Perhaps more than any other sport, salaries in baseball have gotten a tad out of control in recent years. The sport has no salary cap, so teams can spend whatever they want to sign the best players in the MLB.
Outside of the threat of the luxury tax, there’s nothing in place to stop spending. That’s good news for the game’s elite players, many of whom have signed ridiculous contracts and will make more than enough in 2020 to support themselves and their families for a lifetime.
In fairness, due to the coronavirus pandemic, players will only earn a pro-rated portion of their 2020 salary based on the number of games played this year. Still, even the pro-rated amount of these salaries is incredible. Perhaps the most amazing part is that stars like Chris Sale, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Jacob deGrom aren’t even among the 10 highest-paid players in 2020. That’s right, the guy with the $330 million contract and the guy who’s won the Cy Young in the National League the past two seasons aren’t among the highest-paid MLB players.
Here is a look at the 10 highest-paid baseball players in 2020, per Spotrac.
10. Clayton Kershaw: $31 million
Kershaw has spent more than a decade as one of the premier starting pitchers in baseball. Granted, his 3.03 ERA in 2019 is the highest since his rookie season, but he remains the undisputed ace of the Los Angeles rotation. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Kershaw hasn’t always been able to dominate the postseason, leaving Los Angeles searching for its first title since 1988 despite winning the NL West in seven straight seasons.
Nevertheless, Kershaw remains worth the high price tag and has earned every penny for what he’s done for the Dodgers over the last dozen seasons.
9. David Price: $32 million
Price is still in the middle of the seven-year, $217 million deal he signed with the Red Sox ahead of the 2016 season. Boston traded Price to the Dodgers in February to help dump that hefty contract, although the Red Sox are still picking up some of the tab.
Meanwhile, the real issue is whether or not Price is still worth the cost of his contract. Elbow troubles have limited his starts in two of the last three seasons. The southpaw also posted a modest 4.28 ERA last season.
Including the 2020 campaign, Price has three more years at $32 million per season, which is a lot more than what the 34-year-old is worth in his current form.
8. Manny Machado: $32 million
The Padres were largely applauded for their willingness to open the checkbook to sign Machado to what was briefly the biggest contract in American sports. They only paid him $10 million last season, but now his annual salary is going to skyrocket for the remaining nine years of the contract.
Machado didn’t exactly live up to his contract in 2019, though, hitting just .256 with an OPS of .796 despite mashing 32 home runs.
In his defense, those are good numbers for a player only making $10 million. However, there will be loads of pressure on him in 2020 to prove that he was worth the massive investment.
7. Justin Verlander: $33 million
Right before the 2019 season, the Astros gave Verlander a whopping two-year, $66 million extension, with a $33 million salary in both 2020 and 2021. Needless to say, that’s a lot of money for a 37-year-old pitcher who has pitched at least 200 innings in 12 of the last 13 years. Then again, the fact that Verlander has consistently thrown 200-plus innings makes him a safe bet to earn around seven figures every start.
On top of that, Verlander is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2019, going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA over 34 starts.
Paying a starter $1 million per start is a lot, but Verlander is one of the few starters who’s absolutely worth it.
6. Stephen Strasburg: $35 million
It’s a simple equation, really: win World Series MVP honors and receive a massive contract. At the end of last season, Strasburg still had four years and $100 million left on his old deal. But he made the right decision to opt-out after the Nationals gave him 245 million reasons to stay in Washington for another seven seasons.
For Strasburg, the deal was a no-brainer, although it was a risky move for the Nats. The 2019 season was just the second time Strasburg threw over 200 innings in a season. The 31-year-old has a lengthy injury history, too, so his longterm health is a big question mark.
On the other hand, why would the Nationals care about any of that fresh off a World Series championship?
5. Zack Greinke: $35 million
Greinke is in the penultimate season of his six-year, $206.5 million contract that he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks before the 2016 season. The Diamondbacks are still on the hook for some of his remaining salary, although he’ll be pitching for the Astros the next two seasons after Houston acquired him in a trade last summer.
Somehow, Greinke doesn’t jump out as the kind of pitcher deserving of this kind of money. However, he did go 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA in his 10 starts in Houston. The caveat is that he’ll now be the No. 2 starter behind Verlander in 2020 with the Astros having to replace Gerrit Cole.
4. Nolan Arenado: $35 million
Less than a year after Arenado and the Rockies agreed to an eight-year, $260 million extension, neither side was happy. Arenado and the Colorado front office squabbled with the third baseman, who was upset about the team’s commitment to winning. It’s a little hard for the Rockies to go out and spend when Arenado is promised $35 million per season for the next five years until his salary begins to dip a little toward the end of his contract.
That being said, Arenado is undoubtedly worth the money. He turned 29 in April, so he’s very much in the prime of his career. Considering what he brings to the table offensively as a four-time Silver Slugger recipient and defensively as the winner of seven straight Gold Gloves, there are a lot of teams that would love to give Arenado $35 million per season to play for them.
3. Max Scherzer: $35.9 million
Officially, Scherzer is set to make $35,920,616 in 2020, although there are deferrals, which is something the Nationals love to do. He still has two years left on the seven-year, $210 million deal that landed him in Washington in 2015. Even before Scherzer played an important role in the club winning the 2019 World Series, it was safe to say the Nationals have gotten their money’s worth thus far.
Scherzer has won the Cy Young twice and led the National League in strikeouts three times since joining the Nats. He also threw two no-hitters during his first season with the team.
Despite some back issues last season that put him on the IL, Scherzer looks poised to finish up his contract as a player who’s worth his salary.
2. Gerrit Cole: $36 million
The Yankees have always been willing to pay any price to win a championship, and they proved that once again this winter when they signed Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract — the largest a pitcher has ever received.
After the way Cole dominated hitters during the 2019 season, especially during the postseason, it’s hard to argue against him being worth that kind of money. The arm injuries he fought through early in his career appear to be a thing of the past, as he’s started at least 32 games and pitched 200 innings in three straight campaigns.
Cole is also 29 and a lifetime Yankees fan, making it an easy decision for the Bronx Bombers to show him that kind of money.
Quite simply, he's the best pitcher in the game.
1. Mike Trout: $37.7 million
The fact that Trout is the highest-paid player in the majors is a sign that there is some justice in baseball. Officially, Trout is set to earn $37,666,666 this season, a year after agreeing to a 12-year, $426 million deal, which is the largest pact in American sports history.
At 28, Trout is already one of the all-time greats. He’s won three MVP awards and has posted an OPS of at least .991 in five straight seasons, topping 1.000 in each of the last three years.
Trout is the best player in baseball, and barring something unforeseen, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The only thing he’s missing is team success, which is something the Angels are hoping to change soon despite the substantial financial commitment to baseball’s biggest superstar.
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