Report: MLB payrolls drop nearly $2.5B in pandemic

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Major League Baseball payrolls plunged to $1.75 billion during the pandemic-shortened season from $4.22 billion, and the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers led with $98.6 million – the smallest for the top spender in 20 years.

Base wages for 40-man rosters tumbled to $1.54 billion, according to information sent from Major League Baseball to teams on Friday night and obtained by The Associated Press. That was down from $3.99 billion in 2019.

Prorated portions of signing bonuses totaled $120.6 million, down slightly from $122.8 million. Earned bonuses fell to $25 million from $26.9 million.

Buyouts of unexercised 2021 options came to $58.2 million, more than double the $26.9 million for buyouts of unexercised 2020 options, a sign of expense-cutting amid the revenue loss.

Los Angeles won its first title since 1988 as it topped spending for the first time since 2017, when the Dodgers led for the fourth year in a row. The total had not been that low of the top spender since the New York Yankees in 2000 at $95.3 million.

The Yankees, at $83.6 million, were No. 2 for the second straight season. The New York Mets were third at $83.4 million in their final season of ownership by the Wilpon and Katz families, up from 12th and their highest since they were second in 2009. The Mets were purchased last month by hedge fund manager Steven Cohen, who is boosting payroll higher for next year.

Houston was fourth at $81.4 million, up from eighth, followed by the Chicago Cubs at $80.6 million, down from third.

San Diego was sixth at $76.3 million, followed by Washington ($76.2 million), Texas ($75.2 million) and the Los Angeles Angels ($69.9 million),

Boston, two years removed from a World Series title, dropped from first to 13th at $63.3 million after trading stars Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers.

AL champion Tampa Bay was 28th at $29.4 million, ahead of only Pittsburgh ($24.1 million) and Baltimore ($23.5 million).

Base salaries were reduced by 60/162 due the shortened schedule as part of an agreement between MLB and the players’ association following the interruption of spring training by the novel coronavirus. The season’s start was delayed from March 26 to July 23, and each team’s schedule cut from 162 games to 60.

If full salaries had been paid and a complete schedule played with the usual average of callups from the minors, payrolls likely would have increased by 4% from 2019.

While the luxury tax was suspended, three teams projected to finish over the $208 million tax threshold, based on full payrolls by average annual value and including benefits and a COVID credit of at least $1.5 million per club: the Yankees ($239.8 million), Houston ($224.3 million) and the Chicago Cubs ($216.3 million).

New York and Chicago, both over for the second straight year, would have paid at 30% of the amount above $208 million up until $228 million, and the Yankees would have paid 42% in the amount over $228 million. Houston would have paid at a 20% amount on its overage.

The Yankees avoided what would have been a full tax bill of $10,965,773 according to AP’s calculation, the Astros $3,263,801 and the Cubs $2,480,775. If they had paid on a prorated 60/162 share, the Yankees would have owed $4,061,397, the Astros $1,208,815 and the Cubs $918,805.

Still, each of those teams will have the compensation rate of a luxury tax-paying club if it signs a free agent who turned down a qualifying offer from another team: Each would forfeit its second- and fifth-highest picks in the 2021 amateur draft and lose $1 million of international amateur signing bonus pool allotment.

Philadelphia was just under the tax threshold at $207.3 million and the Dodgers at $204.6 million.

Boston dropped to $184.9 million after paying a Red Sox record $13.4 million luxury tax in 2019, when the team failed make the playoffs.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.