The Royals will open the 2017 season Monday with a franchise-record payroll for the fifth consecutive year, according to an Associated Press study of baseball salaries.
Despite a comment from general manager Dayton Moore last offseason that payroll would “regress” a bit, the Royals are set to pay $145.9 million in salaries this season, which ranks 14th in the majors. Last year, the Royals ranked 15th at $137.3 million on opening day. Their payroll has risen to a record every opening day since 2013, when their payroll surpassed $80 million for the first time.
The New York Yankees aren’t among baseball’s top two payrolls for the first time in nearly a quarter-century, making cuts along with some other traditional big spenders.
The Los Angeles Dodgers topped the major leagues for the fourth straight opening day but dropped to $225 million. That’s the Dodgers’ lowest payroll since 2013.
Detroit was second at $199.75 million and the Yankees, in the midst of a turn toward youth, third at $195 million. The Yankees had not been outside the top two since 1993, and their opening-day payroll had not dropped this low since 2007, according to the AP’s calculations. New York topped opening-day payrolls from 1999-2013 before falling behind the Dodgers each year since 2014.
“It’s kind of a different feel than when I came up. It’s got a lot more younger look to it,” said Yankees catcher Austin Romine, a member of the organization since he was drafted in 2007. “It’s interesting. It’s refreshing. It’s nice to see young guys getting chances.”
After setting a baseball record at $270 million two years ago, the Dodgers declined to $234 million last year.
The $4.51 million average salary for major leaguers on opening day was up 1.6 percent from last year’s average of $4.38 million, the lowest rise since 2011. It followed an offseason with a relatively weak free-agent class in which just one player topped $100 million — New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
“There are indeed many factors that feed into the numbers every year, and therefore conclusions should not be drawn against any one particular offseason,” union head Tony Clark said Sunday.
Faced with an increase in the luxury tax, some high-revenue teams pared payroll. Boston slashed major league spending from $190 million to $179 million – although the Red Sox owe $21.5 million this year to a pair of players relegated to their minor league system, Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig.
“The total percentage of MLB revenue that clubs pay to players has remained relatively stable,” said Dan Halem, Major League Baseball’s chief legal officer. “Reducing the amount of payroll disparity is certainly the goal of many provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, but we evaluate the system based on multiyear trends rather than a single year’s experience.”
Many teams in the middle or near the bottom of last year’s list had big boosts. The usually frugal Miami Marlins jumped from $77 million to $120 million, and AL champion Cleveland from $90 million to $126 million. Others with sizeable steps up included Texas ($149 million to $173 million), Washington ($147 million to $165 million), Baltimore ($146 million to $164 million), the New York Mets ($138 million to $156 million), Colorado ($113 million to $128 million), Atlanta ($99 million to $126 million) and Houston ($95 million to $122 million).
Following their first World Series title since 1908, the Chicago Cubs hiked spending by $7 million to $177 million, that after a $51 million rise going into 2016.
Cutting teams in the midst of rebuilds included the Chicago White Sox (from $115 million to $100 million) and San Diego ($101 million to $61 million). Just $34.6 million of the Padres’ total was for players currently with the team.
Milwaukee was last for the second straight season, at $60.8 million.
At $33 million, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw topped salaries for the third straight year. He was followed by Arizona pitcher Zack Greinke ($31.9 million), injured Boston pitcher David Price ($30 million), Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander ($28 million) and Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera ($28 million).
Alex Gordon is the Royals’ highest-paid player for 2017 at $16 million.
MLB’s median salary, the point where an equal number of players earn above and below, remained at $1.5 million, down from $1.65 million at the start of the 2015 season.
The total of players making $1 million or more dropped to 487 from 492 last year and 508 in 2015, a sign some veteran bench players may have been replaced by lower-priced prospects. There are 36 players making $20 million or more, a decrease of two, and 49 players are at the $535,000 minimum, up from 40 at last year’s low salary of $507,500,
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, but this year’s final average is set to top $4 million for the first time. The players’ association calculated last season’s final average at $3.97 million, about $130,000 more than Major League Baseball’s figure.
The AP’s figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income for players on active rosters and disabled lists plus Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia, who is suspended without pay for the first 15 games under baseball’s domestic violence policy but will then draw the rest of his salary, which amounts to nearly $6.7 million. 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.
MLB team-by-team opening day payroll rankings
Payrolls for the opening day rosters of the 30 major-league teams. Figures were obtained by The Associated Press from management and player sources and include salaries and pro-rated shares of signing bonuses for players on the 25-man active roster, disabled lists and New York Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia, who is serving a 15-game suspension. In some cases, parts of salaries deferred without interest are discounted to reflect present-day values. Adjustments includes cash transactions in trades, signing bonuses that are responsibility of club that agreed to contract, option buyouts and termination pay for released players.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. N.Y. Yankees
4. San Francisco
6. Chicago Cubs
10. Los Angeles Angels
11. New York Mets
13. St. Louis
23. Chicago White Sox
28. Tampa Bay
29. San Diego
Royals 2017 opening day salaries
*on disabled list to start season