NEW YORK • Spending on Major League Baseball payrolls dropped last season for the first time since 2010, an $18 million decrease attributable to drug and domestic violence suspensions and a player retiring at midseason.
Still, even a year with flat payrolls is unusual for MLB. The only previous drops since 2002 were by $3 million in 2010 and by $32 million in 2004.
Teams combined to spend $4.23 billion on major league payroll last year, according to final figures compiled by the commissioner’s office and obtained by The Associated Press. The decrease followed an offseason with a weak free-agent class that failed to push the average higher.
Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano lost about $11.7 million and Chicago White Sox catcher Welington Castillo approximately $3.5 million after positive drug tests. Closer Roberto Osuna’s domestic violence suspension cost him roughly $2.1 million from Toronto and Houston, and Baltimore outfielder Colby Rasmus walked away from about $1.5 million rather than try to come back from a hip injury.
World Series champion Boston had the highest payroll for the first time since the free-agent era started in 1976 at $230 million. In a sign of increasing parity, a record 24 teams had $100 million payrolls, and the Red Sox figure was the lowest for the top big league payroll since 2012. Luxury tax surcharges that started for the 2017 season appear to have changed behavior of high-revenue teams.
MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem said the slice of revenue going to major and minor league players last year was 54.2 percent, the same as in 2012. He cited a $9.4 billion revenue figure for 2018, up from $9.1 billion in 2017, and luxury tax payrolls, which use average annual values of contracts and include benefits. MLB pegged the average salary increase at 29.1 percent since 2012 and the average luxury tax payroll rise since then at 28.4 percent.
“The average payroll has increased significantly, which means MLB has had payroll compression — which is a good thing for competitive balance,” he said.
Agent Scott Boras claimed the players’ portion of the money has declined.
San Francisco had the second-highest regular payroll at $210 million, followed by the Chicago Cubs at $199 million.
Just five of the top 10 spenders made the playoffs.
Colorado was 14th at $148 million.