- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - The rest of baseball is starting to catch up with the big spenders.

The Miami Marlins, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels all had hefty boosts in payroll during the offseason along with the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals, according to a study of major league contracts by The Associated Press.

Some traditional high rollers had huge drops, including the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.

“Any time everything’s even, it’s always better competition,” Prince Fielder said Thursday before his first game as the Tigers’ new big-money first baseman.

The New York Yankees, of course, remain the cash king and topped $200 million on opening day for the fifth consecutive year. And at $30 million, the Yanks’ Alex Rodriguez remains the richest of the richest, baseball’s highest-paid player for the 12th straight season.

The major league average salary rose 4.1 percent to $3.44 million, the steepest hike since 2008.

Lucrative deals came from unexpected places, with Albert Pujols getting $240 million from Angels owner Arte Moreno and Fielder $214 million from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.

“Maybe they just have more saved up or something,” Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said before his team opened against the Tigers. “Being here in Detroit, and seeing what Mr. Ilitch is trying to do around this area and for the city of Detroit _ I think spending money on his team to make this city feel proud of something is a fabulous, fabulous effort.”

Spreading the wealth this week, Cincinnati struck a deal with Joey Votto for $251.5 million over 12 years _ the longest deal in big league history and the third richest. San Francisco gave Matt Cain $127.5 million over the next six seasons, the highest contract for a right-handed pitcher.

“I think it’s a healthy sign to the extent that the weaker clubs financially, or lower-revenue clubs, are starting to spend a little more. It would suggest that revenues have been improving for those clubs,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. “To the extent that payrolls move closer together, it probably is a sign of additional competitiveness. Although, again, there’s not always a correlation between the payroll and team success.”

Some fear that the incoming owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, after spending $2 billion for the team, might covet next November’s free agents, a group that currently includes pitchers Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke.

“It’s kind of humorous to me,” San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean said. “These guys haven’t even taken over yet and all of a sudden they’re going to take every player in baseball.”

Lots of baseball executives are contemplating what the Dodgers’ megadeal means for their teams.

“It’s an incredible price,” Yankees President Randy Levine said. “One can only imagine what the value of the Yankees would be at a market sale.”

Revenue sharing has spread the wealth, and more teams have rich cable television contracts.

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