NEW YORK — Even before the first pitch of the 2015 major league baseball season is thrown, an eye-popping baseball record will be set.
The average salary when opening-day rosters are finalized Sunday will break the $4 million benchmark for the first time, according to a study of all major league contracts by The Associated Press. Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw tops players at $31 million, and Los Angeles projects to open the season with a payroll at about $270 million, easily a record.
"We're enjoying a tremendously bountiful season in baseball," said Toronto pitcher R.A. Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner with the New York Mets.
Fueled by the largest two-year growth in more than a decade, the average salary projects to be about $4.25 million, according to the AP study, with the final figure depending on how many players are put on the disabled list before the first pitch is thrown. That is up from $3.95 million on the first day of last season and $3.65 million when 2013 began.
Baseball's average was approximately $50,000 in 1976, the last year before free agency. The average broke the $1 million mark in 1992, topped $2 million in 2001 and reached $3 million in 2008.
By comparison, the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers has risen slightly less than fourfold since the first class of free agents started negotiations in November 1976. And the average U.S. wage in 2013, the latest figure available, was $44,888, according to the Social Security Administration, up 1.28 percent from 2012.
Last year, the Dodgers opened at $234 million and ended the New York Yankees' 15-year streak as baseball's biggest spenders. The Yankees project to be second at about $215 million, followed by Boston at around $185 million.
The low rollers are led by Miami (about $65 million), with Houston a few million dollars higher.
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 numbers 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.