AP study: MLB average at around $4.4M for 5th year in row

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FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2019, file photo, Tampa Bay Rays' Kevin Kiermaier, top left, relaxes in the dugout with teammates in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto. Major League Baseballs average salary as opening day approached remained virtually flat at around $4.4 million for the fifth straight season, according to a study of contracts by The Associated Press. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

NEW YORK – Major League Baseball’s average salary ahead of a postponed opening day remained at around $4.4 million for the fifth straight season, according to a study of contracts by The Associated Press.

Following an offseason when Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Christian Yelich all agreed to $200 million-plus deals, the flattened salary curve is evidence of a shrinking portion of the pie for baseball’s middle class. The stagnant stretch is unprecedented since the free-agent era dawned in 1976.

And that is before taking into account any decrease caused by a shortened season in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a throwback, the New York Yankees top payrolls for the first time since 2013 and tower over the Pittsburgh Pirates at $54 million -- the lowest of any big league team in six years.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred remains confident there will be a season but is unsure when health conditions will allow training to resume.

MLB’s average when rosters were frozen on March 28 was $4,432,530, up 1.3% from $4,375,486 in the AP’s opening-day survey last year. The average remains below its record $4.45 million at the start of the 2017 season and has plateaued since stiffer luxury tax rates began for high-payroll teams.

Going back to 2016, the average has increased just 1% over four offseasons, an average annual rise of 0.25%. The average went up 27% in the four years ending in 2012 and 9% in the four years through 2008.

MLB revenue is estimated to have increased at close to a 4% annual rate in recent years, but will drop sharply this year because of the impact of the new coronavirus. MLB’s 2021 revenue also will be impacted, according to Manfred.