Salaries: The Best Get Richer,The Mediocre Get Poorer

Despite the 1994-95 labor dispute, total player salaries have remained constant since 1994. But the distribution of these salaries has changed: the squeeze on baseball's "middle class" has reduced the median salary by over $100,000. While the Vaughns and Valentins can earn more than ever, experienced middle relievers and fourth outfielders no longer command million-dollar salaries, and smart teams no longer sign fading veterans to top-dollar contracts.

The Red Sox illustrate this trend. The 1992 Sox were among baseball's biggest disappointments, paying $42 million in salaries while finishing last in the AL East. The 1995 Sox won the East despite slashing the payroll by 10%. Comparing the 1992 and 1996 Opening Day rosters shows how it's done.

Only five members of the Opening Day '92 roster remain with the Sox. Those five have received $10 million in raises -- yet the total Sox payroll remains below the '92 level. On the other side of the ledger, the '92 Sox featured five veterans aged 35 or older, who earned a combined $12.5 million; the 1996 Sox have none. Here's the breakdown:

 The Holdovers  1992  1996
 Roger Clemens  $4,555,250  $5,500,000
 Mike Greenwell  $3,050,000  $3,700,000
 Tim Naehring  $130,000  $1,200,000
 John Valentin  $109,000  $2,672,500
 Mo Vaughn  $155,000  $5,350,000
 TOTAL  $7,999,250  $18,422,500

The maturing of Seton Hall's V-Boys accounts for most of the difference. In 1992 Valentin was a rookie earning the major-league minimum, while Mo took over first base from the crippled shadow of Jack Clark. Naehring progressed from utility infielder to Boggs' replacement at third; Clemens and Greenwell basically received cost-of-living increases.

Now let's look at the pitchers:

  1992  1996
 Frank Viola: $4,733,333  Tom Gordon: $2,900,000
 Danny Darwin: $3,250,000  Mike Stanton: $1,750,000
 Jeff Reardon: $2,633,334  Heathcliff Slocumb: $1,400,000
 Matt Young: $2,266,667  Stan Belinda: $1,275,000
 Joe Hesketh: $1,775,000  Mike Maddux: $600,000
 Greg Harris: $1,400,000  Jamie Moyer: $600,000
 Tom Bolton: $470,000  Tim Wakefield: $450,000
 Tony Fossas: $350,000  Butch Henry: $400,000
 John Dopson: $265,000  John Doherty: $400,000
 Mike Gardiner: $167,000  Aaron Sele: $315,000
 Peter Hoy: $109,000  Brad Pennington: $160,000
   Vaughn Eshelman: $140,000
   Jeff Suppan: $117,000
 1992 TOTAL: $17,419,334  1996 TOTAL: $10,507,000

Ouch. Clemens aside, the other seven million-dollar pitchers on the '92 Sox went 39-47 with an ERA around 4. Three-fifths of this year's rotation - Moyer, Sele and Wakefield - combined earn less than '92 setup man Greg Harris. I promise not to mention Matt Young again...

 Tony Pena: $2,400,000  Mike Stanley: $2,300,000
 John Marzano: $350,000  Bill Haselman: $300,000
   Alexander Delgado: $109,000
 1992 TOTAL: $2,750,000  1996 TOTAL: $2,709,000

Value for money here. Pena hit an empty .241, while Stanley is one of the AL's finest catchers. Haselman's a quality backup, while Marzano hit .080 when not hurt.

 Jack Clark: $2,900,000  Wil Cordero: $1,850,000
 Wade Boggs: $2,700,000  Reggie Jefferson: $570,000
 Jody Reed: $1,600,000  Esteban Beltre: $200,000
 Luis Rivera: $1,075,000  
 Phil Plantier: $185,000  
 Scott Cooper: $125,000  
 1992 TOTAL: $8,585,000  1996 TOTAL: $2,620,000

Clark wasn't worth $2.90 in 1992. Boggs hit .259 and fled to the Yankees after the season, and Rivera soon lost his job to Valentin.

 Tom Brunansky: $2,700,000  Jose Canseco: $4,500,000
 Ellis Burks: $2,300,000  Kevin Mitchell: $1,450,000*
 Herm Winningham: $450,000  Troy O'Leary: $240,000
   Dwayne Hosey: $225,000
   Milt Cuyler: $202,500
 1992 TOTAL: $5,450,000  1996 TOTAL: $6,617,500

* Assumes 400 PA; Mitchell receives $250,000 plus $3,000 per plate appearance.

None of these 1992 outfielders returned in 1993. The Herm Winninghams of the world play only when at least two starters are hurt. Why pay $450,000 for AAA-quality play?

Copyright © 1996 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the May 1996 issue of Boston Baseball.

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