The average MLB salary remained around $4.4 million for the 2020 season before factoring in the coronavirus' impact on players' earnings, which marked the fifth straight year without a significant upward trend in salaries, the longest stretch of the free-agent era (since 1976).
Ronald Blum of the Associated Press reported Tuesday that the lack of a jump despite four players signing contracts of at least $200 million—Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg and Christian Yelich—concerns longtime agent Scott Boras.
"When the revenues are going up 15 percent and salaries are going up one percent, we've got to really calculate the rights valuation and look at it in a way that allows for those rights to be exercised differently," Boras said.
While the number of players making at least $10 million increased from 122 to 136 over the past year, those making between $2-5 million (150 to 145) and $5-10 million (120 to 102) both dropped, per Blum.
Those players in the middle tier have often been the ones who've recently struggled to land the expected deals in free agency, which Boras attributed to teams becoming too reliant on the "Moneyball" strategy of trying to replace mid-tier producers with more cost-effective options.
"The fanbase in baseball has spoken about the models baseball is using, and that is these predicted models where they felt that the successes of teams were going to be measured by something other than I think the fans perception in the ballpark about who great players are," Boras told CNBC in December.
He added Moneyball "didn't work," using fans as evidence: "We've had attendance drops four years in a row."
Another notable issue is the growing divide between MLB's big spenders and small-market clubs that can't afford to keep pace in bidding wars for stars like Cole or Strasburg.
The New York Yankees had the highest projected payroll March 28 at $242 million before the start of the season was delayed indefinitely because of COVID-19, per Blum. The Pittsburgh Pirates were at the bottom of the payroll list at $54 million—a $188 million difference.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in April he would "turn over every stone" with hope of playing the 2020 season if possible, but the league reached an agreement with the Players Association in March about a reduction in salaries based on either a shortened or canceled campaign.