The typical MLB player makes $520,000 a year. So far in 2016 that number is actually a much higher $1.35 million. That’s more than double what it’s been for the past five years. The change doesn’t come from a massive hike to MLB player money but instead from the way the MLB works. Right now the MLB has only 900 players. The lowest paid 250 or so don’t get contracts until late summer. At that time, expanding rosters and injuries result in more low-level players becoming active. Others get brought up from the minor leagues in September. By the end of the 2016 season, the $1.35 million typical MLB player salary will be back down around $520,000, where it’s been in recent years.
The average MLB player makes $4.2 million, but average doesn’t mean much in a league where a few players make over $30 million and most make less than a million. For 2016, the highest paid MLB player is L.A. Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw with $34.57 million. Zack Greinke and David Price also make $30 million or more each. There are 34 players with salaries in the $20-30 million range, 86 in the $10-$20 million range, 286 that make between $2 million and $10 million, and 489 that make less than $2 million. By September, that last number will be more like 750.
Median MLB Salary
Median pay is the best measure of how much money an MLB player makes. That’s because “median” basically means “typical.” Put another way, the median is that number where half the players make more and half make less. Commentators and the media like to throw average salary figures around, but averages aren’t that useful. This is especially true where some numbers are very high while most are relatively low. For example, take a group of 10 people, where 9 of them have $50,000 saved and one is Bill Gates. The average net worth of that group is $8 billion. The median is $50,000.
Unfortunately, baseball throws another wrench in the statistical gears with the way its season comes together. Teams start out with a much lower number of players. Early season 2016, there are only 900 total MLB players spread across all 30 teams. Later in the season, MLB player ranks will swell to 1,100 or 1,200. Those extra 200 to 300 players are all the lowest paid. That means early season, the “typical” MLB player makes $1.35 million. But that’s like saying “the typical player, excluding all the lowest paid.” It doesn’t make much sense. The table below gives a good idea of what the typical player made from 2011-2015. By late September, 2016’s median will look a lot more like other years.
Median MLB Player Salary 2011
|Median MLB Player Salary 2012||$495,000|
|Median MLB Player Salary 2013||$507,900|
|Median MLB Player Salary 2014||$525,400|
|Median MLB Player Salary 2015||$520,000|
|Median MLB Player Salary 2016 (early season)||$1,350,000|
How Much Money MLB Players Make
The typical MLB player salary is $520,000 a year. The average is almost $3 million. In 2015, the media threw around average player pay over $4 million, but that was before the roster changes filled out the league’s ranks later in the season. After the fact, the real 2015 average wound up at $2.84 million. It looks to wind up slightly higher than that for 2016.
In 2015, the final tally of active players wound up at 1,196. For 2016, the total of all MLB payroll money is $3.9 billion. If that money were split evenly between 1,196 players, it would give an average salary of $3.3 million. Taking the real, current player list for the entire league, the average MLB salary as of 4/26/16 is $4.16 million. The highest paid player in the league is Clayton Kershaw. The L.A. Dodgers’ starting pitcher has the highest baseball salary in history. He’ll also keep that honor through 2018, when his contract will boost his pay to $35.57 million. High-end MLB salaries tend to be higher than those in the NBA or NFL, because the MLB doesn’t have a salary cap. Instead, a luxury tax on teams that pay players more than a certain amount is supposed to keep baseball salaries in check.
Typical MLB Salary
|Average MLB Salary (so far in 2016 - will drop)||$4,155,907|
|Highest MLB Salary 2016 (Clayton Kershaw)||$34,571,428|
|Lowest MLB Salary (Minimum wage)||$507,500|
|Highest MLB Player Pay Ever (Clayton Kershaw)||$34,571,428|
|Highest Future MLB Salary Agreed To (Clayton Kershaw 2018)||$35,571,428|
|Total MLB Payroll 2016||$3,941,872,505|
|MLB Salary Cap||None (See "MLB Luxury Tax" below)|
|MLB Luxury Tax||17.5% to 50%|
|Highest MLB Team Payroll (L.A. Dodgers)||$249,185,691|
|Number of MLB Players (as of early 2016 - will grow to about 1,150)||900|
Related: How Much Money Do NFL Players Make?
The 20 Highest Paid MLB Players
For 2016, the highest paid MLB players are listed in the table below. Clayton Kershaw takes the lead with $34.57 million. That number also makes him the highest paid professional athlete in any of the big four league sports. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Grienke is a close second with $34 million. David Price, Boston Red Sox pitcher, rounds out the list of the three MLB players who pull down $30 million or more. No player in the NBA reaches the $30 million mark and only one NFL player hits it. That’s Drew Brees with $30 million even. The highest paid NHL player is Jonathan Toews with a global-warming level $10.5 million.
The Lowest Paid MLB Players
The lowest paid active MLB players all make $507,500. That’s the league’s 2016 minimum wage. There are 97 players who earn that salary. There are another 285 who make less than $600,000. The minimum wage for the MLB has grown only slightly since 2011. A league regulation prevents the figure from backsliding, but there’s nothing that says it can’t stay at the same level for at least two consecutive years.
Min MLB Pay 2011
|Min MLB Pay 2012||$480,000|
|Min MLB Pay 2013||$490,000|
|Min MLB Pay 2014||$505,000|
|Min MLB Pay 2015||$507,500|
|Min MLB Pay 2016||$507,500|
Highest Paid MLB Teams
The top ten teams with the highest MLB payrolls are in the table below. The L.A. Dodgers are #1 with $249 million, followed by the New York Yankees with $228 million and the Boston Red Sox with $201 million. The Tigers, Giants, Angels, Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals and Orioles finish off the list. The Orioles have the tenth biggest MLB payroll with $147.7 million. Interestingly, one of the top ten biggest money teams has won the World Series for eight out of the last ten years. Exceptions are the 2015 Kansas City Royals and the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies. The Royals payroll in 2015 was only $112 million. That’s less than half the top paying team in that year, the L.A. Dodgers with $273 million.
|Los Angeles Dodgers||$249,185,691|
|New York Yankees||$228,273,069|
|Boston Red Sox||$201,242,449|
|San Francisco Giants||$172,790,080|
|Los Angeles Angels||$167,790,141|
|St. Louis Cardinals||$148,678,500|
Total MLB Salary by Year
The total of all the payrolls/salaries of all 30 MLB teams for 2016 comes to $3,941,872,505. That’s only slightly more than 2015’s total of $3,918,920,897. In fact, the total MLB payroll grew as little as .6% in 2016 and as much as 9% in 2014. In other recent years its growth curve has been somewhere in between. The real eye opener is how much the total payroll has grown since 1985. In that year, the payroll for all 26 teams was just $275 million. Adjusting for inflation, that’s still only $608 million. That means that even with the inflation adjustment, available pay for all the players in the league has risen by 548%. Without adjusting, it’s 1,332%. That’s an average of 17.7% per year for 31 years. That’s enough for four entirely new teams, plus generous player salary hikes.
Total MLB Salary 1985
|Total MLB Salary 2011||$3,099,845,907|
|Total MLB Salary 2012||$3,266,889,603|
|Total MLB Salary 2013||$3,343,362,504|
|Total MLB Salary 2014||$3,649,993,277|
|Total MLB Salary 2015||$3,918,920,897|
|Total MLB Salary 2016||$3,941,872,505|
The MLB has much more money than the NBA to pay players. Lebron is getting paid $23 Mil and John Lester is getting paid $20 Mil. #joke
— Chris Hass ⓮ (@Chris_Hass_14) April 26, 2016
Are MLB Players Paid Too Much?
Almost any office break room reverberates with the question of whether baseball players make too much money. The answer is, they don’t. Look at the numbers. The league took in $9.5 billion in revenue in 2015. The players got $3.9 billion of that, or 41%. 41% seems like a lot, but that money doesn’t include the cash many teams generate with their own multi-billion dollar media deals. For instance, the Dodgers recently inked an $8 billion dollar 25 year deal with Time-Warner Cable for regional broadcast rights. The Yankees signed another contract worth almost that much. Without the players, there wouldn’t be any revenue at all. The same could be said for the maintenance employees, PR people and other essential staff of course, but the difference is, those positions aren’t as hard to fill. The league needs those particular 1,200 baseball players. They’re the best in the world. There isn’t anybody else who’s qualified to fill their shoes. Finally, if the money shouldn’t go to the players, where should it go? To the networks? Into an MLB slush fund?
To contrast the big leagues, the MLB pays 1,200 players $3.9 billion a year on $9.5 billion in revenue. The NBA pays 446 players $2.3 billion on $5 billion in revenue. The NFL pays 1,696 players $3.6 billion on an estimated $7 billion in revenue. Seen that way, MLB players get 41% of total league revenue, NBA players get 46% and NFL players get about half.
MLB should have a salary cap instead of using a luxury tax on teams
— Sahej (@SahejBrar) April 25, 2016
Does the MLB’s Luxury Tax Work?
The MLB has no salary cap like the NBA and NFL have. Instead, the MLB has a “luxury tax” to keep player salaries in check. The tax was created in 1996. The way it works is, if a team’s total payroll exceeds a certain limit, they get a fine. In 2016 that limit is $189 million. First offenders pay a tax of 17.5%. For 2016, a team that pays its players $245 million, breaking the limit for the first time would pay a tax of $9.8 million. A second-offender would pay 30% and a third offender would pay 40%. After five years, the team’s prior history is wiped clean. In 2015, four teams paid the MLB luxury tax: The L.A. Dodgers paid $43.6 million. The Yankees paid $26 million, the Red Sox $1.8 million and the Giants $1.3 million. The Dodgers don’t seem to mind making a habit of paying the tax. They paid $11 million in 2013 and nearly $27 million in 2014. In 2016 they’re on track to pay another $26 million at least. So is it working for them? They haven’t won a World Series since 1988. That said, they’ve won the West Division title in four of the past ten years.
Interested in learning more about how much money players make in the big sports leagues? Check out our article on how much money NBA players really make. We’ve also got a post on how much money players make in the NFL.