NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez will make more this year than all the Houston Astros combined — a lot more.
And he won’t even play the first half of the season, if at all.
A-Rod’s $29 million salary tops the major leagues for the 13th straight season, according to a study of major league contracts by The Associated Press.
Rodriguez’s Yankees are on track to have the highest payroll on opening day for the 15th straight year, climbing above the Los Angeles Dodgers to a projected $228 million with this week’s acquisition of Vernon Wells.
With teams due to set opening-day rosters Sunday, the Yankees’ payroll will be nearly 10 times the spending of the Astros, who have shrunk their payroll to about $25 million.
"When we get on the baseball field with whomever the opponent is, they are not sitting there saying: ‘Well, their players make more money than us so therefore you’re deemed a winner and we’re deemed a loser,’" Astros manager Bo Porter said Thursday. "Games are won and lost on the baseball field, and it doesn’t matter what somebody is paid every two weeks. At the end of the day, that person has to be better than you today."
Rodriguez, recovering from hip surgery, is followed on the money list by Philadelphia pitcher Cliff Lee at $25 million.
Three of the top six will start the season on the DL, with A-Rod joined by New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana (third at $24.6 million) and Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (sixth at $23.1 million). Wells is fourth at $24.6 million and CC Sabathia fifth at $24.3 million, giving the Yankees four of the top six.
The Astros and Miami Marlins have no such worries about pricey players getting hurt. After lifting payroll to about $100 million at the start of last year and then flopping in the first year of their new ballpark, the Marlins slashed spending to around $40 million.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig endorses the decisions, saying "every team runs in cycles."
"You have to understand where you are and not be afraid then to do what you have to do," he said. "Outside of building a good farm system, I don’t see how you will remain competitive."
The price of competing keeps going up. The average salary projects to about $3.67 million, up about $200,000 from the start of last season.
As always, the Yankees did as they pleased. For all the talk of austerity under owner Hal Steinbrenner, New York will break the record of $209 million it set in 2008 and top the $200 million mark for the sixth straight season. While the Yankees will pay luxury tax for the 11th consecutive year in 2013, they want to get under the $189 million tax threshold in 2014.
"We’ve actually increased our payroll this year," Yankees President Randy Levine said. "As sometimes happens, certain people like to ignore the facts instead of the reality. These are the same people who one day criticize us for spending too much money, the next day criticize us for spending too little. The goal of the team every year is to do what’s necessary to field a championship team. That goes for this year and, as Hal Steinbrenner has said, next year and every year going forward."
For much of the offseason, it appeared as if the Dodgers would emerge as baseball’s biggest spenders in their first full season since a group headed by Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson bought the club for $2 billion from Frank McCourt.
Just 12th at $95 million on opening day last year, the Dodgers climbed to about $216 million after acquiring Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford from Boston last summer, when they also added Hanley Ramirez and Brandon League. Los Angeles then signed Zack Greinke during the offseason for $147 million. The Yankees had been the only previous team to reach $200 million.
"Everybody knows it’s not about the money. It’s about how they’re going to play together," said All-Star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, whose Colorado Rockies will have a payroll of about $75 million.
"They still have to go out there and know each other and be winners," he said, referring to the Dodgers. "Last year, they got three great players and they still didn’t make it because they still have to go out there and get used to playing together and compete."
The Dodgers haven’t won the World Series since 1988 and if they fall short again this year, they might spend even more. They had the biggest impact on the elite free-agent market.
"There’s a perception that we’re in on a couple dozen starting pitchers, three dozen outfielders and infielders, 17, 18 catchers," GM Ned Colletti said during the winter meetings.
Toronto also bulked up, jumping from $75 million at the start of last season to about $118 million after adding Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson in trades and signing Melky Cabrera.
"You look on paper and Toronto should be in the World Series," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "The talent they’ve added is substantial."
Oakland showed last year that money isn’t everything, winning the AL West despite the lowest payroll in the majors. The A’s have gone up slightly to about $68 million.
"Our payroll, as in every year we have owned the A’s, has been within our annual budget — around half of our revenue," Oakland owner Lew Wolff said in an email. "We are all set to go even as we face much larger payroll teams. Actually, that makes the season even more exciting to me."
The Mets hardly resemble a high-revenue team anymore and are down to about $90 million — and that includes about $17.5 million to account for the settlement with departed outfielder Jason Bay. After the Mets’ owners settled a lawsuit caused by the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, they promised to resume spending. But they haven’t broken out the checkbook just yet, except for a new long-term deal with new team captain David Wright.
"I think we would anticipate being big investors where appropriate," owner Fred Wilpon said.
The AP’s figures include salaries and prorated shares of signing bonuses and other guaranteed income for players on active rosters, disabled lists and the restricted lists, and rosters will change before teams must cut down to 25 active players. For some players, parts of deferred signing bonuses and salaries are discounted to reflect current values.
For the first time, the AP study presents payrolls for both active rosters and rosters following adjustments for cash transactions in trades, signing bonuses that are the responsibility of the club agreeing to the contract, option buyouts and termination pay for released players.
For instance, the Astros are paying Pittsburgh $4.5 million as part of last year’s trade sending Wandy Rodriguez to the Pirates. Houston’s active payroll for its 25-man roster will be about $19 million, the lowest in the major leagues since the 2006 Florida Marlins at $15 million.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP freelance writers Mark Didtler, Maureen Mullen and Dick Scanlon contributed to this report.