PHOENIX — Major League Baseball players, who expressed their anger and consternation this spring with the growing abundance of teams’ limitations in spending to be competitive, may have to look no further than the opening-day payroll disparity to validate their criticism.
While three teams will top $200 million in payroll for opening-day rosters this season, according to salary information for clubs’ 40-man rosters obtained by USA TODAY Sports, there are eight teams who will open the season with payrolls under $100 million.
The Red Sox, who had baseball’s highest payroll a year ago when they won the World Series, once again top the charts, with a current $224.1 million payroll for their 40-man roster. The only other teams with a $200 million opening-day payroll this season are the New York Yankees ($215.1 million) and Chicago Cubs ($214.7 million), with all three teams projected to eclipse the $206 million luxury tax.
Yet, while those three teams each have been in the playoffs at least three times in the last four years, winning two World Series championships, only one of the teams with sub-$100 million payrolls have reached the playoffs in the last two years.
The eight teams with baseball’s lowest projected payrolls are the Tampa Bay Rays ($61.9 million), Pittsburgh Pirates ($74.3 million), Miami Marlins ($76.1 million), Baltimore Orioles ($80.8 million), Oakland Athletics ($91.1 million), Chicago White Sox ($92.8 million), San Diego Padres ($94 million) and Kansas City Royals ($96.7 million).
2019 MLB SALARIES:Team-by-team
While the A’s earned a wild-card berth last season, the Royals are the only other team among the sub-$100 million club who have won a division title since 2015.
Tony Clark, the Major League Baseball Players Association executive director, says he and the players want every team trying win a World Series, spending as if they care about winning.
Instead, there are 11 teams with payrolls that are $60 million or more under the luxury tax.
“At the end of the day, the idea is that, ‘Hope springs eternal’ across the league as we start the season,’’ Clark said this spring. “And right now, we don’t believe that is the case.’’
The disparity in payrolls exemplifies why there may be a push for a salary floor in the next collective bargaining agreement, which players have openly discussed. It’s disturbing to have a team like the Red Sox to have three pitchers (David Price, $31 million; Rick Porcello, $21.1 million; and Chris Sale, $15 million) earn more than the entire Rays’ team.
The Red Sox, in fact, are paying more money to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who they released two years ago, than seven teams are paying their highest-paid player.
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There has been $917 million spent in contract extensions alone in the last week, led by Mike Trout’s record $426.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
Yet, while teams like the Red Sox — who gave Sale a five-year, $145 million extension — already have $98.6 million committed to their payroll in 2022, there are 12 teams who have less than $15 million on the books in three years, with the Marlins not having a single penny owed to a player past 2020.
“One of the best things about baseball is the competitive integrity of the game,’’ Cleveland Indians co-ace Trevor Bauer said in February. “For a long time, it’s been because of a lack of a salary cap. But I think we have a pseudo-salary cap now with the luxury tax.
“That needs to change.’’
They now have the numbers to prove it.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale