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Average MLB salary at $4.17 million, down 4.8% from 2019

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NEW YORK — The average major league salary dropped 4.8% to just under $4.17 million on Opening Day from the start of the previous full season in 2019.

The average has fallen 6.4% since the start of the 2017 season, when it peaked at $4.45 million, according to a study of major league contracts by The Associated Press. The salary downturn is yet another sign baseball could be headed toward labor strife and a possible work stoppage in 2022.

Baseball’s middle class has borne the brunt of the drop. The median salary — the point at which an equal number of players are above and below — is $1.15 million, down 18% from $1.4 million two years ago and a drop of 30% from the $1.65 million record high at the start of 2015.

Of 902 players on Opening Day rosters, 417 had salaries under $1 million, including 316 under $600,000.

The 50 highest-paid players are getting 33.4% of all salaries, up from 28.6% in 2017, and the 100 highest-paid are receiving 52.4%, an increase from 42.5% in 2017.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is the highest-paid player in 2021 at $38 million after agreeing to a three-year, $102 million contract he can terminate after one season. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is second at $37.1 million, followed by New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado ($35 million), who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Colorado Rockies.

The World Series champion Dodgers topped the major leagues at $241 million, the highest big league total since the Dodgers set the record at $270 million at the start of the 2015 season.

Players are unhappy with the slide in salaries under the current collective bargaining agreement, even before last year’s pandemic-shortened season, and intend to press for changes during labor talks this year to replace the contract that expires Dec. 1.

The average was just over $500,000 when AP started its salary studies in 1989 and went down just twice before 2017: after the 1994-95 strike and between the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

The average has dropped 4.9% under the current labor agreement, which started after the 2016 season. The average rose 15.3% under the 2007-11 contract and 32.6% under the 2012-16 deal.

This year’s average was depressed by the Opening Day absence of Houston Astros pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who was left off the initial roster, and infielder Rougned Odor, who had been designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers and later was traded to the Yankees. Their presence on Opening Day would have increased the average by roughly $24,000, cutting the drop over two years to 4.2%.

Add the money the Boston Red Sox owe second baseman Dustin Pedroia, on the voluntary retired list after missing most of the prior three seasons while hurt, and the average would have been down 3.9% to $4.2 million. Termination pay, option buyouts and portions of signing bonuses paid to released players are not included in the average.

In addition, the average likely was lowered slightly by the expansion of active rosters to 26, which probably caused teams to add 30 players making near the $570,500 minimum.

The Yankees were second in payroll at $201 million and the New York Mets, under new owner Steven Cohen, third at $186 million. The Angels were next at $181 million, followed by the Washington Nationals ($179.6 million), Red Sox ($179.5 million), Astros ($176.5 million), San Diego Padres ($175.7 million) and Philadelphia Phillies ($174.8 million).

Twelve teams are under $100 million, with the Pittsburgh Pirates at $46 million the lowest on Opening Day in a full season since Houston’s $44.6 million in 2014. Slightly above the Pirates were the Cleveland Indians ($51 million), Baltimore Orioles ($56 million) and Miami Marlins ($57 million).

Last year’s salaries were cut to 60/162nd because of the shortened season and cannot be compared with other years.

Average and median salaries decline over the course of the season as veterans are released and replaced by younger players making closer to the minimum.

The AP’s figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income for players on active rosters and injured lists and one player who started the season on the paternity list. For some players, parts of deferred money are discounted to reflect current values.

Luxury tax payrolls computed by Major League Baseball are different, using average annual values of contracts on 40-man rosters plus about $15 million per team for benefits and extended benefits.

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Todd Frazier’s 4 hits, including a solo HR, help U.S. qualify for Olympic baseball tournament

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Todd Frazier and his American teammates celebrated, dousing each other as if they had won the World Series.

“Playing for your country, it’s the coolest thing in the world,” the 35-year-old third baseman said.

The United States qualified for the Olympic baseball tournament on its second try, beating Venezuela 4-2 Saturday behind Frazier’s 4-for-4 night that included a solo homer, RBI double and two singles.

Frazier even stole a base, started a key double play to get the U.S. out of trouble in the first inning and fielded the grounder for the final out.

“He’s a guy that has kind of cemented the team. He’s the keystone,” U.S. manager Mike Scioscia said.

Before a pandemic-limited crowd of 2,202 at the New York Mets‘ spring training ballpark, Frazier was spurred on by chants of “U-S-A!”

“I had one of my better games I’ve had in a long time,” Frazier said. “And I just kept telling myself I’m not letting this slip away.”

Players did without the advanced video and computer metrics that have come to dominate the major leagues and determine who plays and what matchups to create.

“It goes to show you, you really don’t need most of that stuff,” Frazier said. “It’s baseball at the end of the day. You play for your country. You play for pride. We didn’t hit on the field. We just hit in the batting cage — until our hands bled, to be honest with you. So we brought it back to youth days. Hit it. It doesn’t matter who’s throwing. Next guy up in line. And it really does go to show you guys that, honestly, that guys really don’t need video. All we need is a bat and a ball and a glove and the determination to be the best player you can be.”

Frazier thought back to memories of winning the 1998 Little League World Series with Toms River, New Jersey.

“I did my job at 12, dominated at 12, and now I’m 35 and it’s putting America on our backs again,” Frazier said. “I pinch myself every day.”

The U.S. finished 4-0 to win the Americas qualifying tournament and joined Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic tourney, to be played in Japan from July 28 to Aug. 7 in Fukushima and Yokohama.

“Every pitch was intense,” Scioscia said, comparing it to “playing five elimination games in the playoffs or a pennant race, and you can’t stub your toe, at all.”

A two-time All-Star, Frazier singled leading off the fourth against loser Aníbal Sanchez and scored on Eric Filia’s two-run homer onto the right-field berm. Frazier hit an RBI double in the fifth for a 3-1 lead off Danny Rondon and homered in the seventh against Erick Leal, a drive off the facing of the bar behind the left-field wall.

Frazier was 3-for-35 for Pittsburgh this season before he was released on May 13.

“Was I upset? Sure. You want to play Major League Baseball as long as you can. But you move on. I had a Plan B,” Frazier said. “I can still play the game. I know it’s surprising to many people.”

Edwin Jackson, a 37-year-old veteran of a record 14 major league teams, pitched two hitless innings for the win.

David Robertson, who last pitched in the major leagues for Philadelphia in 2019, struck out two in a hitless ninth around a walk for his second save of the tournament. He retired pinch hitter Alexander Palma, a Milwaukee prospect, on a grounder to Frazier for the final out.

Venezuela advanced to a final qualifying tournament scheduled June 22-26 in Puebla, Mexico, that will determine one more qualifier from a field that also includes Australia, the Dominican Republic, Netherlands and Taiwan.

Venezuela went ahead on a third-inning home run by Hernan Perez, who signed a minor league contract with Milwaukee last month after he was released by Washington. Perez’s home run came off Cardinals prospect Matthew Liberatore.

Venezuela loaded the bases with one out in the first before Oakland Athletics minor leaguer Carlos Perez hit a grounder to third, where Frazier started an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

Brandon Dickson, who wasted a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in November 2019 when the U.S. was three outs from qualifying at the Premier12 tournament, escaped a two-on situation in the fifth when Juniel Querecuto grounded to Frazier, then allowed an RBI double in the sixth to Washington Nationals prospect Ramon Flores that cut the lead to 3-2.

Liberatore, in his second start of the tournament, allowed one run and four hits in 4⅔ innings

Perez had three of Venezuela’s seven hits.

Japan, which is stopping the Central and Pacific League seasons to make its top players available, is considered the Olympic favorite. Major League Baseball doesn’t allowed its big league players to participate, and MLB general managers often discourage the use of top eligible prospects.

Teams can change their roster before heading to Japan.

Baseball is returning to the Olympics after being dropped for 2012 and 2016. Cuba won the gold medal in 1992, 1996 and 2004, the United States in 2000 and South Korea in 2008.

“To finish maybe my career, maybe winning the gold medal,” Frazier said, “God Almighty, that would be the best icing on the cake.”

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Seattle Mariners LHP Mariners Yusei Kikuchi exits start after ball hits his right knee

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Seattle Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi took a sharp ground ball off his right knee and left Saturday night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels in the fifth inning.

The Japanese left-hander fell to the ground after getting hit by a comebacker hit by David Fletcher.

Kikuchi was writhing in pain when catcher José Godoy tried to throw out Fletcher at first and threw into right field, allowing Taylor Ward to score from first.

Kikuchi left the game after receiving assistance from trainers and the Mariners coaching staff. The Mariners said the injury was a right knee contusion.

Kikuchi, who came into the game with a 3-3 record, was pitching well. He had eight strikeouts and allowed two runs, both on home runs, through the first four innings.

It would be another blow for the Mariners if Kikuchi had to go on the injured list. Already this week, right-hander Justin Dunn went on due to right shoulder inflammation and shortstop Kyle Lewis, last season’s AL Rookie of the Year, is expected to miss a significant amount of time due to a torn meniscus in his right knee.

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Scott Kazmir, 37, designated for assignment by San Francisco Giants after three appearances

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SAN FRANCISCO — Scott Kazmir, the 37-year-old left-hander who returned to the major leagues two weeks ago after nearly five years away, was designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants on Saturday.

San Francisco announced the move prior to a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

A three-time All-Star, Kazmir was 0-1 with a 6.43 ERA in three appearances (two starts) for San Francisco. He started against the Cubs on Friday and lasted two innings, giving up a two-run homer to Kris Bryant in the first inning.

Prior to last month. Kazmir last appeared in the big leagues in 2016. He pitched in just seven innings during his stint with the Giants, striking out seven.

On May 22, Kazmir made his Giants debut after pitching for Triple-A Sacramento. He ended up being the hard-luck loser against the Los Angeles Dodgers, leaving a tight game with just one earned run in four innings to go along with two strikeouts. The Dodgers won 6-3.

“I threw strikes, which was my main goal,” Kazmir said at the time. “We kind of had the mindset to get two or three innings. I was able to get some quick outs. All in all, I was happy with the outing. It’s a proud moment for me.”

Giants manager Gabe Kapler, a former teammate of Kazmir, spoke emotionally back in May when the team decided to call him up. Kapler called from a plane to break the news.

“It was actually pretty gratifying to be able to deliver that to him and actually through the phone I could tell that he was smiling,” said Kapler, who played with Kazmir for Tampa Bay in 2009.

San Francisco filled the roster spot with right-handed pitcher Camilo Doval, who was recalled from Sacramento in time for the game against the Cubs.

Doval did not appear in the win, as Kevin Gausman struck out 10 in seven smooth innings, Alex Dickerson homered for the second consecutive day and San Francisco kept rolling. The Giants won their third straight over the Cubs, and they have won nine of 11 overall.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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