NEW YORK (AP) — Even before the first pitch of the 2015 season is thrown, an eye-popping baseball record will be set.
The average salary when opening-day rosters are finalized Sunday will break the $4 million benchmark for the first time, according to a study of all major league contracts by The Associated Press. Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw tops players at $31 million and Los Angeles projects to open the season with a payroll at about $270 million, easily a record.
Fueled by the largest two-year growth in more than a decade, the average salary projects to be about $4.25 million, according to the AP study, with the final figure depending on how many players are put on the disabled list before the first pitch is thrown. That is up from $3.95 million on the first day of last season and $3.65 million when 2013 began.
Baseball’s average was approximately $50,000 in 1976, the last year before free agency. Back then, many players took offseason jobs to pay their bills.
Now almost all of them do their heavy lifting in gyms, not warehouses.
In a $9 billion industry propelled by ballpark luxury suites and premium tickets, regional sports networks and streaming video, more than half the major leaguers are millionaires.
The average broke the $1 million mark in 1992, topped $2 million in 2001 and reached $3 million in 2008.
Last year, the Dodgers opened at $234 million and ended the New York Yankees’ 15-year streak as baseball’s biggest spenders. Still seeking their first World Series title since 1988, Los Angeles is No. 1 by a huge margin. The Yankees project to be second at about $215 million, followed by Boston at around $185 million.
Detroit is fourth at roughly $170 million — about $100 million less than the Dodgers. Coming off its third World Series title in five years, San Francisco is fifth, about $1 million behind the Tigers.
The AP’s figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income for players on active rosters, disabled lists and the restricted list. For some players, parts of deferred money are discounted to reflect current values.