How Much Money Does an MLB Player Make?

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.

Typical MLB Player Salary

Median MLB Salary

Typical MLB Player MoneyMedian 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

Related: How Much Money Does an NBA Player Make?

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 CapNone (See "MLB Luxury Tax" below)
MLB Luxury Tax17.5% 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

Highest Paid Players MLBFor 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.

Clayton Kershaw
Zack Greinke$34,000,000
David Price$30,000,000
Miguel Cabrera$28,000,000
Justin Verlander$28,000,000
Felix Hernandez$25,857,142
Ryan Howard$25,000,000
Albert Pujols$25,000,000
C.C. Sabathia$25,000,000
Jon Lester$25,000,000
Robinson Cano$24,000,000
Cole Hamels$23,500,000
Mark Teixeira$23,125,000
Joe Mauer$23,000,000
Hanley Ramirez$22,750,000
Max Scherzer$22,142,857
Justin Upton$22,125,000
Masahiro Tanaka$22,000,000
Jose Reyes$22,000,000
Adrian Gonzalez$21,857,142

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

Highest Paid Teams MLBThe 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.

MLB Team
Total Salary
Los Angeles Dodgers$249,185,691
New York Yankees$228,273,069
Boston Red Sox$201,242,449
Detroit Tigers$191,937,493
San Francisco Giants$172,790,080
Los Angeles Angels$167,790,141
Chicago Cubs$167,444,167
Texas Rangers$163,114,487
St. Louis Cardinals$148,678,500
Baltimore Orioles$147,693,713

Related: How Much Money Do You Get If You Win the World Series?

Total MLB Salary by Year

Total MLB salary by teamThe 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

Are MLB Players Paid Too Much?

How much money MLB players makeAlmost 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.

Does the MLB’s Luxury Tax Work?

MLB Luxury TaxThe 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.