Top Earners in Baseball: Worth It or Not?
- Updated: March 21, 2013
By Becky Wilcox
When Nolan Ryan became baseball’s first million dollar ballplayer in 1980 in signing with the Houston Astros, everyone thought the game was going crazy when it came to salaries.
Over 30 years later and adjusted for inflation, a million dollars doesn’t have the buying power it did in 1980 for Ryan. In fact, the million-dollar mark is just over twice the minimum salary for the 2013 season ($490,000).
Back in 2000, Roger Clemens and Carlos Delgado signed contracts that gave them the highest salaries in the game for the time. Clemens earned $15.45 million and Delgado later topped that at $17 million. Those figures barely crack the top 25 Major League Baseball salaries these days, but players that find the best saving account interest rates for all of that dough won’t have to work another day in their life (even with abysmal rates today!).
Some ballplayers have proven their worth many times over when it comes to awarding high-salaried contracts. Others are finding it slow going.
The New York Yankees are historically known for giving away high salaries, but the Yankees are finding the going quite rough thanks to three of the top five salaries in baseball. Alex Rodriguez makes $30 million a year, but a combination of hip injuries and a renewed belief that Rodriguez dabbled in steroids and performance-enhancing drugs may mean the Yankees will try to void that contract.
Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia make around $23 million a year, with Teixeira’s salary at $23.125 million. Teixeira has been bothered by arm and wrist issues in the past couple years and will start this season on the disabled list. Sabathia has been fabulous when healthy, but back troubles have sidelined him from time to time.
Other players with very high salaries have also experienced issues. Vernon Wells has been nothing but a bust since he signed a contract worth well over $100 million, and he made $24,187,500 in 2012. The Toronto Blue Jays eventually unloaded that contract to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Wells is in the final season of that mega-deal. Hopefully saving money was a big part of his retirement plan, because Wells has been a mega-flop.
New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana, whose $23.145 million salary ranked third among players last season, has experienced shoulder and back issues since signing his six-year, $137.5 million megadeal prior to the 2008 campaign.
There is no correlation between very high salaries and injuries, but it seems like the higher-salary players get all the scrutiny thanks to the contract they signed. It is easy to understand why these players get all the press, because of a perceived notion that they are not living up to the record deal they signed.
Was it always like this? Not always. When Ryan signed his $1 million deal in November of 1979, he still had 14 years of pitching ahead. In the 1980s all of the players that signed contracts making them the highest-paid player in baseball lived up to their end of the bargain. About the only player to come apart at the seams was Mark Davis, who signed a $10 million free-agent deal for three years (1990-1992) only to lose his closer job with the Kansas City Royals to Jeff Montgomery. Davis bounced around with four different teams prior to retiring in 1997.
Ballplayers who sign exorbitant contracts generally are met with more scrutiny because of the high dollar amounts attached to the contract. It is rare when a player fulfills the contract without flopping every so often.
Look forward to the upcoming season and keep an eye on those high-salaried players. See how many pan out and how many fail. They should be easy to spot.