NEW YORK — The average salary in the major leagues rebounded to $4.4 million on Opening Day, boosted by a frenzy of free agent signings before and after the 99-day lockout, according to a study of baseball contracts by The Associated Press.
New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer set a season record at $43.3 million, topping the previous mark established last year by Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer at $38 million. Scherzer earns more than all the current players on the Baltimore Orioles combined.
The average of $4,414,184 was up 5.9% from the $4,167,164 at the start of last season and just below the record of $4,451,508 set in 2017, before the salary slide that angered players during the labor contract that expired last December.
Major League Baseball projects Opening Day payrolls at about $4.5 billion, up almost 10% from the previous high of approximately $4.1 billion.
This year’s average would have been higher had active rosters not been expanded from 26 to 28 through May 1 following the shortened spring training. Factoring out the added players who are at the $700,000 minimum or close to it, the average would have been a record $4.62 million.
In addition, this year’s final average will be boosted by the new labor contract’s $50 million bonus pool for lower-salaried players not yet eligible for arbitration. Adding that figure and dropping the added 60 players, the average would be $4.68 million.
The average salary declines over the course of a season as higher-paid veterans are released and replaced by lower-salaried players.
The Los Angeles Dodgers top the major leagues at nearly $285 million, up from $241 million at the start of last season.
The Mets are second at $266 million in their second season under owner Steven Cohen, up from $186 million last year and $154 million in 2019, the last full season under the Wilpon and Katz families.
The New York Yankees are third at just under $237 million, followed by Philadelphia ($224 million) and San Diego and Boston ($212 million each).
World Series champion Atlanta is eighth at $184 million, and AL champion Houston is 10th at $174 million.
Oakland, which traded several stars after the lockout, is last at $48 million, down from $83 million last Opening Day and the Athletics’ lowest for a full season since 2008.
Other low payrolls are Baltimore ($58 million), Pittsburgh ($59 million), Cleveland ($60 million) and Miami (just under $80 million).
The Orioles totaled $38 million for their current players, with just over $20 million going toward the final season of the seven-year contract of first baseman Chris Davis, who retired after years of injuries and three straight sub-.200 batting averages.
Scherzer was followed at the top of the salary list by Angels outfielder Mike Trout at $37.1 million, Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon at $36.6 million, Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole at $36 million. Minnesota shortstop Carlos Correa at $35.1 million and San Diego third baseman Manny Machado at $34 million.
Thirteen players earn $30 million or more, 48 earn at least $20 million and 133 at least $10 million. More than half the players, 514, earn at least $1 million.
After several years of widening, payroll disparity among players decreased slightly.
The 50 highest-paid players are getting 30.3% of salaries, down from 33.4% at the start of last season but still above the 28.6% in 2017. The 100 highest-paid are receiving 48.9%, down from 52.4% last year but above the 42.5% in 2017.
Of 975 players on Opening Day active rosters, injured lists, the restricted list and the bereavement list, 461 (47%) had salaries under $1 million, up from 46% last year. The minimum was raised from $570,500 to $700,000; 57 earned the minimum and 375 were below $730,000.
The median salary — the point at which an equal number of players are above and below — rose by $50,000 to $1.2 million, down from $1.4 million in 2019 and well below the $1.65 million record high at the start of 2015.
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. For the 23 players remaining eligible for salary arbitration, the midpoints of the player requests and team offers were used.
Luxury tax payrolls computed by Major League Baseball are different, using average annual values of contracts on 40-man rosters plus about $18 million per team for benefits and extended benefits and a 1/30 share of the pre-arbitration bonus pool.