AP Exclusive: MLB average salary fell for 3rd straight year

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FILE - New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws in the first inning of Game 1 of an American League wild-card baseball series against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland, in this Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, file photo. The average Major League Baseball salary dropped for an unprecedented third straight year, even before the shortened season caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The average fell despite Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Christian Yelich all starting long-term contracts guaranteeing $215 million or more. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

NEW YORK – The average Major League Baseball salary dropped for an unprecedented third straight year, even before the shortened season caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Major League Baseball Players Association said Thursday the 2020 average would have been $3.89 million if a full season had been played. That was down 4.2% from the 2019 average of $4.05 million and represented a 5.2% decrease from the record average of just under $4.1 million in 2017. The average started to slip in 2018, falling by $1,436.

Because the pandemic caused players to receive roughly 37% of pay last year, the actual average plunged to $1.59 million, its lowest since 1998.

“We have been consistent in our position that the current trends in our game need to be addressed regarding the lack of incentive to compete and the need for the system to better reflect the value created by players throughout the service time spectrum,” union head Tony Clark said in an email to The Associated Press. “While there are other forces at play, and concerns that we have in addition to the above, we look forward to discussing each of the issues I just highlighted as a way to move our industry forward.”

Before 2018 and 2019, the average had not dropped in consecutive years since the union started tracking it at $19,000 in 1967. Before the last three years, the only decreases had been in 1987, when clubs were found guilty by an arbitrator of collusion against free agents; in 1995, after the end of a 7 1/2-month strike; and in 2004.

Last year’s drop showed the widening imbalance between top stars and other players. The average fell despite Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Christian Yelich all starting long-term contracts guaranteeing $215 million or more.

The union’s annual survey included 1,087 players, up from 988 in 2019. Active rosters were scheduled to expand from 25 to 26 for the 2020 season and went up to 28 because of the pandemic, which likely is responsible for part of the decrease. More players were in the major leagues with salaries closer to the minimum, which rose to $563,500 from $555,000.

Without adjusting for the pandemic, the average of players with five to six years of major league service — the group one year from free agency — dropped from $7.57 million in 2019 to $6.51 million in 2020.