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AP study: MLB average salary under $1.3M; Scherzer tops list

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball’s eye-popping salaries took an astonishing dive during the coronavirus pandemic to their lowest level in nearly a quarter-century, according to a study by The Associated Press.

Washington pitcher Max Scherzer topped the shortened season’s list at $17.8 million, his income partially protected by a huge signing bonus. That is the lowest amount for baseball’s highest-paid player since Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown made $15.7 million in 2000.

Players receive about 37% of their 2020 pay under the formula agreed to in March by MLB and the union, a figure the union wound up keeping during bitter negotiations that failed to produce an agreement. Commissioner Rob Manfred unilaterally announced a 60-game regular-season schedule that started four months late on July 23, down from the normal 162 games for each team.

Salaries averaged $1,295,942 on expanded opening-day rosters after prorated pay was factored in, according to the AP study. That must feel like a throwback paycheck, similar to a vintage jersey — it’s the lowest average in the AP’s annual opening-day study since $1,176,967 in 1996 and down from $4,375,486 at the start of the 2019 season.

Unhappy with flattening salaries during the first four years of a collective bargaining agreement that runs to December 2021, players spoke even before the curtailed season of seeking large changes. Talks figure to be the most contentious since the 1994-95 strike, the last shortened seasons before this one.

Even with contracts at full value and projected for 25-man active rosters, this year’s average of $4,520,010 would have represented just a 3.1% increase over 2016′s $4,381,980.

Part of the drop in the average was caused by roster expansion to an active limit of 30 per team at the season’s start, adding more major leaguers making the $563,500 minimum or close to it. There were 1,007 players on opening-day rosters and injured lists, up from 878 last year.

Scherzer’s $210 million, seven-year contract includes a $50 million signing bonus — baseball signing bonuses are distinct from salaries and not subject to reduction. His $35 million salary, which is entirely deferred, was sliced to $12.96 million.

MLB’s initial proposal in late May would have cut the highest-paid stars the most, and Scherzer’s 2020 salary would have been reduced to about $4.85 million. The union fought to keep the prorated pay called for in the March deal, while MLB argued it needed additional cuts to play in empty ballparks. As a result, MLB called for the shortest schedule since 1878.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw was second on the opening day list at $16.3 million, boosted by a $23 million signing bonus.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout was third at $15.8 million, followed by San Diego shortstop Manny Machado ($15.1 million), Houston pitcher Zack Greinke ($14.1 million), New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($13.3 million), Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado ($12.96 million), Houston second baseman José Altuve ($12.63 million), Astros pitcher Justin Verlander ($12 million) and Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg ($11.7 million).

Each player’s figure includes his adjusted 2020 salary plus a prorated share of his signing bonus. For players such as Scherzer, parts of salaries deferred without interest are discounted to present-day value. The player pool includes Minnesota pitcher Michael Pineda, who has a guaranteed contract and started the season on the restricted list while completing a suspension for a banned diuretic.

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