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AP study: Nine MLB teams cut payroll this winter, and the average salary is up just 1.5%

 The Associated Press  |    Apr 8th, 2024 1:59pm EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — San Diego cut payroll by $96 million in the past year, the New York Mets by $50 million and the Los Angeles Angels by $49 million, among nine teams that slashed spending in a tepid free-agent market that sparked player unrest.

The average salary increased 1.5% to $4.98 million on opening day, according to a study by The Associated Press. That was down from an 11.1% rise last year to $4.91 million and a 6% increase in 2022 following the end of the spring training lockout.

Other teams cutting were the Chicago White Sox (by $47 million), Colorado ($33 million), Minnesota ($32 million), Detroit ($20 million), Boston ($15 million) and Milwaukee ($12 million).

Several top free agents — including two-time Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger — remained unsigned into spring training and took shorter-team deals than they anticipated.

“It’s a concern,” said Toronto pitcher Chris Bassitt, his team’s player representative, adding he took notice “when you have reigning Cy Young, when you have seven or eight guys that are really, really good not signed.”

Last year’s percentage increase was the largest since a 13.9% jump in 2001, a promising gain for players following a pair of sluggish free agent markets, the pandemic and a 99-day lockout ahead of a labor deal in March 2022.

During spring training this year, a faction of players attempted to oust union negotiator Bruce Meyer in an effort that appears to have failed.

The biggest increases from the start of last year were by Houston (up $44 million), the Chicago Cubs ($38 million), Baltimore ($33 million) and the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees ($28 million each).

The Mets at $306 million topped payrolls for the second straight season and were followed by the Yankees ($303 million), the Los Angeles Dodgers ($250 million), Philadelphia ($243 million) and Houston ($237 million).

Commissioner Rob Manfred has cited a cyclical market and the reticence of some teams to make commitments with uncertain revenue from regional sports networks.

The players’ association said it did not yet have its calculations and was not in a position to comment.

The Mets are paying $70 million this year to other teams to cover portions of salaries of three players they traded: Houston’s Justin Verlander ($31.3 million), Texas’ Max Scherzer ($30.8 million) and Baltimore’s James McCann ($8 million). That total is more than the entire $61 million payroll of Oakland.

If not for deferred money, the Dodgers’ payroll would be roughly $57 million higher. Shohei Ohtani’s record $70 million salary includes $68 million that won’t be paid until 2034; because that money is discounted to present-day value for the payroll, he counts at just over $28.2 million. Discounting lowers Mookie Betts from $30.4 million to $26.2 million, Freddie Freeman from $27 million to $25.1 million, Teoscar Hernández from $23.5 million to $18.2 million and Will Smith from $16.6 million to $12.9 million.

The Mets’ end-of-season payroll projects to rise given their opening day figure doesn’t include a discounted total of $10.4 million earned by designated hitter J.D. Martinez and Japanese pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, who are in the minor leagues.

Arizona pitcher Jordan Montgomery is another late-signing, high-salaried player not on an opening-day roster, so the percentage increase of 40-man payrolls figures to be slightly higher. If Mongtomery and Martinez had been on opening-day rosters, the average would have increased about 2% and set a record at just over $5 million.

Of four players with $40 million salaries, three began the season on the injured list, including Scherzer and Verlander at $43.3 million each. Rangers pitcher Jacob deGrom, recovering from Tommy John surgery, was tied for third at $40 million with Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge.

At his discounted value, Ohtani was 19th.

Of 947 players in the major leagues on opening day, 532 had salaries of $1 million or more, 56%, and down from 546 last year.

Seventeen players earn $30 million or more, an increase of one; 56 earn $20 million, a rise of three; and 166 at least $10 million, a rise of eight. The 50 highest-paid players make 29% of total salary and the top 100 earn 47%, both the same as last year.

Forty-one players get the $740,000 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, remained at $1.5 million, still below the record high of $1.65 million at the start of 2015.

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 $4.53 million.

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.

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.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB