What is the league minimum in mlb? Major League Baseball players are often considered multi-millionaires, lottery winners in a way. And with the numbers thrown about in the media when discussing signings, it is easy to understand why. Most people on the planet simply can not comprehend a salary that runs to hundreds of millions of dollars.
In an average person’s working life, they will earn something in the region of $2.7 million. That is between birth and the grave. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will earn that same lifetime’s money in just 23 days.
But when the focus is on the top end of the board, the bottom often gets overlooked. While the top 50 highest-paid players get 30% of the money in the league, the average salary is $1.5 million, meaning that the bottom end is pretty heavy to balance out those big paychecks.
2023 minimum MLB salary
Despite the star players of each team earning millions, the very fact that the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies a minimum salary should indicate that it is needed. In fact, there are 129 players this season who are earning the bare minimum, with five more earning just $100 per year above the minimum and another five just $100 more than that.
There are some bona fide stars in that group as well, with Oneill Cruz, Anthony Volpe, and Charlie Culberson amongst the players on the minimum. One of these players hovering near the league minimum is Josh Jung, the third baseman for the Texas Rangers, and without doubt, the steal of the year at only $721,485.
The CBA lays out a schedule to raise the league minimum each year, and this season it is set at $720,000.
While the highest-paid MLB athlete is currently split between two players, Scherzer and Verlander, the lowest-paid is a 45-way tie between those on the league minimum.
MLB’s minimum salary lags behind other leagues
Among the four major North American sports, MLB has far and away the longest season (they play twice as many regular season games as the next longest) but also the lowest minimum salary. Here is each league’s minimum salary for its most recent season:
- NBA: $925,258
- NHL: $750,000
- NFL: $660,000
- MLB: $570,500
With all due respect to the NHL, its annual revenues are a little less than half MLB’s these days (the NHL projects about $5 billion in revenue for the 2021-22 season), yet their players enjoy a minimum salary that is more than 30 percent larger than their baseball-playing peers. That right there is reason enough for the MLBPA to seek a considerably higher minimum salary.
It’s not just that MLB has the lowest minimum salary among the four major North American sports though. It’s that the majority of the baseball player pool is making something close to that league minimum. Let’s expand on that now …
Most MLB players aren’t millionaires
Sports work stoppage debates often devolve into “millionaires vs. billionaires” and yes, baseball players are paid very well relative to the general population. They are not all millionaires though. Not even close, really. The Associated Press reports 62 percent of players on 2021 Opening Day rosters had salaries under $1 million, and 32 percent had salaries under $600,000. A third of the league made something close to the minimum in 2021.
The average MLB salary was $4.17 million in 2021, though averages can be deceiving. $4.17 million is the average of $4.07 million and $4.27 million. It’s also the average of two players making $600,000 and one player making $11.3 million, and that’s a better representation of modern MLB roster construction. The vast majority of players are making close to the minimum, and only a handful manage to hang around long enough to really cash in and call themselves millionaires.
In 2019, the last non-COVID season, close to two-thirds of the players who stepped on the field had less than three years of service time, according to The Score’s Travis Sawchik. With the exception of the few players who qualify as a Super Two each year, players with less than three years of service time do not have arbitration rights, and make close to the minimum. Only a little more than one third of the league is meaningfully above the minimum salary.
Sawchik also found the average MLB career is around 3.71 years of service time these days, down from 4.79 years in 2005. Teams have not-so-subtly gravitated toward building their rosters around players early in their careers because they’re significantly cheaper than veterans, first and foremost, and also because they tend to be in their 20s and not yet approaching their decline years, so you get peak performance. Players with less than three years of service time are the most desirable demographic to clubs.
A look at each proposal
Depending how you look at it, MLB’s latest offer is either a historically large raise to the minimum salary, or a raise that is more or less in line with the last few collective bargaining agreements. Here are the increases to the minimum salary in Year 1 of the last 10 CBAs
The minimum salary really shot up during that period from 1980-2003. The average increase in Year 1 of each new CBA during that period was no smaller than 37.6 percent and often up around 50 percent. Over the last few CBAs though, the increase has been south of 20 percent, and only 5.4 percent in 2017. In terms of actual dollars, the 2017 raise was smaller than the 1990 raise.
In terms of actual dollars, MLB’s proposed minimum salary increase would be the largest on record and a substantial increase over the last few CBAs. The MLBPA’s proposed minimum salary increase includes an even larger raise that is greater than the initial raise of the last three CBAs combined ($146,500). Either way, the actual dollar increase is enormous.
But in terms of percent raise, both offers are more in line with the 2007 and 2012 CBAs than the formative 1980-2003 CBAs. Both MLB and the MLBPA are proposing only the sixth largest percent raise in the last nine CBAs. So yes, in terms of actual dollars, the players would get a historic raise. In terms of percent raise, it’s only slightly better than the most recent CBAs.
Also, the annual increase to the minimum salary within each proposal is very different. MLB is seeking a $10,000 raise per year for a $40,000 increase across the five-year agreement, or 5.7 percent of the base minimum salary in 2022. MLB revenues have grown average of eight percent per year since 2002. The MLBPA is seeking a $40,000 in increase in just the first two years.
Given the offers already on the table, the union is poised to land its largest minimum salary increase in quite some time based on the percent raise even though it isn’t wildly out of line with recent CBAs. Also, the amount of money we’re talking about is small beans for a major league operation. A 26-man roster of league minimum players would have cost $14.83 million in 2021. Under the MLBPA’s proposal, it would be $18.85 million in 2022. The $4.02 million difference amounts to a rounding error for MLB franchises.
With roughly two-thirds of the league falling into the pre-arbitration service time level, the MLBPA has understandably focused on putting more money in the pockets of those players. This would help close to two-thirds of the players in the league right now and every player who comes up from the minors during the life of the CBA. Simply put, a higher minimum salary is the single best and most straightforward way the MLBPA can enrich the majority of players who step on the field.
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