Bock’s Score: A Bear Market In Baseball

It’s not like we have to run a benefit for major league baseball players anytime soon. Not with a minimum salary of $555,000 for the 25th man on the roster. The fact of the matter, however, is that major league payrolls dropped last season.

Heavens to Marvin Miller.

There was an $18 million dip in 2018, just the third time there has been a reduction in player costs since 2002. The others were by $32 million in 2004 and $3 million in 2002.

Payroll costs last season were $4.23 billion, hardly chump change. The decline from 2017 was due in part on some naughty behavior by a handful of players.

Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano flunked his drug test and the ensuing 80-game suspension chopped $11.7 million off his salary. Chicago White Sox catcher Wellington Castillo lost about $3.5 million after failing his drug test.  Closer Roberto Osuna was suspended by Toronto in a domestic violence case and lost $2.1 million for that indiscretion. Houston, however, was in a forgiving mood and immediately traded for him.

Baltimore outfielder Colby Rasmus behaved himself but left $1.5 million on the table when he decided he could no longer play because of a hip injury.

In an example of you get what you pay for, the World Series champion Boston Red Sox led all teams in the exchequer department with a $230 million payroll, the first time the Red Sox have led the majors in salaries since the free agent era began in 1976.

A record 24 teams had payrolls over $100 million but Boston’s outlay was the smallest for any team finishing first in this category since 2003.

The usual big spenders were remarkably thrifty. The New York Yankees were sixth at $183 million, despite taking on Giancarlo Stanton’s fancy contract and the Los Angeles Dodgers were fourth at $196 million after leading the majors in payroll for four straight seasons. LA has cut nearly $100 million from its high water record mark of $291 million in 2015.

This winter, the Dodgers chopped more money from their bottom line with a salary dump trade of outfielders Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig and pitcher Alex Wood  to the Cincinnati Reds.

On the other end of the spectrum were the New York Mets, who finished 12th at $152.1 million and then traded for the remainder of Cano’s pricey contract. In a burst of holiday cheer, the Mets also gave catcher Travis d‘Arnaud a $40,000 raise for 2019, even though he played just four games last season before having Tommy John surgery.

The Orphan Annie winner in 2028 salaries was Tampa Bay with a payroll of $75.1 million, last among all 30 teams. The thrifty Rays somehow finished in third place in the American League East standings.

The average big league salary last season was $4,095,686, a drop of nearly $1,500 from 2017 and the first time since 2004 that salaries have gone down.

If this continues, it may be time for big leaguers to start humming that old Depression era anthem: “Brother, can you spare a dime?’’




About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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