In the United States, baseball is one of the most popular sports to take part in and watch. In the past 15-20 years, professional baseball has changed drastically. Gone are the days of loyalty to the team that first signed you and here are the days of $100 million contracts being handed out to players after one solid season. Without a salary cap in the sport, there will be teams that have payrolls above $200 million, while other teams are paying their entire roster less than what the most expensive contracts pay out for some teams.
Just like with any professional sport in the United States, there have been countless terrible contracts handed out to players that turned out to be a major bust. From Vernon Wells and Mike Hampton to Mo Vaughn and Bobby Bonilla, front offices have had a lot to think about when they think about giving the “hot bat” or “lights out” pitcher a dream contract.
Over the course of baseball history, there have been many key moments when it comes to contracts. In 1980, Nolan Ryan became the first baseball player to sign a contract worth $1 million a year when he signed with the Houston Astros. In 1997, Albert Belle became the first player in MLB history to warrant a contract worth more than $10 million a season when he signed with the Chicago White Sox. Since Belle’s contract, $10 million a year contracts have been steadily growing and those that have joined that group of players have now seen their median salary increase from $11.8 million in 2000 to $14.7 million in 2011.
What players have earned the most money in their big league career and who has earned their pay the most?
25 Mike Mussina - $144,533,619
The Moose spent 18 years of his life playing baseball with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees and had himself quite a career. He won 270 games and finished with a 3.68 ERA, recording double digits in wins in all but one season. In 2008, he became a 20-game winner for the first time in his career in what was the final season he would pitch.
24 Pedro Martinez - $146,259,585
At 21-years-old, Martinez earned a salary of $119,000 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. By the time his career was winding down, he was bringing home more than $10 million a season with the Philadelphia Phillies. Over the course of his career, the 219 game winner also played with the Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, and New York Mets.
23 Carlos Delgado - $146,299,000
Delgado played his 17 year career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Florida Marlins, and New York Mets. The left-hander from Puerto Rico was one of the best pure hitters in the sport throughout his career, finishing with 473 home runs and a .280 average. In 2003, he had the best season of his career with a .302 average, 42 home runs, and 145 RBIs, finishing second in the American League Most Valuable Player voting.
22 Roy Halladay - $148,991,666
The Halladay that has pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012 and 2013 isn’t the same man that fans saw dominate baseball from 2002-11, but he is still one of the richest in big league history. The two-time Cy Young award winner has spent the first 12 years of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays and the last four with the Phillies. He also joined the 200-win club and has a career ERA of 3.38.
21 Adrian Beltre - $149,140,000
The man who doesn’t like his head touched has one of the deepest pockets in Major League Baseball history. He began his career at the age of 19 with the Los Angeles Dodgers by earning $170,000. In 2014, his salary is $17 million and that will increase another million next season. Now in his 17th season, Beltre has close to 400 home runs and has been in the MVP discussion half a dozen times.
20 Roger Clemens - $150,601,000
With 354 career wins, you would expect The Rocket to be in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., but instead, the flame-thrower sits on the sidelines as one of the best players to not be inducted. Despite all the alleged transgressions of his career, Clemens made one of the best livings of anyone in the sport, playing for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, and Houston Astros.
19 Ken Griffey Jr. - $151,703,682
Many fans that grew up watching Griffey play still wonder to this day what could have been had he not gone home to the Cincinnati Reds and struggled to stay on the field. By the time he left the Seattle Mariners after 11 seasons, he had 398 home runs and was believed to be the man to break Hank Aaron’s home run record. By now, we all know he didn’t, but he did make a lot of money during his career.
18 Greg Maddux - $153,845,000
The Mad Dog was a loyal member of the Atlanta Braves for 11 years and despite being the best pitcher in the sport during much of his career, stayed in Atlanta despite the big money offers elsewhere. Had he signed with another team in any of the numerous chances he had, he would be higher on this list, but he still comes in at 18th after a 355 win career with the Braves, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Diego Padres.
17 Albert Pujols - $155,040,436
Many pundits were comparing Pujols’ career to that of Ken Griffey Jr. In his first year with the Los Angeles Angels, Pujols was great, but struggled to stay on the field in his second season on the West Coast. Despite his struggles in 2013, he has recovered and is again one of the best players in the league. In early 2014, he joined the 500 home run club and has won three National League Most Valuable Player awards.
16 Alfonso Soriano - $157,960,000
Soriano is the first of two 40/40 Club members to make this list with more his $157 million made with the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and Chicago Cubs. Soriano had his best season in 2002 when he .300 with 39 home runs, 102 RBIs, and league bests for stolen bases (41), hits (209) and runs (128).
15 Ichiro Suzuki- $159,131,483
To think Ichiro didn’t play his first game in Major League Baseball until he was 27 and yet, still comes in at No. 15 on the list of the 25 richest baseball players of all-time, is incredible. Ichiro has spent his entire career with the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees and is close to joining the 3,000 hit club in MLB after recording more than 1,200 hits in his nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan.
14 Torii Hunter - $160,555,000
Hunter has been one of the most consistent players in Major League Baseball since he joined the Minnesota Twins starting lineup full time in 1999. He has also spent time during his career with Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers, where he's recorded a career average of .278 with more than 300 home runs, 450 doubles, and close to 200 stolen bases.
13 Todd Helton - $161,490,000
Every penny Helton earned over the course of his 17-year career was with the Colorado Rockies. He joined the team in 1997 when he was 23 and has made a great living in baseball despite being recruited to also play football at the University of Tennessee. When he retired at the end of the 2013 season, he had a .316 average with 369 home runs, 1,406 RBIs, and 592 doubles.
12 Johan Santana - $161,497,269
The talented left-hander turned a few great seasons with the Minnesota Twins into a huge contract with the New York Mets. In 2007, he made $13 million with Twins, but the Mets lured him away from the Midwest with more than $137.5 over six years including more than $25 million in 2013. The native of Venezuela has a 139-78 career record with a 3.20 ERA and two American League Cy Young awards.
11 Mark Teixeira - $166,775,000
Teixeira, the switch-hitter from Annapolis, Md. has spent part of his career with the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, and New York Yankees. The Braves once felt so highly in his ability to lead their team, they mortgaged their farm system in a 5-for-2 deal at the 2007 trade deadline and while he didn’t help them win a World Series, he has still had a solid career with more than 350 home runs.
10 Gary Sheffield - $168,008,550
Sheffield played from 1988 through the 2009 season and had himself a career a consistent career. He had his best season in 1996 with the Florida Marlins, hitting .314 with 42 home runs and 120 RBIs. When he retired, not only did he have a lot of money made during his career, he also had 509 home runs, 2,689 hits, and 253 stolen bases.
9 Chipper Jones - $168,552,133
The second player on this list to spend his entire career at one team is this future Hall of Famer. In his first full season, Jones helped lead the Braves to their only World Series win and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. In every full season of his career, Jones hit at least 10 home runs and finished with a .303 average, 468 home runs, 1,623 RBIs, 549 doubles, and is one of three greatest switch hitters in Major League Baseball history.
8 C.C. Sabathia - $169,357,142
The left-hander from California began his career with the Cleveland Indians before moving to the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Yankees. For a brief stretch, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the sport and turned that success into a huge contract with the Yankees. He has a 208-119 career record and has recorded double digit win totals in every season of his career, though that record is in jeopardy this year.
7 Mariano Rivera - $169,441,825
The greatest closer in the history of the sport is the third player on this list that played their entire career with the same team. The Panama native spent 19 years with the New York Yankees and recorded a record of 652 saves. He also had a 2.21 ERA and has been called one of the best players in World Series history, recording 11 saves in 12 chances with a 0.99 ERA.
6 Randy Johnson - $175,550,019
Johnson, the big intimidating left hander, won 303 games during his 22 year career with the Montreal Expos, Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, and Houston Astros. He won four straight Cy Young awards from 1999-2002 and won five total. He finished his career with a 3.29 ERA and will likely be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2015.
5 Carlos Beltran - $175,952,782
This switch-hitter from Puerto Rico began his career with an American League Rookie of the Year award in 1999 and is still producing in 2014. With more than 370 home runs and a lifetime average above .280, Beltran has earned big money contracts by producing at the right time including after a stellar 2013 season with the St. Louis Cardinals.
4 Barry Bonds - $188,245,322
Love him or hate him, Bonds made a lot of money during his professional career. He played 22 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants and is the all-time leader for home runs with 762 and walks with 2,558. He is the second member of the 40/40 Club to make this list and is another player that has been accused of taking performance enhancing drugs during his career. The seven-time National League Most Valuable Player has vehemently denied those claims and will hope to make the Hall of Fame one day.
3 Manny Ramirez - $206,827,769
In his first full season as a professional baseball player, Ramirez nearly led the Cleveland Indians to a World Series title. By the end of his time with the Indians in the late 1990s, Ramirez was the best player in the sport including his remarkable 1999 season that saw him hit .333 with 44 home runs and a league-high 165 RBIs. He hit 555 home runs during his career with a .312 average, but has also had his share of issues with performance enhancing drugs, earning a 50-game suspension in 2009 after failing a drug test.
2 Derek Jeter - $265,159,364
The Captain is finishing up the final season of his 20 season career with the New York Yankees. Considered to be one of the best players in the history of the sport, Jeter has more than 3,400 hits, 250 home runs, 530 doubles, and an average greater than .310. He has made all of his money in Yankee pinstripes and could be the first unanimous Hall of Famer in the history of the sport when his time comes in five years.
1 Alex Rodriguez - $356,285,104
The six highest single season salary totals in baseball history went to Rodriguez. He began his career with the Seattle Mariners before signing the biggest contract in baseball history with the Texas Rangers in 2001. He has more than 650 home runs in his career, is 61 hits away from 3,000 for his career and has a lifetime average of .299. He has since come under fire because of his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal and was suspended for the entire 2014 season.