Grading the 10 Richest Contracts in MLB History

Jason Martinez@@mlbdepthchartsContributor IDecember 7, 2013

Grading the 10 Richest Contracts in MLB History

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    Cano is set to make $240 million through 2023, when he'll be 40 years old.
    Cano is set to make $240 million through 2023, when he'll be 40 years old.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Robinson Cano's 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners, which was first reported by Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes (Spanish link), ties him with Albert Pujols for the third-highest contract ever handed out to a major league player—Alex Rodriguez holds the record for the first two spots. 

    While there are plenty of examples of players putting up elite numbers into their late 30s, it's still a significant risk for the M's because of the likelihood that they'll be paying Cano top dollar for at least a few seasons when he'll no longer be in his prime.

    For every David Ortiz, who had a .959 OPS with 30 homers at the age of 37, there are several formerly great players who were out of the game by their early-to-mid 30s because their skills had diminished to a point where they could no longer produce league-average numbers. 

    Contracts of this magnitude—years and dollars-wise—are still relatively new, with the contract of Derek Jeter the only one among the 10 highest of all time that has expired. Therefore, it's hard to point at any and declare Cano's deal as a huge mistake by the Mariners.

    But for what the players on this "10 Richest Contracts In MLB History" list have done on the field thus far and where they appear headed over the course of their deals, it's not too early to pass judgment and place a grade on their impact. 

    Each of the 10 slides contains contract details, average WAR per season over the course of the deal, a summary on the player's impact and/or potential impact and a letter grade.


    The player's contract, according to Baseball Prospectus, is listed. The player's average WAR (wins above replacement) per season, according to Baseball-Reference, is also listed.

10. Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Contract details: Seven years, $180 million (2013-2019) 

    Player's age over span of contract: 30-36

    WAR (wins above replacement player): 4.6 per season 

    During a 15-start span from May 15 through July 25 in which he posted a 4.83 ERA and allowed 104 hits in 91.1 inning pitched, Justin Verlander gave the Tigers plenty of reason to be concerned about the $180 million they had guaranteed him just prior to the start of the 2013 season. 

    Could it be that he was wearing down after averaging 220 inning pitched per season between 2006-2012? At age 30, that would be hard to believe. And it turns out that it wasn't the case at all.

    The former AL MVP and Cy Young award winner eventually figured things out and returned to his dominant form down the stretch and into the playoffs (23.1 IP, ER, 10 H, 3 BB, 31 K).

    With six years left on his deal, he'll need to be that guy a lot more often than not. The mediocre version, on the other hand, needs to not rear its ugly head again for a long stretch of time or it will be difficult for the Tigers to be happy with their return on Verlander's contract.

    Grade: B

9. Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    Contract details: Eight years, $180 million (2009-2016)

    Player's age over span of contract: 29-36

    WAR (wins above replacement player): 3.3 per season 

    Since signing with the New York Yankees, Mark Teixeira's OPS had dropped in four consecutive seasons prior to 2013, a season in which he played played in only 15 games because of a wrist injury. Reason for concern?

    Of course. But that doesn't mean his contract has been bad or will end up being a mistake.

    His overall production has declined, although only slightly from year to year. After posting a .962 OPS with 33 homers between the Angels and Braves in 2008, Teixeira had an overall .863 OPS with an average of 34 homers, 33 doubles and 106 runs batted in his first four seasons as a Yankee.

    The switch-hitter also won three Gold Gloves and played an integral role in the team's championship run in 2009. If he returns to full health and produces three more solid seasons prior to his contract expiring, the Yankees will be plenty satisfied with their investment.

    Grade: B

8. Joe Mauer, C/1B, Minnesota Twins

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    Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract details: Eight years, $184 million (2011-2018)

    Player's age over span of contract: 28-35

    WAR (wins above replacement player): 3.8 per season 

    With an .886 OPS and an average of 12 homers, 32 doubles and 76 runs batted in over his first six full big league seasons, Joe Mauer was clearly the top catcher in the game and deserved to be the highest paid, which he became when his contract extension kicked in at the start of the 2011 season.

    Since then, however, he's battled numerous injuries, and his numbers have dropped slightly (.838 OPS, 8 HR, 54 RBI per season)—a bit concerning and probably not enough production based on his salary but still very solid numbers for a catcher.

    The bigger problem is that, for the last five years of his contract, Mauer will no longer be a catcher. A move to first base, beginning this upcoming season, should help to keep him on the field over the course of his deal.

    It will decrease his overall value to the team, though, and significantly increase the chance that he becomes one of the most overpaid stars in the game. 

    Grade: C-

7. Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Contract details: 10 years, $189 million (2001-2010)

    Player's age over span of contract: 27-36

    WAR (wins above replacement player): 4.1 per season 

    If a team is going to overpay for a player or hand out a risky contract, it's much more forgivable if that player is already an icon for his past success in the organization.

    Before Derek Jeter's 10-year contract extension kicked in, he already had six terrific seasons under his belt to go along with four World Series rings and a World Series MVP award. The Yankees were the elite team in baseball, and Jeter was the face of the franchise. Paying him close to $20 million per season to ensure he remained with the team throughout his prime was a no-brainer. 

    That he continued to play at an exceptional level over the course of his contract, posting an .824 OPS with 16 homers and 22 stolen bases per season, was almost a bonus. He also collected his fifth World Series ring and will go down as one of the greatest Yankees in history. 

    Grade: A

6. Prince Fielder, 1B, Detroit Tigers/Texas Rangers

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract details: 9 years, $214 million (2012-2020)

    Player's age over span of contract: 28-36

    WAR (wins above replacement player): 3.2 per season 

    The Detroit Tigers might be relieved to have gotten out of paying the remainder of Prince Fielder's $214 million through life of his contract. But trading him, along with $30 million, to the Texas Rangers after only two seasons ensured that they received terrible value and that the signing was a mistake.

    In paying $76 million for one very good and one so-so season from Fielder, the Tigers better hope that Ian Kinsler, who was acquired from Texas in the deal and is set to make $57 million over the next four seasons, can make up the difference by returning to the player he was in 2011 (.832 OPS, 32 HR, 77 RBI). 

    The Rangers, on the other hand, will pay Fielder $138 million until he's 36 years of age. If his performance continues to decline, there might be two teams extremely disappointed with this contract when it's all said and done. 

    Grade: C-

5. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Contract details: 10 years, $225 million (2014-2023)

    Player's age over span of contract: 30-39

    WAR (wins above replacement player): N/A

    Joey Votto's 10-year contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds doesn't start until the upcoming season, but there are already some concerns based on his performance over the past year. 

    From 2008 to 2011, Votto had a .957 OPS with an average of 29 homers, 36 doubles, 96 runs batted in and 82 walks per season. He won the NL MVP in 2010, followed up with a strong 2011 and then signed his $225 million deal at the start of the 2012 season. 

    While he continues to be one of the best hitters in the game, posting a .971 OPS over the past two seasons, his power production has decreased. His 26.7 HR/AB ratio in 2012 was thought to have been caused by a knee injury, which forced him out of action for nearly two months. Upon returning, he failed to homer in his final 76 at-bats of the season.

    Back to full health in 2013, Votto's HR/AB ratio improved to 24.2, but it was still nowhere close to the 14.8 HR/AB ratio he posted during his MVP season in 2010. 

    His overall skills as a hitter don't appear to have fallen off much, so he'll continue to star in the middle of the Reds lineup. But a hitter making an average of $22.5 million per season is expected to hit for much more power than he has the past couple years.

    If he fails to return to his 29-homer per season form of 2008-11, he'll fall well short of earning his salary. 

    Grade: C+

T-3. Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Contract details: 10 years, $240 million (2012-2021)

    Player's age over span of contract: 32-41

    WAR (wins above replacement player): 3.2 per season

    Over the course of his first 11 seasons in the majors, all with the St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols posted a 1.037 OPS with an average of 40 homers, 41 doubles, 121 runs batted in and 155 games per season. The three-time NL MVP may have been the best player on the planet over the course of a decade and well deserving of the $240 million the Los Angeles Angels threw at him prior to the 2012 season.

    Two years into his deal, however, Pujols has been a disappointment, to say the least. 

    After a slow start to his Angels career, Pujols finished strong in 2012 but fell short of what the baseball world was used to seeing in his end-of-season stat line. He had an .859 OPS with 30 homers and 50 doubles in 154 games. Talk about lofty expectations.

    But his 2012 drop-off was nothing compared to what happened in 2013. Battling a painful foot injury for most of the season, Pujols posted a .767 OPS with 17 homers in 99 games. 

    Even if injuries did play a major part in his decline, he may not ever be the player he was during his St. Louis days. And if that's the case, the Angels will never get over the fact that they paid so much money for the player he used to be and never was in his new uniform.

    Grade: C-

T-3. Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Contract details: 10 years, $240 million (2014-2023)

    Player's age over span of contract: 31-40

    WAR (wins above replacement player): N/A

    In an effort to change the culture of an organization that has lost an average of 90 games per season during the past decade with seven last-place finishes and zero playoff appearances, the Seattle Mariners went all out in their pursuit of Robinson Cano. 

    They still have a ways to go before they can become legitimate contenders in the AL West, but the addition of the longtime Yankee second baseman is a step in the right direction. After losing out on several top free agents over the past few years, it was important that the team didn't let another offseason go by without making a splash.

    And signing Cano was just about as big of a splash as they could've made. 

    One of the most durable, consistent players in the game—he has an .865 OPS with an average of 25 homers, 43 doubles and 160 games played per season since 2007—Cano is a good bet to continue being a productive player throughout most of his contract. 

    Barring a complete decline by Cano within the next two to three years and the team failing to make the playoffs within that same time frame, the Mariners aren't likely to regret making this bold move during a time when the organization is badly in need of a jolt.

    Grade: B

2. Alex Rodriguez, SS, Texas Rangers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Contract details: 10 years, $252 million (2001-2010); opted out after seven years after having earned a total of $175 million

    Player's age over span of contract: 25-31

    WAR (wins above replacement player): 8.1 per season 

    In his three years with the Texas Rangers after he was signed to a record contract, Rodriguez did his best to earn every dollar by posting a 1.011 OPS with an average of 52 homers and 132 runs batted in per season. He also won an AL MVP and two Gold Glove awards as a shortstop. 

    The Rangers, however, didn't see any improvement in the standings—they finished in last place in each of those three seasons—and decided to unload their star shortstop and his massive contract to the New York Yankees prior to the 2004 season.

    In addition to the payroll clearance, they received two very good years from Alfonso Soriano, for whom Rodriguez was swapped. Rodriguez, however, went on to post a .976 OPS with an average of 43 homers, 128 runs batted in and 22 stolen bases between 2004 and 2007, winning two more AL MVP awards along the way before opting out of his deal. 

    After a strong postseason debut in New York (16-for-50, 3 HR in 2004), Rodriguez's only glitch during the course of his seven-year deal came in the three playoff appearances that followed. With seven hits in 44 at-bats and only one homer, Rodriguez began to earn a negative reputation for his lack of postseason success.

    Grade: A-

1. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Contract details: 10 years, $275 million (2008-2017); opted out after seven years after having made a total of $161 million

    Player's age over span of contract: 32-41

    WAR (wins above replacement player): 3.6 per season 

    As great as Rodriguez's first mega-contract turned out, his current one could end up being one of the most regrettable deals ever.

    After getting off to a promising start with a .914 OPS, 32 homers and 105 runs batted in per season from 2008 to 2010, not to mention a stellar postseason performance in the team's World Series run of 2009 (19-for-52, 6 HR), things have quickly gone south.

    Years four, five and six have produced a .796 OPS with 14 homers, 46 runs batted in and only 88 games played per season. Now, a suspension for PED use could knock him out for the entirety of the seventh year of the contract and part of the eighth. While that could help the team financially, it would also keep Rodriguez out of action for what could be the last of his productive games as a big leaguer. 

    When he returns, he'll be approaching 40 years old and, having missed so much time, isn't likely to be much of a factor. Regardless of how well things started off, it can't get much worse than getting almost no production from a guy making between $20 and $32 million in seven consecutive seasons.

    Grade: D+