The Braves’ Bartolo Colon, shown pitching in the first inning of the Braves-Yankees exhibition game at SunTrust Park on Friday night, signed with the team as a free agent on a one-year, $12.5 million contract. JASON GETZ / SPECIAL

Where Braves payroll ranks in MLB this season

Good morning. This is LEADOFF, the early buzz in Atlanta sports.

The Braves rank just below the middle of major league teams in player salaries this season, according to The Associated Press’ annual survey of opening-day payrolls.

The Braves’ $126.1 million payroll ranks 17th among the 30 MLB teams, the AP’s study found.

That’s a substantial jump from the start of last season, when the Braves’ payroll was $87 million and fifth lowest in the majors. Last season’s figure included considerable “dead money” – money committed to players who no longer were on the team.

This season’s payroll increase stems largely from the addition of three veteran pitchers — Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia — for a total of $32.5 million in 2017 salaries. Other key factors are a big jump in Freddie Freeman’s salary and the acquisition last summer of Matt Kemp. The opening-day payroll also includes $5.75 million to injured utility man Sean Rodriguez, who is on the disabled list after shoulder surgery.

The Los Angeles Dodgers opened this season with MLB’s highest payroll at $225.6 million, according to the AP’s study, which includes guaranteed salaries owed released players and adjustments for cash transactions in trades.

The next highest payrolls: Detroit Tigers ($199.8 million), New York Yankees ($195.3 million), San Francisco Giants ($181.5 million) and Boston Red Sox ($178.8 million).

In the Braves’ division — the National League East — the Washington Nationals have the highest payroll at $164.6 million, followed by the New York Mets at $155.6 million. The Miami Marlins have a $120.2 million payroll, up 61 percent from last year, and the Philadelphia Phillies have a $111.9 million payroll.

The teams with MLB’s lowest payrolls are the San Diego Padres ($61.4 million) and Milwaukee Brewers ($60.8 million).

In the works: Before the Braves’ regular-season home opener April 14, the AJC will run a series of stories on various aspects of SunTrust Park. One story will look at what the (presumably lucrative) new stadium and adjacent mixed-use development will mean to the Braves’ financial competitiveness going forward. Stay tuned.

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Braves fansapparently were eager for a glimpse of SunTrust Park.

Fox Sports South’s telecast of the Braves-Yankees exhibition game Friday night at the new stadium drew a 3.3 rating in the Atlanta TV market – the highest for a Braves spring training game on the network since 2002.

The rating is the percentage of the market’s TV households tuned in on average.

In the Atlanta market, a 3.3 rating equals an average audience of about 80,000 homes.

The audience peaked at a 3.9 rating (about 94,000 homes) from 9:15 to 9:30 p.m.

Further reading:

SunTrust Park blends popular features from many MLB stadiums

Braves vow to fix SunTrust Park’s glitches before opening day

Nine-foot-tall Hank Aaron statue is “fitting”

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