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Baseball’s $100 million club keeps growing, includes three Rangers

Nolan Ryan became baseball’s first million-dollar man in 1980, making $1.125 million with the Houston Astros that season. He finished his 27-year career with approximately $25 million to $28 million in earnings, along with his 324 wins and 5,714 strikeouts.

Fast forward to today and Clayton Kershaw is set to make more in one season ($30.7 million) than Ryan made in his entire career.

Flush with cash thanks to lucrative TV deals, teams have handed out more than 50 contracts worth $100 million or more — including seven topping $200 million — since Kevin Brown’s $105 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

Rangers Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder have contracts worth at least $100 million. Adrian Beltre is in the middle of a six-year, $96 million deal.

On Jan. 15, Kershaw became the first pitcher to receive a contract worth at least $200 million. On Wednesday, Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and the New York Yankees agreed on a seven-year, $155 million deal. The Yankees also paid a $20 million posting fee.

Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish, meanwhile, is owed $10 million in each of the next three seasons and $11 million in 2017, although Darvish can make the 2017 season a player option if he meets incentives. The Rangers’ total investment, including a record $51.7 million posting fee, is roughly $110 million.

What’s been the driving force behind it all?

“Teams have a lot more money available and the players are getting a bigger piece of the pie,” says Mike Haupert, a professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who has done extensive research on baseball contracts.

The players’ union is arguably the strongest in the world, Haupert said, and much of that credit belongs to Marvin Miller, the union’s executive director from 1966-82. Miller essentially changed how players’ contracts were constructed by negotiating the first collective bargaining agreement between the players’ union and MLB in 1968.

The power in the contracts eventually shifted from the teams to the players.

For instance, Haupert said, Babe Ruth had a clause in his contract that stated he would be fined if he played golf in the off-season. Another common clause in the old days gave teams the ability to fine a player if they “suspected” he had been drunk.

“It was a very one-sided contract,” Haupert said.

Not anymore. Just look at how common opt-out clauses have become in recent deals.

Kershaw can opt out after five years. Andrus can leave after the 2018 and 2019 seasons, according to the eight-year extension he signed in April.

The opt-out clauses solely benefit the players. If a player’s production or health deteriorates, the team is still on the hook for the length of the deal. But if a player stays healthy and productive, he has the opportunity to test the open market before the deal expires.

Teams are forced to make those concessions in order to lock up players.

“In the old days, teams could terminate a contract with 10 days’ notice,” Haupert said. “Now players can demand what they want because it’s a competitive market and they can go somewhere else.

“You might laugh at the length of bonus clauses in contracts now, too. Some guys are making $20 million but have a clause where they’ll get another $20,000 if they finish 15th in the MVP voting.”


Player Pos. Team Yrs. Mil.
Alex Rodriguez 3B NYY 10 $275
Alex Rodriguez SS TEX 10 $252
Albert Pujols 1B LAA 10 $240
Robinson Cano 2B SEA 10 $240
Joey Votto 1B CIN 10 $225
Clayton Kershaw LHP LAD 7 $215
Prince Fielder 1B DET 9 $214
Derek Jeter SS NYY 10 $189
Joe Mauer C MIN 8 $184
Mark Teixeira 1B NYY 8 $180
Justin Verlander RHP DET 7 $180

Big deals that paid off

Derek Jeter

$189Million (10 years, from 2001-10) Was chosen for eight All-Star teams, won five Gold Gloves and helped the Yankees reach the postseason in nine of 10 years. They went to the World Series three times, winning in 2009.

Miguel Cabrera

$152.3Million (Eight years, from 2008-15) Won back-to-back MVP awards in 2012 and 2013, three Silver Sluggers and helped the Tigers to the World Series in 2012 and the ALCS in 2011 and 2013.

Albert Pujols

$100Million (Seven years, from 2004-10) Finished in the top 10 of MVP voting each season, including winning the MVP in 2005, 2008 and 2009. Also helped Cardinals win the World Series in 2006.

Todd Helton

$141.5Million (Nine years, from 2003-11) Averaged 137 games per season with five seasons of 80 or more RBIs and batted .300 or better in seven of the nine years. Also led the Rockies to their first World Series berth in 2007.

Carlos Beltran

$119Million (Seven years, from 2005-11) An All-Star in five of the seven years and had three seasons with 100 or more RBIs for the Mets. Part of the 2006 team that won the NL East, the Mets’ first postseason berth since 2000.

Biggest busts

Alex Rodriguez

$275Million (10 years, from 2008-17) Has regressed every season since signing the deal. Has not batted better than .276 the past four seasons and has been sidelined with various injury issues. Suspended for the 2014 season for using performance-enhancing drugs but still is owed about $61 million from 2015-17. Telling number: The Yankees have paid Rodriguez $57,652 for every plate appearance he’s made the past six seasons.

Vernon Wells

$126Million (Seven years, from 2008-14) Traded twice after never playing up to his deal. He has batted .218, .230 and .233 the past three seasons and was released by the Yankees earlier this month. Telling number: Wells has been paid $286,472 for every RBI he’s produced the past six years.

Barry Zito

$126Million (Seven years, from 2007-13) Never had a sub-4.00 ERA in the seven years of his contract, and never reached the 200-inning mark after surpassing it the previous six seasons. Telling number: Zito made $110,591 for every inning he pitched for the Giants.

Johan Santana

$137.5Million (Six years, from 2008-13) First three years were OK, but pitched in only 21 games the final three years. Shoulder surgery kept him out of the 2011 and 2013 seasons. Telling number: The Mets paid about $2.9 million for every win Santana got them (46).

Albert Pujols

$240Million (10 years, from 2012-21) There’s still time for Pujols to make this deal worthwhile, but it’s gotten off to a bad start. He started 2012 slowly but finished with good numbers, and was limited to only 99 games last season because of a foot injury. Not a good sign for a player who turned 34 this month. Telling number: The Angels have paid more than $1 million for each of Pujols’ 47 homers the first two seasons.

Highest-paid players, by position

Starting pitchers

 Player  Team Annual value (millions)
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers $30.7
Justin Verlander Tigers $25.7
Felix Hernandez Mariners $25
Zack Greinke Dodgers $24.5
CC Sabathia Yankees $23


 Player  Team Annual value (millions)
Rafael Soriano Nationals $14
Jonathan Papelbon Phillies $12.5
Joe Nathan Tigers $10
Brian Wilson Dodgers $10
Heath Bell Rays $9


 Player  Team Annual value (millions)
Joe Mauer Twins $23
Buster Posey Giants $18.6
Brian McCann Yankees $17
Yadier Molina Cardinals $15
Miguel Montero D-backs $12

First basemen

 Player  Team Annual value (millions)
Ryan Howard Phillies $25
Albert Pujols Angels $24
Prince Fielder Rangers $23.8
Mark Teixeira Yankees $22.5
Joey Votto Reds $22.5

Second basemen

 Player  Team Annual value (millions)
Robinson Cano Mariners $24
Ian Kinsler Tigers $15
Dustin Pedroia Red Sox $13.8
Chase Utley Phillies $13.5
Dan Uggla Braves $12.4


 Player  Team Annual value (millions)
Jose Reyes Blue Jays $17.7
Troy Tulowitzki Rockies $15.8
Elvis Andrus Rangers $15 (beginning 2015)
Hanley Ramirez Dodgers $11.7
Jimmy Rollins Phillies $11
Erick Aybar Angels $8.8

Third basemen

 Player  Team Annual value(millions)
Alex Rodriguez Yankees $27.5
Miguel Cabrera Tigers $19
David Wright Mets $17.3
Ryan Zimmerman Nationals $16.7
Evan Longoria Rays $16.7 (beginning 2017)
Adrian Beltre Rangers $16


 Player  Team Annual value(millions)
Josh Hamilton Angels $25
Jacoby Ellsbury Yankees $21.9
Ryan Braun Brewers $21 (beginning 2016)
Carl Crawford Dodgers $20.3
Matt Kemp Dodgers $20
Shin-Soo Choo Rangers $18.6

Designated hitters

 Player  Team Annual value(millions)
Adam Dunn White Sox $14
David Ortiz Red Sox $13
Victor Martinez Tigers $12.5

Numbers according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts