NEW YORK – The average major league salary dropped 4.8% to just under $4.17 million on opening day from the start of the previous full season in 2019.
The average has fallen 6.4% since the start of the 2017 season, when it peaked at $4.45 million, according to a study of major league contracts by The Associated Press. The salary downturn is yet another sign baseball could be headed toward labor strife and a possible work stoppage in 2022.
Baseball’s middle class has borne the brunt of the drop. The median salary — the point at which an equal number of players are above and below — is $1.15 million, down 18% from $1.4 million two years ago and a drop of 30% from the $1.65 million record high at the start of 2015.
Of 902 players on opening-day rosters, 417 (62%) had salaries under $1 million, including 316 (35%) under $600,000.
The 50 highest-paid players are getting 33.4% of all salaries, up from 28.6% in 2017, and the 100 highest-paid are receiving 52.4%, an increase from 42.5% in 2017.
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is the highest-paid player in 2021 at $38 million after agreeing to a $102 million, three-year contract he can terminate after one season. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is second at $37.1 million, followed by Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado ($35 million), who was acquired in an offseason trade with Colorado.
The World Series champion Dodgers topped the major leagues at $241 million, the highest big league total since the Dodgers set the record at $270 million at the start of the 2015 season.
Players are unhappy with the slide in salaries under the current collective bargaining agreement, even before last year’s pandemic-shortened season, and intend to press for changes during labor talks this year to replace the contract that expires Dec. 1.