Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers have knocked Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees off baseball's payroll perch, part of an offseason spending spree that has the average salary approaching $4 million for the first time.
The Dodgers are ending the Yankees' 15-year streak as baseball's biggest spenders and as of Tuesday had a projected payroll of $235 million, according to a study of all major league contracts by The Associated Press.
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New York, which last failed to top the payroll rankings in 1998, was a distant second at $204 million. After that, it was another huge gap to Philadelphia at $180 million, followed by Boston at $163 million and Detroit at $162 million.
Houston is last at $45 million, up from $27 million at the start of last year, and Miami at $48 million remains 29th.
Some large-market teams are among the smaller spenders, with the Mets and Chicago Cubs projected at $89 million, ranked 22nd and 23rd.
Rodriguez, who holds the record for the largest deal in baseball history at $275 million over 10 years, is suspended for the season for violations of baseball's drug agreement and labor contract. Because of the ban, he will earn only $3,868,852 of his $25 million salary -- 21 days pay for the 183-day season.
Greinke would have become the highest-paid player, even if Rodriguez was getting all his cash. The pitcher has a $24 million salary in the second season of his $147 million, six-year contract, and because he can opt out of the deal after the 2015 season, baseball's accounting rules call for his $12 million signing bonus to be prorated over the first three seasons.
"We've got great ownership and a great fan base, and we need to do what we can to win games," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said last week in Sydney, where Los Angeles swept its opening, two-game series against Arizona.
"I don't think the guys worry about it. I know we don't worry about it," Colletti said. "We're expected to win, and that's how we go about it. Money doesn't mean you win. Money just means you have a chance to get the best players."
As of Tuesday, the average salary projected to be between $3.95 million and $4 million, with the final figure depending on how many players are put on the disabled list by the time opening-day rosters are finalized at 3 p.m. Sunday. That translates to a rise of 8 to 10 percent from last year's opening average of $3.65 million and would be the largest increase since 2006 or possibly even 2001.
"I'm not surprised. With the type of revenues clubs are enjoying these days, the average salaries are going to go up," New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said.
Illustrating the rate of escalation, the opening-day average was $1.07 million when Derek Jeter first reached the major leagues in 1995, broke the $2 million mark in 2001 and spurted past $3 million in 2008.
"I think it's great. I think it just shows the game is growing, fan interest is there," said Jeter, the Yankees captain who is retiring at the end of this season. "The business of baseball seems like it's booming pretty good right now."
The average U.S. wage in 2012 was $42,498, according to the Social Security Administration, the latest figure available and an annual increase of 3.12 percent.
Following Greinke on the highest-paid list are Philadelphia's Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee at $25 million, the Yankees' CC Sabathia at $24.3 million, and Seattle's Robinson Cano and Texas' Prince Fielder at $24 million each.
The AP's figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income for players on active rosters, disabled lists and the restricted list. For some players, parts of deferred money are discounted to reflect current values.
Payroll figures factor in adjustments for cash transactions in trades, signing bonuses that are the responsibility of the club agreeing to the contract, option buyouts, and termination pay for released players.
For instance, the Yankees are receiving $18.6 million from the Los Angeles Angels to cover most of the $21 million due to outfielder Vernon Wells, who has been released, and $13 million from the Chicago Cubs to pay most of the $18 million owed outfielder Alfonso Soriano. The Mets' payroll include buyouts to Johan Santana ($4.9 million present value) and Jason Bay ($2.7 million present value).