NEW YORK — Major League Baseball is starting to spread the wealth.
The Miami Marlins, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels all had hefty boosts in payroll during the offseason, along with the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals, according to a study of major league contracts by The Associated Press.
Some traditional high rollers had huge drops, including the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.
“Every fan when that season starts feels like their team’s got a chance,” Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said before Thursday’s opener. “And that’s the way it should be.”
The New York Yankees, of course, remain the cash king and topped $200 million on opening day for the fifth consecutive year. And at $30 million, the Yanks’ Alex Rodriguez remains the richest of the rich, baseball’s highest-paid player for the 12th straight season.
The major league average salary rose 4.1 percent to $3.44 million, the steepest hike since 2008.
Lucrative deals came from unexpected places, with Albert Pujols getting $240 million from Angels owner Arte Moreno and Prince Fielder $214 million from Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.
“Maybe they just have more saved up or something,” Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said before his team opened against the Tigers. “Being here in Detroit, and seeing what Mr. Ilitch is trying to do around this area and for the city of Detroit — I think spending money on his team to make this city feel proud of something is a fabulous, fabulous effort.”
Cincinnati struck a deal this week with Joey Votto for $251.5 million over 12 years — the longest contract in big league history and the third richest. San Francisco gave Matt Cain $127.5 million over the next six seasons, the highest contract for a right-handed pitcher.
“It’s either an organization saying, ‘Hey, we’re willing to stick our neck out for this team because we think we’ve got good enough players to win here,”’ Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo concluded, “or it could say to some guys that maybe there’s more money there than they’re leading on.”
Some fear that the incoming owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, after spending $2 billion for the team, might covet next November’s free agents, a group that currently includes pitchers Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke.
“It’s kind of humorous to me,” San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean said. “These guys haven’t even taken over yet and all of a sudden they’re going to take every player in baseball.”
Revenue sharing has spread the wealth, and more teams have rich cable television contracts.
“Without economic reformation, none of this happens,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. “It has been great for everybody — big markets, medium, small, everybody — because there’s a sense of fairness.”
The renamed Miami Marlins, in their new hip ballpark, boosted payroll by about $40 million, even after factoring in the more than $15 million they are getting from the Cubs along with Carlos Zambrano. Adding All-Stars Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle didn’t come cheap.
After winning its second straight AL pennant, Texas’ spending went up by about $27 million, about as much as Detroit’s. Kansas City and Tampa Bay had hikes almost as large.
“Look at Kansas City making a good investment. Pittsburgh made a nice run last year,” Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I was in Tampa Bay when they really stink. Little by little, they do the right thing. I think it’s going to be better competition from now on than it was in the past.”
But for every nearly ever booster there was a slasher.
According to MLB figures, which include money in trades, cash paid released players and buyouts, the Mets went from $139.8 million at the start of last season to $96.4 million. The $43.4 million decrease is thought to be the largest in baseball history, topping when Texas cut by $38.7 million before the 2004 season.
While cutting payroll, the Mets’ owners waged a legal fight against the trustee for victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, who sought as much as $1 billion. The case was settled last month for up to $162 million.
“To the extent that payrolls move closer together, it probably is a sign of additional competitiveness,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said.
Oakland, unhappy it hasn’t been able to get permission from MLB to build a ballpark in San Jose, has the lowest payroll at just under $53 million, according to the AP study. While Pittsburgh hiked up to $63 million after its MLB-record 19th straight losing season, the Pirates are getting $11.5 million of that back from the Yankees as part of the A.J. Burnett trade.
The Yankees, who have reached the postseason in 16 of the last 17 years, reached $200 million not even including the money they are paying Pittsburgh to take Burnett off their hands. Or the $2.5 million owed Andy Pettitte once he’s added to their roster.
After the Yankees there’s a drop to the Phillies at $174 million and the Red Sox at $173 million, followed by the Angels at $155 million and the Tigers at $132 million.
“We’re always going to have a gap between the economic realities of a New York or an LA versus a Pittsburgh. What is important for us in Pittsburgh is that we never use that as an excuse,” Pirates owner Bob Nutting said. “We need to be very efficient in the way we allocate and maximize any efficiencies we have, and never ever use the economic system as an excuse. We walk in every day believing we can create a winning team within this economic system and we’re going to.”
A-Rod was followed on the money list by the Angels’ Vernon Wells at $24.6 million, followed by Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia ($24.3 million), returning Mets ace Johan Santana ($23.15 million) and Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira ($23.13 million). Fielder’s deal with Detroit placed him in a tie for sixth with Minnesota’s Joe Mauer at $23 million.
The AP’s figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income. For some players, parts of deferred signing bonuses and salaries are discounted to reflect current values.MORE IN Sports Wire
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