A Look at 2014 MLB Salaries

For the first time since the 1998 season, a team other than the New York Yankees has the highest payroll in major league baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who began their spending spree prior to the 2013 season once new ownership took control of the front office, has surpassed the traditionally cash-flush, free-spending Yankees by nearly 33 million dollars, according to figures compiled by the MLB Player’s Association, team officials and representative agents. At an estimated 241 million, the Dodgers are far ahead of every other team, including the Yankees (208 million) and the Philadelphia Phillies (a distant third at 187 million). Not surprisingly, the team also boasts the single highest-paid individual player, starting pitcher Zack Greinke, who’s slated to take home a whopping 28 million in 2014. Greinke’s more celebrated teammate, two-time and defending NL Cy Young winning hurler Clayton Kershaw, will receive ‘only’ 19 million.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Houston Astros own the lowest MLB payroll at a mere 44 million. Coincidentally or not, the team has suffered three consecutive seasons of 100+ losses, lending some validity to the idea that spending less equates to winning less. However, of the six lowest payrolls in the majors, four of them (Cleveland, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay) reached the postseason in 2013. Conversely, only three of the top six highest payrolls (Boston, Detroit, the Dodgers) earned a playoff berth, making the above argument open for debate.

For all MLB teams, starting pitchers and first basemen, on the average, are the highest-paid positions, with 19 out of 30 teams having either of those two positions as their biggest salaried players. The third-highest paid players toil in the outfield, followed by third basemen, second basemen and shortstops. Surprisingly, since the position is generally considered to be the most important overall, there are no catchers who are their teams’ highest-paid player.

Just five seasons ago, only four major leaguers earned salaries exceeding 20 million dollars per season. In 2014, a whopping twenty major leaguers will be paid in excess of 20 million for their services, led by Grienke’s 28 million. Not far behind are Philadelphia teammates Cliff Lee (P) and Ryan Howard (1B) at 25 million each. Both the Dodgers and Yankees will shell out 20 million-plus to four players each (Grienke, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford of the Dodgers and Mark Teixiera, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury of the Yankees). Although he’s never made an appearance in the U.S. major leagues, Pitcher Tanaka is a unique case, having signed a contract with the Yankees after a bidding war primarily due to going 24-0 in the Japanese major leagues in 2013. Of the twenty players slated to receive 20+ million, eight (Grienke, Sabathia, Tanaka, Lee, SF’s Matt Cain, Philly’s Cole Hamels, Detroit’s Jason Verlander and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez) are starting pitchers, while seven of them (Gonzalez, Teixiera, Howard, Texas’ Prince Fielder, Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols of the Angels and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera) are first basemen. Four of the remainder (Kemp, Crawford, Ellsbury, Washington’s Jayson Werth) are outfielders, while Seattle’s Robinson Cano plays second base.

As expected, the 2013 class of free agents cashed in admirably over the off-season. In recent seasons, the Yankees have pulled back from pursuing high dollar free agents, but in the winter of 2013, they reverted to their free-spending ways, convincing not only Tanaka and Ellsbury to join them, but also securing C Brian McCann and OF Carlos Beltran to don the pinstripes in 2014. McCann, the longtime backstop and team leader in Atlanta, will earn 17 million in 2014, making him the highest-paid catcher in the majors. Other free agents who signed significant contracts during the off-season include Cano, Philadelphia’s A.J. Burnett, Tim Hudson, San Francisco, Texas’ Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson of the Mets, Jhonny Peralta to St. Louis and Omar Infante with Kansas City.

Despite being outspent by the Dodgers, the Yankees will have the highest average per player salary at 8 million, followed by the Dodgers at 7.7. Not surprisingly, the frugal Astros have the lowest average salary per player at $506,500, which isn’t much above the league’s minimum salary of $500,000.

HIGHEST-PAID PLAYERS BY POSITION (salaries in millions)
Starting Pitcher- Grienke, Dodgers (28)
Relief Pitcher- Rafael Soriano, Nationals (12)
Catcher- McCann, Yankees (17)
1B- Howard, Phillies (25)
2B- Cano, Mariners (24)
3B- David Wright, Mets (19)
SS- Tulowitzki, Rockies- Reyes, Blue Jays- H. Ramirez, Dodgers (16)
OF- Kemp, Dodgers (21.2)
OF- Crawford, Dodgers (21.1)
OF- Werth, Nationals (20.5)
DH- A. Soriano, Yankees (19)

When all the financial data is gathered and analyzed, several facts can be determined. First, neither a willingness to pay players exorbitant salaries or go the opposite direction and tighten purse strings guarantees success or failure on the field. Secondly, the old baseball saying that the quickest route to the major leagues is to don the “tools of ignorance” (i.e. catcher’s gear) doesn’t necessarily guarantee a hefty paycheck, and thirdly, for parents aspiring for their kids to become big leaguers, lead them to either the pitcher’s mound or have them become familiar with a first baseman’s mitt.