By RONALD BLUM, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The rest of baseball is starting to catch up with the big spenders.
The Miami Marlins, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels all had hefty boosts in payroll during the offseason along with the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals, according to a study of major league contracts by The Associated Press.
Some traditional high rollers had huge drops, including the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.
"Any time everything's even, it's always better competition," Prince Fielder said Thursday before his first game as the Tigers' new big-money first baseman.
The New York Yankees, of course, remain the cash king and topped $200 million on opening day for the fifth consecutive year. And at $30 million, the Yanks' Alex Rodriguez remains the richest of the richest, baseball's highest-paid player for the 12th straight season.
The major league average salary rose 4.1 percent to $3.44 million, the steepest hike since 2008.
Lucrative deals came from unexpected places, with Albert Pujols getting $240 million from Angels owner Arte Moreno and Fielder $214 million from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.
"Maybe they just have more saved up or something," Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said before his team opened against the Tigers. "Being here in Detroit, and seeing what Mr. Ilitch is trying to do around this area and for the city of Detroit — I think spending money on his team to make this city feel proud of something is a fabulous, fabulous effort."
Spreading the wealth this week, Cincinnati struck a deal with Joey Votto for $251.5 million over 12 years — the longest deal in big league history and the third richest. San Francisco gave Matt Cain $127.5 million over the next six seasons, the highest contract for a right-handed pitcher.
"I think it's a healthy sign to the extent that the weaker clubs financially, or lower-revenue clubs, are starting to spend a little more. It would suggest that revenues have been improving for those clubs," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "To the extent that payrolls move closer together, it probably is a sign of additional competitiveness. Although, again, there's not always a correlation between the payroll and team success."
Some fear that the incoming owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, after spending $2 billion for the team, might covet next November's free agents, a group that currently includes pitchers Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke.
"It's kind of humorous to me," San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean said. "These guys haven't even taken over yet and all of a sudden they're going to take every player in baseball."
Lots of baseball executives are contemplating what the Dodgers' megadeal means for their teams.
"It's an incredible price," Yankees President Randy Levine said. "One can only imagine what the value of the Yankees would be at a market sale."
Revenue sharing has spread the wealth, and more teams have rich cable television contracts.
"Without economic reformation, none of this happens," baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said Wednesday. "It has been great for everybody — big markets, medium, small, everybody — because there's a sense of fairness."
The renamed Miami Marlins, in their new hip ballpark, boosted payroll by about $40 million, even after factoring in the more than $15 million they are getting from the Cubs along with Carlos Zambrano. Adding All-Stars Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle didn't come cheap.
After winning its second straight AL pennant, Texas' spending went up by about $27 million, about as much as Detroit's. Kansas City and Tampa Bay had hikes almost as large.
"It's gotten to like every fan when that season starts feels like their team's got a chance," Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "And that's the way it should be."
But for every nearly ever booster there was a slasher.
According to MLB figures, which include money in trades, cash paid released players and buyouts, the Mets went from $139.8 million at the start of last season to $96.4 million. The $43.4 million decrease is thought to be the largest in baseball history, topping when Texas cut by $38.7 million before the 2004 season.
While cutting payroll, the Mets' owners waged a legal fight against the trustee for victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, who sought as much as $1 billion. The case was settled last month for up to $162 million.
Oakland, unhappy it hasn't been able to get permission from MLB to build a ballpark in San Jose, has the lowest payroll at just under $53 million, according to the AP study. While Pittsburgh hiked up to $63 million after its MLB-record 19th straight losing season, the Pirates are getting $11.5 million of that back from the Yankees as part of the A.J. Burnett trade.
"The payroll thing is kind of an excuse honestly," Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth said. "You don't play dollar against dollar. You have to go out on the field and do it. You know teams with higher payrolls have players who have prolonged success as opposed to teams with lower payrolls, but honestly that doesn't play into anything when we play or step on the field."
Still, a high payroll usually means a better chance of reaching the playoffs.
The Yankees, who have reached the postseason in 16 of the last 17 years, reached $200 million not even including the money they are paying Pittsburgh to take Burnett off their hands. Or the $2.5 million owed Andy Pettitte once he's added to their roster.
After the Yankees there's a drop to the Phillies at $174 million and the Red Sox at $173 million, followed by the Angels at $155 million and the Tigers at $132 million.
"It seems like the landscape out there is getting a little bit flatter," said Theo Epstein, the Cubs' new president of baseball operations. "We'll see how it all plays out."
A-Rod was followed on the money list by the Angels' Vernon Wells at $24.6 million, followed by Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia ($24.3 million), returning Mets ace Johan Santana ($23.15 million) and Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira ($23.13 million). Fielder's deal with Detroit placed him in a tie for sixth with Minnesota's Joe Mauer at $23 million.
The AP's figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income. For some players, parts of deferred signing bonuses and salaries are discounted to reflect current values.
Million-dollar salaries dropped slightly, from 453 to 448. Still, that's nearly 53 percent of the 852 players on opening-day rosters and disabled lists. The number of $10 million players increased from 82 to 89, and $20 million stars rose from 10 to 14.
Sixty-eight players make the $480,000 minimum — boosted from $414,000 under baseball's new labor contract. The median salary, the point at which an equal numbers are above and below, declined by $25,000 to $1,075,000, down from a record $1,125,000 in 2009.
There were 103 players on the disabled list, nine more than at the start of last year and the most on opening day since 2008.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP Sports Writers Mike Fitzpatrick, Will Graves, Andrew Seligman, Noah Trister and Steven Wine contributed to this report.
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