As spring training began prior to the 2019 Major League Baseball season, the players association expressed its frustrations over the lack of spending by franchises. Since then, owners have opened up their wallets and doled out a whopping $2.5 billion. Count the entire free agency period and you have MLB franchises on the hook for a guaranteed $4 billion. Yes, $4 billion!
The players association should be ecstatic, right? Meh, not so much. There’s more to the story. While teams are spending money, players are still not happy. Well, at least most players are not.
Want to Get Paid? Be a Star If you want to cash in on a huge deal, you better be of star caliber. Manny Machado got paid – 10 years, $300 million. Bryce Harper countered with 13 years and $330 million. Then, Mike Trout came along and trumped everyone with a 12-year, $430 million extension.
Ten players signed nine-figure deals this offseason that totaled a combined haul of over $2.11 billion. Total free agent spending this offseason checked in at roughly $4 billion. That means that over half of all the money spent went to 10 players. If you want the big paycheck in MLB, you have to be a star. If you are a star, play every day, and in your 20s; you are worth approximately one-quarter of a billion dollars. The rest of the league? Have fun fighting for the leftovers.
Want to Get Paid? Be Young The days of a deal like the Tigers Miguel Cabrera are gone. If you are 30 or older, you better be a Hall of Fame caliber player or you are not getting paid. Paul Goldschmidt, now of the St. Louis Cardinals, is 31. The Cardinals ponied up $130 million over five years to bring Goldschmidt, a perennial All-Star, to St. Louis. J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox star who had a career year in 2018, got $110 million at age 30. These types of deals are only available for the superstar.
Next on the list to get paid is Boston’s Mookie Betts, who is 26. The American League MVP agreed to a one-year deal of $20 million and will enter arbitration next offseason. Trout, Harper, and Colorado’s Nolan Arenado are all under 30. Last year’s National League MVP Christian Yelich is signed through 2022 when he will be 30. If he maintains his superstar status (which he appears to be doing in 2019), Yelich should still be able to cash in on his next contract.
Average Salaries in MLB The average salary of an MLB player in 2018 actually dropped from that of a player in 2017. It was only the fourth time in the last 50 years that MLB salaries dropped from one year to the next. Part of the problem is simply the logistics of how an average payroll report is calculated by MLB. For example, the new deal that Harper signed with Philadelphia will pay him an average of $26 million per season.
For average salary calculation purposes though, Harper’s average salary is roughly $11.5 million. That is because the signing bonus he received is prorated over the life of the contract. The same goes for guys like Machado, who checks in at what looks like $30 million per season but is really only $12 million.
What does it all mean? Well, spending is up but the everyday rank-and-file MLB player is not seeing an increase in pay. Will it change? Maybe, but for now, stars rule the sport.