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+ -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.
After years of strong growth, salaries have stagnated over the last three years. This year’s average is up just 3.6 percent from $3,952,252 in 2015.
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 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 rate of increase since a 2.5 percent drop in 2004. Major League Baseball calculated that year’s average at $3,825,967, down from $3,835,498 in 2015.
The union includes a pro-rated share of option buyouts that may be earned if the option is declined, while MLB does not take those into account in its average.