2015 American League Payroll Breakdown

We recently took a look at payroll by team as well as changes since the start of 2014. Interleague play, the advent of the Wild Card, and the addition of the second wild card has broadened the scope of competition in baseball. Multiple playoff spots in each league are fought for outside of the divisional format causing competition between teams in different divisions. However, the second wild card also increased the emphasis of winning the division and trying to avoid a 50/50 play-in game before making the divisional round. The current schedule format also increases the importance of the division with an unbalanced schedule. Teams play games within the division in close to 50% of their games.

The divisions are not on the same footing financially with the American League East outspending the rest of the divisions. The average payroll by division are below. The black line represents the Major League Baseball average of roughly $122 million.

AL Division Payroll
Figures from Cots with minimum salaries added to create a 25-man roster.

The average payroll in the AL East is much greater than the rest of the league with more than a $20 million advantage over the other two divisions. Surprisingly, the AL West comes in lower than the AL Central despite big payrolls from the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels. There is a great deal of disparity within the divisions.

American League East

AL East payroll1

The Rays’ payroll is roughly half of the division average. Baltimore and the Toronto Blue Jays are behind the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, but the O’s and Jays still have payrolls that are close to average and make them financially competitive.

Team Most Expensive Player (Amount) 2015 Payroll ($M) Money Committed to 2016 ($M) Money Committed to 2017 ($M)
New York Yankees Mark Teixeira 211.3 180.8 120.6
Boston Red Sox Hanley Ramirez 181.5 92.9 87.5
Toronto Blue Jays Jose Reyes 123.8 42.6 42.0
Baltimore Orioles Adam Jones 117.6 44.5 43.8
Tampa Bay Rays Evan Longoria 72.5 30.8 20.6

The competitive problems the Yankees have at present are unlikely dissipate in 2016 without a significant increase in payroll as they have committed almost as much to 2016 as the rest of the division combined ($180.8 million to $210.8 million). The Red Sox do have options on David Ortiz and Clay Buchholz that could increase their commitments in 2016, but they should have room to take on future payroll in a trade this season should the need arise. The Blue Jays future number looks lower than it likely will be as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista have options that will probably be picked up. Matt Wieters and Chris Davis will be free agents at seasons end, but the Orioles do have the flexibility to retain them. Baltimore’s only long-term deals are with Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Ubaldo Jimenez.

American League Central

The AL Central should be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball this year with defending Central champion Detroit Tigers, American League champion Kansas City Royals, offseason mover Chicago White Sox, and the young, pitching-rich Cleveland Indians. While the Tigers have a larger payroll than the rest of the division, the rest of the teams are not too far apart.

AL Central Payroll

Cleveland may lag behind in payroll, but they are certainly not behind in talent. As Tony Blengino noted in his AL Central analysis, “If their defense even approaches MLB average, this club should win the Central.”

Team Most Expensive Player (Amount) 2015 Payroll ($M) Money Committed to 2016 ($M) Money Committed to 2017 ($M)
Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander 170.8 111.8 107.8
Chicago White Sox John Danks 114.1 87.0 63.7
Kansas City Royals Alex Gordon 109.7 58.6 22.0
Minnesota Twins Joe Mauer 105.9 70.0 68.2
Cleveland Indians Nick Swisher 84.8 54.3 23.3

The Tigers already have more money guaranteed to players in 2018 than Cleveland will be paying this season. As Mike Petriello wrote, The Tigers Aren’t the Phillies Just Yet, but there are some similarities. For Cleveland, after Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, the team’s highest paid player is Brandon Moss at $6.5 million. With extensions already given to Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, and Carlos Santana, they have a core locked in on the position player side. Locking in their young pitchers and making a few commitments from the outside should have this team competing for the Central for several years.

The Royals and White Sox have modest payrolls with no glaring long-term commitments to hold them back. Alex Gordon’s free agency looms for the Royals. The Twins have their commitment to Joe Mauer and a few shorter deals to Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes. If and when Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are ready to contribute, Minnesota should have room to add. This division is wide open right now, and could remain that way over the next few seasons.

American League West

In the AL West, the division’s top payroll belongs to the Angels. Los Angeles ranks eighth overall, after ranking as high as fourth in 2012. They have not decreased spending, but have been passed as revenues continue to grow throughout the sport.

AL West payroll1

The AL West does have two of the lower payrolls in baseball. The Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics are both in the bottom four in terms of payroll. Seattle sits comfortably in the middle, perhaps poised for a run as the Angels and Rangers struggle.

Team Most Expensive Player (Amount) 2015 Payroll ($M) Money Committed to 2016 ($M) Money Committed to 2017 ($M)
Los Angeles Angels Josh Hamilton 144.7 128.2 78.5
Texas Rangers Prince Fielder 139.3 107.7 83.6
Seattle Mariners Felix Hernandez 121.5 78.9 76.4
Oakland Athletics Scott Kazmir 80.8 24.3 15.1
Houston Astros Scott Feldman 68.2 34.2 20.0

Despite both players signing deals worth $240 million, neither Albert Pujols nor Robinson Cano figure to be their team’s highest paid player in the next five seasons. Felix Hernandez holds the title in Seattle while Josh Hamilton and then Mike Trout figure to earn more than Pujols in Los Angeles. Houston continues its rebuilding process with minimal long-term commitments, but Oakland has even less money guaranteed after 2015. With Texas and Los Angeles tied up with many big deals into the future, Seattle might have the most buying power in the division if Houston does not step up soon.

In the AL, the East still reigns supreme financially. They might have the edge on the field as well with four teams projected to finish above .500 and Baltimore not too far behind. Despite some monetary disparities, the divisions look to be wide open with the Wild Card race shaping up to be an interesting one as well. The current projected standings have nine of the fifteen teams with 83-89 wins. Seattle and Boston look to have the edge in their respective divisions as Spring Training begins, but they should face plenty of competition for the title.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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8 years ago

Two questions:

1) has pujols ever been the highest paid player on his team?
2) for 2016 and 2017 to you also use ‘minimum salaries added to create a 25-man roster’ when computing the money committed values?

8 years ago
Reply to  Craig Edwards

It seems like you should include the min sal for future years – these are commitments that will need to be made to roster a team – if a team has 20 such players that will add $10mil to commitments vs a team with one a few such players. not a huge deal but it may close the gap a little on some of the future year commitments – maybe not.

8 years ago
Reply to  Craig Edwards

yes you are correct, 2010 and 11 with Holliday and I was thinking Carpenter/Rolen or Edmonds were being paid more earlier, but Pujols did top them by a little bit.

The Human H
8 years ago
Reply to  joe


Saw that going around sometime last year, it’s a pretty neat interactive tool for looking at team/player salaries from 1998-whatever current contracts exist. I know your question was answered already, but for that kind of info at a glance that’s what I use.