start. Seven teams topped $200 million.
This year’s percentage rise was the largest since a 13.9% jump in 2001.
“It’s about damn time, honestly," said Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Zach Eflin, who signed a $40 million, three-year deal in December. “It’s been pretty much a joke the past five, 10 years about the way the players have been paid the minimum salaries.”
“Teams are making money, players are making it. So it’s good all around,” said deGrom, who left the Mets for Texas.
Of 943 players in the major leagues on opening day, 546 had salaries of $1 million or more, 58%, and up from 514 last year.
“The stance that we took was great, getting players to be paid more is what we want," Correa said. "Obviously, we bring a lot to this game. But at the same time us as players have to keep putting up the work, making sure that after we get contracts, we keep performing to the highest level for teams to keep spending and keep going big.”
Judge was third at $40 million after hitting an American League-record 62 homers. Seven of 11 highest-paid players are with teams in New York or Los Angeles, a sign of the economic power of the large markets.
“I saw the revenue numbers for the game last year,” said Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole, also a member of the players’ association’s executive subcommittee during negotiations. “So when those continue to go up, then players salaries should go up with that, as well.”
After setting a record in 2017, the average dropped by just under 1% in each of the following two years and fell as low at $4.2 million in 2021 after the pandemic-shortened season.
Unhappy with their share of spending, players endured a 99-day lockout before agreeing to a labor contract last March. Spending resumed at a frenetic pace, and the average rose 6% to $4.4 million in 2022.
This winter, spending was spurred by paydays for streaming and broadcast rights, an expanded postseason format and rising ticket prices.
“It’s a barometer of the wealth of the game” agent Scott Boras said. “It’s always great business to invest in players, and this increase reflects investment in the great players of the game."
Steve Cohen has boosted payroll steadily since buying the Mets, who were at $154 million in 2019, the last full season under the Wilpon and Katz families. Their spending rose to $186 million in 2021 and $266 million last year, when they started second to the Dodgers but wound up first after Los Angeles pitcher Trevor Bauer was suspended for most of the season without pay.
The Yankees are second at $275 million followed by San Diego ($258 million), NL champion Philadelphia ($236 million), the Dodgers ($222 million), the Angels ($212 million) and Toronto ($210 million).
World Series champion Houston is 11th at $193 million. Baltimore is 29th at $60 million, with Pittsburgh ($71 million) and Tampa Bay ($75 million) just above.
Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon was fourth at $36.8 million, followed by Angels outfielder Mike Trout ($37.1 million), Cole ($36 million), Texas shortstop Corey Seager ($35 million), Correa ($33.3 million), St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado ($32.8 million) and Washington pitcher Stephen Strasburg ($32.5 million).
Sixteen players earn $30 million or more, an increase of three; 53 earn $20 million, a rise of five; and 158 at least $10 million, a jump of 25. The 50 highest-paid players make 29% of total salary, down from 30% last year and 33% in 2021, and the top 100 earn 47%, a decrease from 52% two years ago.
Forty-five players earned the $720,000 minimum, which was increased by $20,000 from last year.
The median salary, the point at which an equal number of players are above and below, rose by $300,000 to $1.5 million, still below the record high at the start of 2015. Active rosters have increased from 25 to 26, lowering the median by adding more lower salaried players.
The AP’s figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income. For some players, parts of deferred money are discounted to reflect current values.
MLB's opening-day payroll figures for 40-man rosters and luxury tax payrolls based on average annual values of contracts plus benefits, won’t be finalized until later in the season.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins and AP freelance writers Larry Fleisher, Santos Perez and Harvey Valentine contributed to this report.