It’s nice to be a great baseball player for many reasons but especially for the fact that Major League Baseball has no limit in terms of individual contracts. A player can make as much money as a team wants to pay him. Plus, there is technically no salary cap in MLB, though there is a luxury tax, and teams seem pretty loath to hit that. Still, baseball players can pick up huge deals. Here are the 25 highest-paid players in MLB based on the yearly average salary of their contract. Figures via Spotrac.
Wheeler got overshadowed on the Mets by Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. Now, though, he’s left one NL East team for another. Wheeler signed a deal with the Phillies, worth $118 million, to join Aaron Nola, oh and Bryce Harper, and try to get the Phillies a pennant.
Pujols was once maybe the best player in baseball. This was when he was a Cardinal. After winning MVPs, and two World Series, there, he signed a $240 million deal with the Angels. At first, he was still a passable player, but these days Pujols’ contract is thought of mostly as an albatross. That’s what happens when you sign a veteran to a 10-year deal.
Cano has Hall of Fame potential, as he’s made eight All-Star Games and won five Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves. Cano signed his big deal with the Mariners, for $240 million over 10 years, but they traded him to the Mets prior to the 2019 season. Like a few players on this list, Cano is a veteran on his last legs, and in 2019 he put up a .256 batting average, the lowest in his career.
In 2015, Arrieta won a Cy Young with the Cubs with a stellar 1.77 ERA. His success with Chicago got him a big deal with the Phillies, but so far things haven’t gone quite as well as hoped. The 34-year-old is coming off a season with a 4.64 ERA, and the Phillies could really use a bounce back from the veteran, who is set to make $20 million this season.
Talk about a massive deal. When he was still a Marlin, Stanton signed a deal for 13 years and $325 million. That’s $25 million per season on average, and he won’t be a free agent until 2029. Stanton is coming off a season where he was limited to 18 games by injury, but he’s only 30, and he did hit 59 home runs in season only a few years ago.
Harper has been dealing with hype since he was a teenager. While he hasn’t quite lived up to the idea that he was the second coming of Babe Ruth, Harper is a great player, and he’s just hitting his prime. After years in Washington, where he was drafted first overall, Harper signed a massive, 13-year deal with the Phillies for $330 million. His first season didn’t go great, but there is plenty of time for him to take Philadelphia to the Promised Land.
Lester has never won a Cy Young, and he has played in only five All-Star Games, but he’s been a really good pitcher for a while. When he was 31, he signed a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs that he is still on. He helped Chicago win a World Series, but he’s 36 now and is starting to lose a step. Still, winning that World Series for the Cubs probably made it all worth it for all parties involved.
Playing for the Diamondbacks probably kept Goldschmidt from becoming too big of a star, but with Arizona he was one of the best hitters in baseball. The slugger was traded to the Cardinals, where he just signed a new deal averaging $26 million per season. There’s no hiding from scrutiny in St. Louis, but his first year with the Cardinals went reasonably well.
If you are baseball fan you knew Yelich’s name even when he was with the Marlins. However, in Milwaukee he’s become one of the biggest stars in baseball. In his first season with the Brewers, he won the NL MVP, and he finished second in the voting in 2019. Yelich is signed through 2029, for $215 million, but there is no reason to worry about those final years when he’s so red-hot right now.
Mookie Betts is so good at baseball that he won an MVP over Mike Trout. He can hit. He can field. He can do it all. He’s also no longer with the Red Sox, much to the chagrin of Boston fans. Betts signed a one-year, $27 million deal with the Dodgers. After this, he’s primed to sign a long-term deal that might pay him even more money on average.
Cespedes has always had potential, and sometimes he’s lived up to it. However, the fact he is on a deal that pays him $27.5 million on average is a bit puzzling. Hey, that’s the New York Mets for you. Cespedes was injured during the 2018 season, and then missed the entire 2019 season after hurting himself on his ranch. At least for the Mets’ sake, the deal ends after the 2020 season.
DeGrom played college baseball at Stetson University — yes the Stetson University — and he was a shortstop when he was recruited. He converted to pitcher and was drafted in the ninth round by the Mets. DeGrom has been named NL Rookie of the Year, won back-to-back NL Cy Youngs and is making $27.5 million per season. What a ride.
Despite his funky delivery, Sale has had a ton of success in his career. He’s been an All-Star seven times and led the American League in strikeouts twice. After starting his career with the White Sox, Sale was traded to the Red Sox where he signed his hefty new $145 million deal. Unfortunately for Boston, and Sale, he had to have Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2020 season.
Max Scherzer is the first person on this list that is averaging $30 million a year. He signed the deal in 2015, earlier than anybody else making $30 million per season. The contract has paid off for the Nationals. Since joining Washington, he’s won two Cy Youngs, giving him three total, and he led the Nats to their first World Series title as well.
Machado and Bryce Harper were both showcase free agents during the 2019 offseason. Harper got a 13-season deal, but Machado’s 10-year deal gives him $30 million on average. After years with the Orioles, Machado spent one year with the Dodgers before signing a big deal with the Padres. His offensive numbers were a bit down, but you can chalk some of that up to playing at Petco Park, the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in MLB.
Kershaw is a future Hall of Famer who has spent his entire career with the Dodgers. He’s won three Cy Youngs and led the NL in strikeouts three times and in ERA five times. Kershaw may have a (debatable) reputation for not coming through in the playoffs, but he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball for over a decade. He’s 32 now and may not win any more Cy Youngs, but he’s still able to contribute a ton to the Dodgers and earn his $31 million salary.
Price had some great years in Tampa and Detroit, including winning a Cy Young. He then signed a massive $217 million deal with the Red Sox, for which they seemed to have buyer’s remorse. After all, Boston just traded him to the Dodgers. He was good, if not great, with the Sox, though, and he helped them win a World Series in 2018.
Cabrera’s deal is pointed to as a prime example of the problem with signing veterans to massive deals. Miggy was one of the best hitters in baseball; he won a Triple Crown. The Tigers signed Cabrera to an eight-year $248 million deal when he was 33, which means it is taking him into his 40s. Over the last three years he’s barely been able to stay on the field, and he can only really serve as a designated hitter now…and he’s signed through 2023.
Playing for the Rockies, Arenado might not get much national exposure. Maybe you assume that he’s a product of Coors Field, which helps his numbers, but Arenado would be an elite hitter anywhere as evidenced by his road stats. Also, look at his reputation as the best fielding third baseman in baseball. The only concern for the Rockies is that Arenado seems to want out of town since there isn’t much of a roster around him. He is working under a $260 million dollar, eight-year deal.
Verlander just won the Cy Young in his age-36 season, which is pretty amazing. He’s an elite pitcher, and he’s on a short-term deal: two years, $66 million. Either he will retire after his deal runs out after the 2021 season, or he will sign another deal of one or two years. Regardless, he’ll make a lot of cash and won’t be a long-term burden on a team.
Greinke and Verlander are teammates in Houston. However, Greinke didn’t sign his massive deal with the Astros. The six-time All-Star joined the Diamondbacks when he became a free agent, largely because they offered him over $34 million per season. He’s the highest-paid player who didn’t sign his deal in the 2018 or 2019 offseason.
Rendon was the top hitter on the market for the 2019 offseason, so naturally he was going to get a big deal. Not that he didn’t deserve the seven-year, $245 million contract that he got from the Angels.. Rendon has been an underrated hitter who has had at least 6.2 fWAR per season over the last three years. He’s also only 29, so he’s still in his prime. Rendon helped the Nationals win their first World Series, and now he’s with the Angels and can provide support to a certain guy who will come up shortly.
Rendon is making $35 million per season on average. You know who else is making that kind of cash? Rendon’s former teammate Strasburg. Yes, in the same offseason they both signed seven-year contracts worth $245 million total. The difference is that Strasburg decided to stay with the Nationals.
Trout is the best player in baseball. Nobody should argue with this. He could retire today and be in the Hall of Fame. Trout has won three MVPs already and, frankly, he should have more. All this, and he’s only 28. Given that, it’s no wonder the Angels were happy to lock him down long term. Trout is signed through 2030 on a deal that pays him a little over $35.5 million per year. That’s enough to make him the second-highest paid player in baseball based on average salary.
The only person who can beat Trout is Cole. Since leaving the Pirates, Cole has become one of the best pitchers in baseball, especially when it comes to strikeouts. He hit the open market in the 2019 offseason and made the most of it. Like in the days of yore, the Yankees splashed their cash to sign the top free agent. Cole is now making $36 million per season to wear the pinstripes.
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