Baseball players are infamously overpaid. At least, that’s what the fans will tell you. Every time a player strikes out or comes up empty in the clutch it becomes unfathomable that they make x amount of dollars. Still, some of the players do make an obscene amount of money. These mega contracts are becoming more and more common. Are these players worth it? Let’s examine.
One important thing to note is that there is no salary cap in baseball. In basketball and football, there is a fixed amount of money set aside to sign players. Russell Westbrook making $41 million a year hurts a basketball team more than Mike Trout making $35 million a year hurts a baseball team. Every baseball team has the ability to dish out these contracts. The owners just have to decide if it’s worth the money on their end. As such, the mega contracts in the MLB are far more worth it than any other league.
While there are some penalties for spending x amount of money and owners do have to shell out, there is no limit to spending on a baseball contract or team as a whole. Still, these are huge amounts of money for players who may or may not be living up to the contract. Here are some of the best examples.
Trout signed what will probably amount to a lifetime extension. Expiring when he turns 39, the contract runs through 2031 and pays Trout $35.5 million a year. When he signed it, it was a record extension and remains one of the largest in sports history. Trout signed this extension in 2019, so what have the numbers been since then? A 178 wRC+ in 2019, 162 in 2020, and a 193 in 2021 (Trout has missed time with a calf injury). Those numbers are incredible. While the Angels seem to be trapped in a cycle of ineptitude, it’s certainly not Trout’s fault. The truth of the matter is no amount of money is too much to ensure the best player in baseball (perhaps ever) stays on a team. Verdict: 100% worth it.
Betts signed his extension in the 2020 season. He went on to post a 149 wRC+ that year and has a 149 this year after an All-Star game berth. His 2018 numbers in which he won MVP may not be replicated, but that’s ok because they were that good. What’s important here is that Betts is probably going to be at or around the second-best player in baseball (behind Trout) year in and year out. Plus, Los Angeles finally got over the hump and won the World Series, and Betts is a huge reason why. There’s no amount of money (not even $30.4 million a year) that can be too much for a World Series title after so many years of frustration. Verdict: Worth it.
Lindor signed a massive extension this offseason right before the season began. This came right after the Mets traded for the former Indians shortstop. Now, Lindor is the second-highest-paid baseball player (yearly) making $34.1 million a year. Lindor hasn’t put up world-beating numbers, but the Mets do find themselves in first place. Lindor’s 99 wRC+ is a hair below average and his traditional numbers don’t tell a better tale. Lindor does have 4 wRC+ over the first half of the season, so he’s still a stellar defender. Lindor’s career offensive numbers would indicate that he’s bound for a regression to the positive. Still, the situation doesn’t look good right now, though I’d be willing to bet that even if Lindor never heats up this year that the next nine seasons will be fine. Verdict: Perhaps they rushed it.
Fernando Tatis, Jr.
Tatis may well be on his way to an MVP season in just his third year in the league. Posting an NL-best (and third behind Shohei Ohtani and Vlad Guerrero, Jr.) 172 wRC+ should be enough to beat out Jacob deGrom if this latest injury costs him significant time. Some were skeptical of the Padres signing a player so long (and for $24.2 million a year) so early into his career, but Tatis looks every bit the player they imagined. Plus, Tatis is probably the most exciting player in baseball not named Ohtani, so he has an intangible effect on the fans and the revenue in that way. Tatis has had a few injury scares but has emerged unscathed. Verdict: Worth it.
Believe it or not, at one point the Harper extension, which is now drowned out by Trout, Betts, Tatis, and the like was the biggest contract in sports. Now, he’s making $25.3 million a year, and many paint him as the poster child for bad contracts in baseball (along with Giancarlo Stanton). He hasn’t ever quite lived up to the hype his rookie year promised and living in Trout’s shadow doesn’t help. Regardless, Harper is an extremely good player and has posted 125, 151, and 142 wRC+ in the years since joining the Phillies. He’s been a slightly below-average defender the past two seasons after an incredible year in 2019. The Phillies have a lot of talent and seem to underperform every year, but that’s not really on Harper. Verdict: Mostly worth it.
Cole makes more money per year than any baseball player at $36 million. His nine-year deal with the Yankees is a record for pitchers. The money is a lot, but Cole has often been considered the best pitcher in the league. He’s no Jacob deGrom, but he’s pretty great. Despite the struggles, once MLB enforced the sticky substance ban, Cole seems to have rebounded with 15 innings pitched, seven hits, 23 strikeouts, and just one run surrendered in back-to-back wins over the Astros and Red Sox. Cole remains one of the absolute best pitchers in baseball, and there’s no telling where the Yankees would be without him this season. Verdict: Worth it.
Speaking of the Yankees, Stanton hasn’t quite lived up to the MVP level he was at when they traded for him. Making $25 million a year and not producing that will make Yankees fans boo (and they have, for some stupid reason). He’s also struggled with injuries at times, but when he’s healthy he reminds fans that no one hits a baseball like he does. He routinely tops in the league in hard-hit balls and exit velocity, boasting some of the hardest-hit home runs in the past few years. Still, Stanton has struggled to stay on the field and mostly DH’s, which isn’t a lot for that kind of money. Still, Stanton is one of the best hitters in the game. Verdict: Sort of worth it.