Baseball contracts have gone from highly valuable to just insane over the last 30 years. Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, made headlines in 1979 when the Houston Astros signed him to a four-year, $4.5 million contract, making him the first million-dollar player in MLB history. Today that contract would be a lowball offer to the top pitcher in Major League Baseball, even when adjusted for inflation. Let’s take a look at the 2016 highest-paid MLB players by position, in the order of their 2016 salary.
Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
2016 Salary: $34,571,428
Contract: Seven years, $215 million
Agent: J.D. Smart, Excel Sports Management
Worth the money? Yes
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is well on his way to a Hall of Fame Career. The Dodger’s Ace has already nabbed three Cy Young Awards, won a Gold Glove and the Pitching Triple Crown, and was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
And he is only 28 years old.
Kershaw is guaranteed to bring in roughly $34.5 million in 2016, making him the highest-paid pitcher in Major League Baseball. His incentives include $1 million for winning the CY Young Award and $500,000 if he places second or third in Cy Young voting.
During his eight-year career in Los Angeles, Kershaw has pitched an average 201 innings with 218 strikeouts and 58 walks, and has given up 150 hits, 12 home runs and 55 earned runs per season. His career ERA is 2.43.
Kershaw remains one of the best in the game and is worth the Dodgers’ investment.
Left Fielder: Josh Hamilton
2016 Salary: $28,410,000
Contract: Five years, $125 million (signed in 2013 with the Angels, traded to the Rangers in 2015)
Agent: Michael Moye
Worth the money? Depends on whom you ask
Once upon a time, Josh Hamilton was the king of baseball. The five-time All-Star selection, three-time Silver Slugger Award winner and American League MVP was on top of the world. But his struggles with drugs and alcohol resurfaced in 2012, which prompted the Rangers to not resign its once beloved superstar.
The Angels took a chance and signed Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract, a mistake for which the organization is still paying the consequences. Hamilton never lived up to his previous hype and once again, relapsed.
The Angels made a deal with the Rangers to get Hamilton off their roster; the Rangers accepted the trade, with one provision: The organization would not fully take over his contract obligations. An official number has not been reported from the deal, but according to the Orange County Register, the Rangers are paying roughly $6 million of the amount remaining on his contract, leaving the Angels with the rest of the bill.
Depending on the team you root for will determine if Hamilton is worth his salary. If you are a Rangers fan, Hamilton is a steal for your team. If you are on the Angels’ side of the fence, you probably want to punch your TV anytime you hear the name Josh Hamilton.
First Base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2016 Salary: $28 million
Contract: Eight years, $248 million
Agent: Diego Bentz and Fernando Cuza, Relativity Sports
Worth the money? That should not even be a question
Miguel Cabrera made history in 2014 when he signed an eight-year, $248 million extension with the Detroit Tigers, which is the largest contract extension in MLB history. And the Tigers’ investment was well worth it.
Cabrera’s $248 million dollar contract comes with the following incentives:
MVP: $2 million
Placing between 2-5 in MVP voting: $200,000
Placing between 6-10 in MVP voting: $100,000
LCS MVP: $150,000
World Series MVP: $200,000
All-Star MVP: $100,000
All-Star Selection: $50,000
Gold Glove, Silver Slugger: $100,000 (each)
Hank Aaron Award: $250,000
World Series MVP + Hank Aaron Award + MVP: $1 million (added to each award earnings, totaling $3.45 million)
Cabrera’s name should be legally changed to “Boss,” because that is exactly what he is. Since joining Detroit in 2008, Cabrera has won two Silver Slugger Awards, named back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player in 2012 and 2013, is a four-time AL Batting Champion and was the first player to win the Triple Crown in 45 years.
Cabrera has averaged 186 hits, 39 doubles, 34 home runs, 115 RBIs and a .327 batting average per season in his eight years with the Tigers. There is no question Cabrera will go down in history as one of the greatest to ever play the game and is without a doubt worth his monster $248 million contract.
Second Base: Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
2016 Salary: $24 million
Contract: 10 years, $240 million (full no-trade clause)
Agent: Roc Nation Sports
Worth the money? TBD
The Seattle Mariners put a hefty investment into former New York Yankee Robinson Cano, but it is yet to be determined if it will pay off. Cano will make $24 million this season, with a $50,000 incentive if selected for the MLB All-Star Game.
After parting ways with the Yankees and signing a monster contract with the Mariners, some may consider Cano’s performance to be digressing. When comparing his Seattle stats to his final two seasons in New York, Cano’s numbers are worse. He has 40 fewer RBIs, 25 fewer home runs, 20 fewer hits and 18 fewer doubles.
Numbers don’t always tell the story, and it is too early to claim he is not worthy of his $240 million contract (which includes a full no-trade clause), but if his performance in 2016 continues to decline, there will almost certainly be some very unhappy fans in Seattle.
Designated Hitter: Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers
2016 Salary: $24 million
Contract: 9 years, $214 million (signed with Detroit Tigers before being traded to Texas Rangers)
Agent: Scott Boras
Worth the money? No
Even though Prince Fielder has predominantly played first base throughout his career, he has technically played the role of a designated hitter for the Texas Rangers.
Fielder was traded from the Tigers to the Rangers following the 2013 season. The Rangers took over Fielder’s remaining seven years, $168 million guaranteed in his contract.
Fielder will make $24 million this season, with the following incentives:
MLB All-Star: $50,000
All-Star Start, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, Hank Aaron: $100,000 (per award)
ALCS MVP: $150,000
MVP Winner: $500,000
Finish second through fifth in MVP voting: $200,000
Finish sixth through tenth in MVP voting: $100,000
$1 million for additional MVPs
Fielder played in 39 games at first base before having a season-ending neck surgery his first season in Arlington, according to ESPN. In 2015, Fielder was used predominantly as a designated hitter, playing first base in just 18 of 158 games. He was selected to the American League All-Star team and finished the 2015 season with 187 hits, 23 home runs, 98 RBIs and a .305 batting average.
Those numbers could warrant his salary if he was playing first base. But as an aging designated hitter, he is extremely overpaid.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Colorado Rockies
2016 Salary: $22 million
Contract: Six years, $106 million (signed with Miami, traded to Toronto after one year, then traded two years later to Colorado)
Agent: Peter Greenberg
Worth the money? No
The Colorado Rockies finalized a midseason trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015, swapping veteran Colorado shortstop and two-time Gold Glove winner Troy Tulowitzki for Jose Reyes.
In addition to his $22 million salary, Reyes has the potential to increase his earnings through winning the following honors:
Gold Glove, All-Star Selection: $50,000 (per award)
Silver Slugger: $100,000
LCS MVP: $250,000
World Series MVP: $1 million
The transaction has not worked out very well for the Rockies. Reyes hit .259 in 47 games with Colorado in 2015, but the biggest concern for him pertains to legal matters. The shortstop was arrested Oct. 31, 2015, on domestic violence charges. He has yet to report to spring training, ESPN reports.
With all things considered, Reyes has been on a downward spiral on the field and is not worth his $22 million salary.
Right Fielder: Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres
2016 Salary: $21.75 million
Contract: Eight years, $160 million plus $18 million signing bonus (signed with LA Dodgers, traded to San Diego Padres in 2015)
Agent: Dave Stewart, Sports Management Partners
Worth the money? Leaning toward no
2015 was not a great year for the San Diego Padres. The organization had a new general manager in place, so the chemistry among the team may have led to the 74-88 record the Padres posted last season.
Matt Kemp’s performance in San Diego and the last two seasons spent in Los Angeles can be summed up in one word: mediocre. Kemp finished the 2015 season hitting .265 with 147 strikeouts. He is guaranteed to make $21.75 million in 2016, and if he continues to perform the way he did one year ago, it would be fair to say he is overpaid.
However, making that statement after just one season with an organization is premature, so for now, his value is to be determined.
Center Fielder: Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees
2016 Salary: $21,142,857
Contract: Seven years, $153 million (full no-trade clause)
Agent: Scott Boras
Worth the money? No
Jacoby Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees following the 2013 season. And one could argue he has yet to earn his $21 million-plus annual salary.
While he has been a solid outfielder throughout his career, his batting numbers have been gradually declining since his first season with the Yankees.
It is fair to say the Yankees put way too much money in Ellsbury’s contract. To put it in perspective, Mike Trout is arguably one of the best center fielders in baseball today. He will make almost $6 million less than Ellsbury in 2016.
Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2016 Salary: $20,777,777
Contract: Nine years, $167 million (full no-trade clause)
Agent: Jerry Berry, CAA Sports
Worth the money? Absolutely
Giants’ Buster Posey is arguably the best catcher in Major League Baseball. Not only does he have a solid rapport with his pitchers, he can hold his own at the plate and has been called upon to take over first baseman duties from time to time.
Posey will make $20,777,777 in 2016, but could increase his total earnings by securing any of the following awards:
All-Star selection: $25,000
Gold Glove, Silver Slugger: $50,000 (per award)
LCS MVP: $75,000
MVP, World Series MVP: $100,000 (per award)
Over the past four seasons, Posey has been the National League’s Most Valuable Player, won three Silver Slugger Awards and nabbed Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award honors. The Giants’ superstar has averaged 169 hits, 90 RBIs and .314 batting average per season.
Posey is one of the most consistent catchers in the Big Leagues and a true team player. There is no doubt he is worth every bit of his $167 million contract.
Third Base: David Wright, New York Mets
2016 Salary: $20 million
Contract: Eight years, $138 million (full no-trade clause)
Agent: Levinson Brothers, ACES
Worth the money? Yes
David Wright could change his name to Mr. Consistency and I doubt anyone would disagree with it. Not only is he a clutch player on the field, he is the definition of a true leader.
Wright will make $20 million in 2016, with $100,000 bonus incentives for each of the following recognitions: MLB All-Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and Hank Aaron Award. He will also receive $500,000 if selected as MVP and $200,000 if he places second through fifth in MVP voting.
Wright missed four months of the 2015 regular season due to a hamstring and back injury, according to MLB.com. His 2015 stats were not his best, but it does not define the type of player he has been during his 12-year career in New York.
As long as he remains healthy, Wright is worth every penny of his $138 million contract with the Mets.
Closer: Aroldis Chapman
2016 Salary: $11,325,000
Contract: One year
Agent: Magnus Media
Worth the money? Yes
Many fans will argue that closers are overpaid due to the limited number of innings they pitch. Fans often view closers in a similar light as NFL kickers: You need them, but they aren’t worth a large investment.
The Yankees needed to fill the hole left by one of the greatest closers of all time: Mariano Rivera. Enter Aroldis Chapman, who is currently one of the most legit closers in Major League Baseball. The Yankees pickup of Chapman could be the piece the Yankees need to replace Rivera.
However, Chapman was faced with gun and domestic violence accusations stemming from an October 2015 altercation with his then-girlfriend. He has not been charged with any accusations due to a lack of evidence, according to The New York Times. However, he will serve a 30-game suspension and is the first player to be penalized under MLB’s new Joint Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy, according to MLB.com.
But Chapman has proven to be a solid closer, and if available to play, could go down as one of the Yankees’ best trade acquisitions in recent years, which would make him worth the money invested.
All contract information via Spotrac.com.