Baseball has become a two-tier game, according to opening-day payrolls. At the top are big spenders who compete for the playoffs and at the bottom are have-nots with little chance.
Baltimore displaced the New York Yankees as the highest-salaried team at $69 million, more than 7 1/2 times the Montreal Expos' payroll of $9.1 million, according to a study by The Associated Press."It's something you could see coming," acting commissioner Bud Selig said Wednesday. "I'd be surprised if anybody is surprised."
Albert Belle, Gary Sheffield and Greg Maddux each make more individually than Montreal's entire team.
"There's a few clubs that can be at $70 million every year," Expos general manager Jim Beattie said. "To have your payroll in the 30s, I just don't think you can compete. To have your payroll in the 40s is kind of in-between land."
Montreal discarded nearly all its veterans, including Pedro Martinez, Mike Lansing, Henry Rodriguez and Darrin Fletcher, cutting last year's $18 million payroll in half. The Expos hope to gain approval this year for a downtown stadium, and plan to rebuild the roster if ballpark funding is approved.
"I would say our payroll will probably be in the high teens, we'll probably double it next year," Beattie said. "In 2000, I would say possibly we'd be up in the low 30s. After that, we'll see where we are. We could go out and sign a couple of free agents."
Until the 1994-95 strike, the highest payrolls generally were three to four times greater than the lowest. Last year, the disparity increased dramatically, with the Yankees paying their players 6 1/2 times more than Pittsburgh, which opened 1997 with a low payroll of $9.1 million.
The Florida Marlins, fifth in payroll at the end of last season at $53.5 million, dropped to 20th at $33.4 million after shedding 12 players from the roster that led the team to a World Series title.
Baltimore's payroll, a record for an opening day roster, was followed by the Yankees ($63.5 million), who had been first from 1995-97. Cleveland was third at $59.6 million, followed by Atlanta at $59.5 million and Texas at $55.3 million.
Other than Montreal, the only teams below $20 million were Oakland ($19.5 million) and Pittsburgh ($13.4 million).
The expansion Arizona Diamondbacks are No. 23 at $30.6 million and the Tampa Bay Devils Rays, baseball's other new team, is 25th at $25.3 million. Eight teams topped $50 million on opening day.
Belle and Sheffield were tied for the top spot on the salary list at $10 million apiece, followed by Maddux ($9.6 million), Barry Bonds ($8,916,667), Mark McGwire ($8,333,333) and Roger Clemens and Bernie Williams ($8.25 million each).
Overall, the average salary was a record $1,441,406 for 840 players on opening day rosters and disabled lists. The 4.2 percent increase from the start of last season was baseball's lowest since a 9.9 percent drop after the 1994-95 strike.
A record 317 players - more than three of eight major leaguers - make $1 million or more, up from 280 last season. The $2 million club totals 216, up from 197.
Ten players make $8 million or more, double last season's total, and the number at $7 million or higher increased from 15 to 19. Players at $6 million and above increased from 32 to 34, the $5 million club rose from 49 to 63.
The median salary - the point at which an equal number of players are above and below - rose from $450,000 to a record $500,000. It had dropped to $275,000 in 1995 following the end of the 7 1/2-month strike.
With the addition of Arizona and Tampa Bay, total payroll rose to a record $1.21 billion, up from $1.07 billion last year.