The average salary in Major League Baseball is on pace to drop for the second consecutive year despite Manny Machado and Bryce Harper each signing $300 million-plus contracts this offseason.
According to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), the average salary around the league was $4.36 million entering Monday. That figure is down from $4.41 million on Opening Day 2018 and $4.45 million two years ago.
Last year marked just the second time in the two-plus decades since the 1994-95 strike that the number dropped.
The drop may come as a surprise to some given Machado (10 years, $300 million with the San Diego Padres) and Harper (13 years, $330 million with the Philadelphia Phillies) signed for nearly a third of a billion dollars each. However, it took until late February for either star to sign, as the free-agent market was slow to develop for the second consecutive offseason.
While Harper and Machado may have gotten paid, a number of big-name free agents are still available. All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and 2015 American League Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, among others, remain unsigned with the start of the season just days away.
"Free agency is part of what drives baseball's economic system, and it needs to remain a meaningful option for players going forward," Players Association executive director Tony Clark said.
Recent free-agency woes may have played a role in a number of stars around the league signing extensions this offseason. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout (12 years, $430 million), Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado (eight years, $260 million), St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (five years, $130 million), Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander (two years, $66 million) and Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale (five years, $145 million) have all recently signed extensions.
Arenado, Goldschmidt, Verlander and Sale were each set to become free agents at the conclusion of the 2019 campaign.
While noting that he "wasn't scared of free agency," Verlander said: "At the top of the food chain, those guys are always going to get their contracts. Teams are understanding the situation that they're in when they have the player in-house. There's a mutual leverage there for both sides to get something done. And I think that's why you're seeing a lot of this happen right now."