Average MLB Salary Drops for First Time in 14 Years

With no repeat World Series champions since the turn of the century, it’s hard to predict which MLB team will be the last one standing come October (or November, depending on the year).

But one thing that’s always easy to predict is that MLB salaries will rise year-over-year.

Until now.

For the first time since 2004, the average MLB salary dropped for the 2018 season. The average salary in 2018 was $4,095,686, “down $1,436 from $4,097,122 last year,” The Associated Press reported.

According to the MLB Player’s Association, this was just the fourth time the average salary dropped in the 50 years that they’ve been keeping track.

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The first decline came in 1987, when there was a $66 drop in average salary after the “owners were found to have conspired to hold down salaries among free agents,” according to the AP. There was also a 4 percent drop in 1995 (after the player’s strike) and a 2.5 percent decline nine years later, in 2004.

The player’s association surveyed the 968 players who were on 25-man rosters on Aug. 31, one day before rosters expanded to 40 players.

MLB salaries have stagnated in recent years. The average 2018 salary was just 3.6 percent greater than the average 2015 salary.

By comparison, as the AP noted, the average 2015 salary was 23 percent greater than the average 2012 salary.

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According to the Los Angeles Times, some players and agents believe that owners engaged in collusion again prior to the 2018 season, when the free-agent market was unusually stagnant.

The market “feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly,” CAA baseball agent Brodie Van Wagenen (who’s since been named the Mets’ new general manager) said on Twitter in February.

There were a total of 166 free agents last offseason, 140 of whom reached new deals. But “exactly half of the 140 agreements reached were completed after the start of spring training workouts on Feb. 14,” according to the AP.

Unlike the NBA, which has a soft salary cap, and the NFL, which has a hard salary cap, MLB has no salary cap, and thus no salary floor.

Because of that, the best MLB players often receive contracts and salaries that pay them far more than the best NBA or NFL players get.

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For example, the highest-paid MLB player of all time is Alex Rodriguez who earned over $445 million in his career. That’s over $100 million more than the highest-paid NBA player, Kevin Garnett, who made $334 million.

Rodriguez’s career earnings are nearly $200 million more than the highest-paid NFL player, Peyton Manning, who earned $248 million.

While there are minimum salaries in MLB, not having a floor means there’s no threshold that owners have to meet.

So, the number of players who get offered minimum or below-market contracts contributes to the decrease in average salary, which has some people thinking that collusion is happening again.

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Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009.
Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009 and previously worked for ESPN, CBS and STATS Inc. A native of Louisiana, Ross now resides in Houston.
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