NEW YORK (AP) – Baseball salaries were booming even before the free-agent escalation of the last 51/2 weeks.

The average salary shot up 9 percent this year to $2,699,292, according to final figures released Wednesday by the Major League Baseball Players Association. The increase was the highest since a 12.8 percent rise in 2001 and makes it likely the $3 million mark will be broken next year or in 2008.

“The increase in the average salary is a reflection of the growth in overall industry revenues, and that while the sport still has significant economic challenges, the increased average is a reflection of the level of the talent on the field,” said Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer.

Baseball salaries are soaring, with Alfonso Soriano ($136 million), Vernon Wells ($126 million) and Carlos Lee ($100 million) agreeing to nine-figure deals since the end of the season, boosting baseball’s total of $100 million contracts to 11.

Still, no one has approached Alex Rodriguez’s record $252 million, 10-year contract, agreed to after the 2000 season.

The New York Yankees had the highest average salary for the eighth consecutive season, but their average dropped to $6.95 million from a record $7.39 million the previous year.

Houston was second at $4.28 million, up from ninth place in 2005. Boston was third at $3.99 million, down from $4.17 million the previous season, followed by the New York Mets ($3.86 million), the Chicago White Sox ($3.81 million) and the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals ($3.78 million).

The AL champion Detroit Tigers were ninth at $3.06 million, up from 15th.

Florida’s average of $594,722 was the lowest in the major leagues since 1999, when Kansas City was at $534,460, the Marlins at $561,111 and Montreal at $572,290.

Among the teams with the 10 highest averages, only San Francisco ($3.8 million) had a losing record (76-85). Among clubs with the 12 lowest averages, the only one with a winning record was Toronto (87-75).

Third basemen had the highest average among positions ($5.87 million), followed by first basemen ($5.78 million), designated hitters ($5.59 million), outfielders ($4.88 million), starting pitchers ($4.87 million), shortstops ($4.06 million), second basemen ($2.79 million) and relievers ($1.43 million).

Figures were based on Aug. 31 rosters and disabled lists and do not account for money owed to released players or payments teams make or receive to cover parts of salaries of players who have been traded.

The commissioner’s office has not computed its final figure, which usually differs from that of the union because of calculation methods.

AP-ES-12-20-06 1825EST


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