It’s opening day! That glorious day, gravid with promise, when every team is in first place and fans around the country can believe, if just for a little while, that their team has what it takes to go all the way. Except for Padres fans. All hope is lost. I’m sorry.
The Padres are a stunning outlier on USA Today’s annual salary survey, which tallies up MLB payrolls based on each team’s opening day roster plus players on the disabled list. As the Padres open up against Clayton Kershaw this afternoon (oh god, they might get negative hits), they will field a team earning a grand total of $34,574,400.
That’s...not much. That’s barely half as much as the Brewers, 29th on the list at $61 million and change. That’s not even a fifth of the league-leading Dodgers at nearly $190 million. San Diego’s active roster is loaded with young players making the minimum, or thereabouts—21 players will earn under $1 million in 2017.
In a league where the average salary is $4.47 million, the Padres players average $1,115,303, and no Padre will make over $3 mllion. The median salary in San Diego is $545,800. (That would be Colin Rea, on the 60-day DL. Rea is making $10,000 above the MLB minimum.)
It’s not quite as grim as it appears. The Padres owners will be cutting checks to the tune of $68 million, their official payroll. It’s just that half that money will be paid to players no longer on the team. San Diego blew things up last year, trading away the likes of Melvin Upton Jr., James Shields, Matt Kemp, and Andrew Cashner, and releasing Hector Olivera and buying out Alexei Ramirez. In many of those trades, they agreed to sweeten the deals by retaining salary—the Padres will pay Upton and Shields alone a combined $26 million this season.
This is a total rebuild, but there’s a fine line between the majority of MLB teams trying to get younger and cheaper, and the C-word. And indeed, payrolls are not keeping up with revenues, as MLB players this season saw the smallest salary increase since 2004. The Padres are spending this year, in other areas—they’ve significantly bumped up their international spending and draft bonuses. But both of those are intended to bring them talent that will be, again, younger and cheaper. It’s less lucrative to be a professional baseball player than it has been in a long time, but it’s never been better to be an owner.