Many sports reporters have predicted over the past couple of years that baseball will eventually reign supreme as the most popular sport in the United States once again after losing the crown to football. More people are pushing their gifted children toward baseball, as there is a low risk for injury and massive contracts that are fully guaranteed as long as you get off to a good start in your career. International players are also coming over more frequently, making the game more global.
Speaking of those guaranteed contracts, it seems that baseball more than any other sport has the longest and largest contracts in the United States. There are five contracts active in baseball right now that were signed for at least a decade, and there are 15 contracts that are worth more than $160 million total. When all of that is guaranteed, it’s hard to not want to play baseball for a living.
Let’s take a look at those contracts that are worth the most to see how team-friendly they are. As you can probably guess, there aren’t a lot of player in the list that are under the age of 30 as veteran players are rewarded handsomely for signing with new teams. Here are the 15 active contracts in the MLB worth more than $160 million, judged by what their team has gotten out of the deal.
15 15. Chris Davis - $161 million
Our list begins with Chris Davis, who showed flashes with the Rangers in the late 2000s before getting sent to the Orioles in 2011. Since then, Davis has been one of the best home run hitters in all of baseball, but doesn’t bring much to the table outside of his power numbers. Davis signed a deal in 2016 that would keep him in Baltimore through the 2022 season for a total of $161 million over seven years for an average of $23 million per year.
14 14. Joe Mauer - $184 million
At one point, Joe Mauer was considered to be the best catcher in all of baseball and posted monster numbers, making six All Star appearances in an eight year span. At his peak, Mauer was hitting .365 with 28 home runs and 96 runs batted in. Since then, Mauer has not been close in power numbers and his contact numbers have gradually dropped. Still, the Twins gave him an eight year deal before the 2011 season worth $184 million for an average of $23 million per year.
13 13. Jason Heyward - $184 million
Jason Heyward exploded onto the scene in 2010 after being one of the most hyped up rookies in years. Heyward delivered with a .277 average, 18 home runs, 72 runs batted in and 11 stolen bases with Atlanta. In 2015, Heyward became a member of the Cardinals for a season before hitting free agency, where the Cubs gave him a $184 million deal over eight years, working out to a $23 million per year average.
12 12. Zack Greinke - $206.5 million
After plenty of solid seasons in Kansas City, Zack Greinke made his way to Milwaukee and then Anaheim before landing with the Dodgers in 2013. Greinke spent three seasons with Los Angeles, making two All Star Games and posting an ERA of 2.30. Before 2016, there was a sweepstakes for Greinke, and the Diamondbacks became a surprise team by signing him for six years and a total of $206.5 million (more than $34 million per year).
11 11. Albert Pujols - $240 million
Albert Pujols is one of the best hitters of this generation but he also brings a negative dWAR. Pujols signed with the Angels before the 2012 season, which will keep him in Anaheim until after the 2021 season. The deal is worth a total of $240 million over 10 years, an average of $24 million per year. The massive contract came on the heels of Pujols’s worst season, though it was still a good year by most measures.
10 10. Stephen Strasburg - $175 million
Just like Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg was a rookie that had a ton of hype coming into the 2010 season, and he finally made his debut in the summer with everyone watching. Since then, Strasburg has shown huge potential, but has also been an injury risk. Strasburg signed an extension with the Nationals before the 2016 season, keeping him in Washington until after 2023 with $175 million over seven years, for an average of $25 million per year.
9 9. David Price - $217 million
After spending the early part of his career with Tampa Bay, the Tigers were able to strike a deal to bring David Price to Detroit in 2014. Then, Price was shipped to the Blue Jays the next season as they made their playoff push, though he became a free agent after the 2015 season. A bidding war took place for the 30 year old pitcher, and it was the Red Sox that landed him with an offer of seven years for $217 million ($31 million per year average).
8 8. Miguel Cabrera - $240 million
There is no doubt that Miguel Cabrera has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the past decade. In his 14 season career, Cabrera has been to 11 All Star Games, and has knocked out 446 career home runs with a .321 average. Detroit gave Cabrera an extension before the 2016 season to keep him around until after 2023, for a total of $248 million and a yearly average of $31 million, tying him with David Price.
7 7. Robinson Cano - $240 million
After nine seasons with the Yankees and five All Star appearances, it was clear that Robinson Cano was one of the best second basemen in baseball, if not the best. After 2013, Cano had a career batting average of .309 with 204 home runs and 822 runs batted in. Though his glove wasn’t the best, he wasn’t a liability in the field and was hitting at a premium position.
6 6. Joey Votto - $225 million
If it weren’t for Joey Votto, there is probably not a single member of the Cincinnati Reds that you could name off the top of your head. Votto has been a stud with the Reds, making four All Star appearances over 10 seasons with 221 home runs, 730 runs batted in and a career average of .313. While some don’t like Votto’s large contract of $225 million over 10 years, it’s not the worst deal out there.
5 5. Justin Verlander - $162 million
If we were making this list a year or two ago, Justin Verlander’s contract might be toward the bottom. That’s because Verlander signed a deal before the 2013 season to keep him in Detroit until after 2020 for a total of $162 million for an average of $25 million. Verlander then had 52 starts over a two season span in 2014-15 where he posted a record of 20-20 and an ERA over 4.00.
4 4. Giancarlo Stanton - $325 million
Not everybody is a fan of excessively long term contracts, but they aren’t as bad when you consider a player’s age. When the Marlins signed Giancarlo Stanton to a 13 year deal, he was just 25 years old and was already posting some big time numbers. Now at 27 years old, Stanton still has 11 seasons on his 13 year deal that was worth a total of $325 million. The number is huge, but the average is $25 million per year.
3 3. Max Scherzer - $210 million
Despite their great seasons, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw did not win the 2016 National League Cy Young. That means it must have been a special player that topped all of them, and it certainly was as Max Scherzer of the Nationals beat them all out. Scherzer signed a seven year deal worth $210 million before the 2015 season and has been a star with Washington in his two seasons since then.
2 2. Felix Hernandez - $175 million
Felix Hernandez was brought into the Major Leagues by the Mariners as a teenager more than a decade ago, and has been a star pitcher ever since then. Hernandez has 12 MLB seasons under his belt (all with Seattle), posting a record of 154-109 with a 3.16 ERA. Though he has had his ups and downs over the past five years, he is one of the best in the league when he’s on and is still a solid pitcher at his worst.
1 1. Clayton Kershaw - $215 million
The best of the massive contracts in baseball goes to Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, who signed an extension worth $215 million over seven years leading into the 2014 season. Kershaw will be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season, and even if he doesn’t stick around in Los Angeles, they were able to get the best years of his career. Kershaw is making $30.7 million per year, which is actually not even an overpay.
Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball by a longshot over the past few years, tallying a career mark of 126-60 with a 2.37 ERA. Kershaw has been able to stay healthy for the most part despite missing a portion of the 2016 season. Even if he were being paid $40 million per year, you could argue that Kershaw is still the best contract in baseball.
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