The average major league salary dropped this year for the first time since 2004 and for only the fourth time since record-keeping started 50 years ago, according to the players’ association.
The union said Friday its final average was $4,095,686, down $1,436 from $4,097,122 last year.
Since the union started keeping track in 1967, the only previous declines had been by $66 in 1987, when owners were found to have conspired to hold down salaries among free agents; a 4 percent decline in 1995 following a 7-plus-month strike that wiped out the World Series for the first time since 1904; and by 2.5 percent in 2004.
This year’s survey was based on the 968 players on major league rosters and disabled lists on Aug. 31, the last day before the active player limit expanded from 25 to 40.
Major League Baseball calculated this year’s average at $4,007,985, a 0.77 percent increase from a revised figure of $3,977,446 for 2017. The union includes a prorated share of option buyouts that might be earned if the option is declined, while MLB does not take those into account in its average.
After years of strong growth, salaries have stagnated over the last three years. The union’s average this year is up just 3.6 percent from $3,952,252 in 2015. The increase from 2012 to 2015 was 23 percent.
An unusually slow free-agent market last offseason contributed to this year’s drop. Among the 166 players who exercised the right to become free agents after the World Series, exactly half of the 140 agreements reached were completed after the start of spring training workouts on Feb. 14. Many of those deals involving veterans were for depressed prices.
Two years ago, the union calculated the average at $3,966,020, a 0.35 percent rise from the previous year’s $3,952,252 that was the lowest change from one year to the next since a 2.5 percent drop in 2004. MLB pegged that year’s average at $3,825,967, down from $3,835,498 in 2015.