The 30 Highest-Paid Athletes: Who Is Worth It and Who Is Not

Austin SchindelAnalyst IISeptember 2, 2011

The 30 Highest-Paid Athletes: Who Is Worth It and Who Is Not

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    Athletes make more money in one game than most of us make in a year. That might make some people really angry, but then they go to the game and buy expensive tickets, food and merchandise.

    Don’t hate the player—hate the game.

    Athletes are on this earth to entertain us, so when they do it well, they get rewarded—big time. I don’t like that Alex Rodriguez makes so much money, but that is just the way the game is played.

    From here, I’ll determine who of the top earners is worth it and who is not. This should be a fun ride.


30. LaMarr Woodley

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    2011 salary: $18.1 million

    Woodley has 35 sacks over the last three seasons and was handsomely rewarded with a new contract that will pay him more in this upcoming season than any other of the deal.

    He has become a feared opponent and a machine on the defensive end.


    What is he worth?

    He is worth whatever money the Steelers decide to give him. Behind Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, he is the best player on their defense.


    Is he worth it now?

    He may not be worth the amount that he is being paid this season, as it is inflated. Nevertheless, he deserves to be one of the top-paid linebackers.

29. Jason Bay

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    2011 salary: $18.125 million

    He cashed in on a 36 home run, 119 RBI season for the Red Sox in 2009 with the New York Mets, who were eager to get another big bat in the lineup to counterbalance the influx of Phillies pitching.

    The grade for the Jason Bay experiment in NY so far: D-minus.


    What is he worth?

    He is worth a bag of peanuts and a bucket of baseballs...and that is being generous.


    Is he worth it now?

    (See above.)

28. Amar'e Stoudemire

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    2011 salary: $18,217,705

    When Stoudemire signed with the Knicks, not only was he making the team better, but he was changing the culture as well.

    The franchise had been marred by years of incompetent management and lack of effort from players that were supposed to turn the team around. Stoudemire has done that and more.


    What is he worth?

    He is one of the best forwards in the game and deserves to be treated like one. His $20 million average salary will increase as the years go on, but for now, the Knicks get him for a “steal.”


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes, because the Knicks would have made the playoffs with or without Carmelo Anthony mostly because of Stoudemire’s play.

27. Barry Zito

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    2011 salary: $18.5 million

    The Giants could not have known how bad of an investment Barry Zito was going to be. He and A.J. Burnett should be charged with larceny for the theft they pulled on their respective teams.

    He was so bad that the Giants could not even use him down the pennant stretch for fear of blowing up by the third inning.


    What is he worth?

    He is worth nothing. Zito has been an embarrassment to his contract.


    Is he worth it now?

    He cannot even crack the starting rotation anymore. Injuries or not, he is no longer in the Giants’ plans.

26. Torii Hunter

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    2011 salary: $18.5 million

    In Minnesota, Hunter was baseball's best defensive center fielder for almost a decade before migrating west to play for the Angels. He is a great leader and one of the “good guys” in baseball.


    What is he worth?

    He is still going to produce at a high level, but he has slowed down considerably. The Angels are going to have to rely on Hunter in the pennant race and have gotten great value from him over the life of his contract.


    Is he worth it now?

    Just barely. The Angels outfield is full of aging veterans, and his move from center field to right is not promising for the direction he is heading in.

25. Carlos Lee

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    2011 salary: $18.5 million

    El Caballo may not be the player he once was, but during his heyday, few players were better sluggers. The Astros thought he would be the final piece alongside Lance Berkman for a World Series title.

    This didn’t prove to be the case, but he was a great player that is at the end of his time with the team.


    What is he worth?

    He can still contribute to a veteran team if he chooses to keep playing. He can still play the outfield and would provide a good bat at DH.


    Is he worth it now?

    He is no longer worth the big deal he signed with the Astros years ago. If they could have traded him, they probably would have.

24. Carmelo Anthony

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    2011 salary: $18,518,575

    This is a mild salary compared to the increases he will see over the next three seasons. He signed an extension with the Knicks after being traded to the team right before the deadline.

    He is immensely talented and brings a spark to the Knicks that they haven’t had in years.


    What is he worth?

    He has made the Knicks an instant contender for the foreseeable future. That alone makes him worth the price of admission.


    Is he worth it now?

    The Knicks made the playoffs. Enough said.

23. Pau Gasol

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    2011 salary: $18,714,150

    The Lakers need Gasol in order to complement Kobe Bryant and provide length that they love to exploit.

    He has a soft touch, sometimes to a fault, and is one of the most skilled big men in the game. 

    What is he worth?

    He is worth top dollar. He is the second-best player on a championship-caliber team and should be paid as such.


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes. He is still in his prime and is a centerpiece in the Lakers offense and immediate future.

22. Carlos Zambrano

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    2011 salary: $18.875 million

    You can call him crazy; I’ll just call him rich. The troubled Cubs starter has had his ups and downs, usually providing us with some entertaining stories along the way.

    The Cubs were praying that someone would take him off their hands, much to their chagrin.


    What is he worth?

    He was worth front-line starter money years ago. Now, he is just a clubhouse nuisance.


    Is he worth it now?


21. Alfonso Soriano

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    2011 salary: $19 million

    Yes, this is the same Alfonso Soriano that was a 40-40 player for the Washington Nationals and was traded for A-Rod. Now, he is buried in left field at Wrigley.


    What is he worth?

    Very little. He is a defensive liability and has not topped 100 RBI in any of his seasons with the Cubs.


    Is he worth it now?

    He was supposed to be the savior for the Cubs and the player that took them over the top. Soriano did not even come close and is now a hefty salary with little to show for it.

20. Dirk Nowitzki

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    2011 salary: $19,092,873

    MVP. NBA Finals MVP. NBA champion.

    He has achieved the holy grail for every NBA player. After beating Miami in the finals, everyone is on the Dirk bandwagon.


    What is he worth?

    Nowitzki is worth top dollar. He is one of the most difficult players to guard in the league and showed everyone how he could carry an entire team on his back.


    Is he worth it now?

    After the Mavericks re-signed Nowitzki, people were wondering if he was going to be one of those players that is great but will never win a title. It took a while for everyone to realize how good he was—now he is relishing it.

19. Gilbert Arenas

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    2011 salary: $19,269,308

    At one time, Arenas was one of the best five scorers in the league. Now he is an old man sitting on bad knees.

    In a trade of “I’ll give you my bad contract for yours,” the Wizards somehow convinced the Magic that Arenas was worth their while. 

    What is he worth?

    He is worth very little. The contract was a complete bust for the Wizards, who now regret not letting him walk. He was hurt, suspended and simply bad.


    Is he worth it now?

    NOOOOOOO. Can I be any clearer?

18. Carlos Beltran

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    2011 salary: $19,325,436

    Entering the final year of a seven-year, $119 million deal with the Mets, Beltran was traded to the San Francisco Giants as part of a salary dump.

    The center fielder's tenure in New York was not a complete waste, as the team did make it to the NLCS in 2007.


    What is he worth?

    Surprisingly, he has had a nice rebound year (contract year) and has been an overall effective player. Still, he is worth about half of his salary.


    Is he worth it now?

    If the Giants win the division, then he will be worth it. If not, he is just another player dealt at the trading deadline that does not pan out.

17. Larry Fitzgerald

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    2011 salary: $20 million

    His $20 million salary is bloated because of the contract extension he just signed. He is getting paid for this season’s original salary in addition to the money he received from his bonus.

    With that in mind, he is always in the argument for the league’s best receiver and needed to be paid like it.


    What is he worth?

    He is worth what they pay their quarterback, if not more. Last season, with a bargain bin of signal callers, he caught 90 balls for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns.


    Is he worth it now?

    Fitzgerald is about to turn 28 years old and has the best hands in football. You do the math.

16. Ryan Howard

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    2011 salary: $20 million

    Sure, Ryan Howard has flaws. He is not the best fielder, and he strikes out way too often. But he is also one of the premier power hitters in the game.

    Phillies fans will tell you that their team is balanced. The whole thing doesn’t work to its maximum potential unless everyone is doing their job.

    Howard fits his power-hitting role perfectly.


    What is he worth?

    I debated this one a lot. He would be a steal at $10 million a year and undervalued at $15 million. In a sense, he deserves his contract to a fault. Management is not going find a better power bat from anywhere.


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes. The team relies on the long ball, and when your pitching keeps the opponent to three runs or less per game, the home run becomes all the more important.

15. Roy Halladay

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    2011 salary: $20 million

    When the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay, everyone knew he was good—but not this good.

    In two seasons in Philadelphia, the ace has won a Cy Young award and thrown a no-hitter in the playoffs. He is the best pitcher in baseball (try debating otherwise) and takes to the mound looking to finish every game that he starts.


    What is he worth?

    He is worth a blank check. No pitcher over the last decade has been as consistently marvelous. It looks like he is painting on the mound. He flirts with the strike zone and fools with hitters like he owns them.


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes. Halladay is a game-changer and makes any team he is on an instant contender.

14. Miguel Cabrera

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    2011 salary: $20 million

    Putting all of his past issues behind him, Cabrera again showed why he is worth the big contract he signed with the Detroit Tigers.

    With Cabrera, you know you will get a perennial MVP candidate and a slugger in the middle of the lineup.


    What is he worth?

    He is worth every cent of his contract. His deal takes him up until 2016, when he will still be highly effective.


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes. Cabrera is a Triple Crown threat every year. Rarely do you find a player with great plate discipline that hits for average and power. He will be a Hall of Famer.

13. Todd Helton

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    2011 salary: $20.275 million

    Helton extended his deal with the Rockies to ensure it would be the only jersey he ever wore. This was in addition to the enormous deal he signed with the team when he was in his prime.

    He is having a productive season but nothing close to his early years. The Rockies have achieved relative success during his tenure, including a trip to the World Series. 

    What is he worth?

    At this point, he is worth the salary of an aging first baseman; that is somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million to $8 million.


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes. He is a team leader and a fan favorite. Can you put a price on that?

12. Kevin Garnett

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    2011 salary: $21.2 million

    Watch highlights of Garnett in Minnesota and then ask yourself how far he has regressed offensively.

    The 18-foot jumper has become his bread and butter, a far cry from the high-flying dunks that had people calling him “The Big Ticket.” He reinvented himself as a defensive stopper and a trash talker. His importance to the Celtics is evidenced by how much they gave up to get him and the championship ring he wears.


    What is he worth?

    He is worth more to the Celtics to other teams. They don’t need him to score 20-plus points a night anymore. He is their primary protector of the rim and all-around tough guy—that and the heart and soul.


    Is he worth it now?

    Without him, there is no “Big Three,” so yes. He allows Paul Pierce to operate freely without having to worry much about rebounding and sets hard screens, opening up the offense. He is still skilled enough to contribute at a high level, which may be coming to an end.

11. Tim Duncan

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    2011 salary: $21.3 million

    Duncan’s tenure in San Antonio has produced four championships and a decade of Western Conference supremacy.

    At 35, he can no longer do the things he was once able to do. His minutes have decreased, and his production has hit a career low. He is entering the last year of his contract, potentially his last with the team.


    What is he worth?

    He can still provide 25 to 30 solid minutes per game and an additional five to 10 less productive ones. Luckily for Duncan, he is one of the most fundamentally sound players in the league. The bank shot works in every 35 and older league around the country, so why not the NBA?


    Is he worth it now?

    Though this goes against my better judgment, the answer is yes. The alternate for the Spurs is going with a young player who does not have Gregg Popovich’s trust.

    Duncan still provides leadership, a big body and some flashes of his old self. The Spurs could bring him back for about a third of the price next season, a realistic option for both parties.

10. Johan Santana

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    2011 salary: $21,644,708

    Johan Santana and I have won the same number of games in 2011. When healthy, he is one the most dominant pitchers in baseball. When he puts on the Mets uniform, bad things start to mysteriously happen to him.


    What is he worth?

    Santana is a game-changer, again, when healthy. He should be paid as a top pitcher in the majors, but seeing that he has not pitched this season, the prospect of him coming back strong is uncertain.


    Is he worth it now?

    Not anymore. A year or two ago, he was a premier pitcher who gave you a chance to win every time out there. His best days came with the Twins, and since he signed with the Mets, he has had to face their curse.

    He is no longer worth the amount owed him but still worth a spot at the top of a rotation.

9. Rashard Lewis

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    2011 salary: $22.15 million

    The Orlando Magic overpaid for Lewis in 2007, and the Wizards are now paying for it. Lewis was a dynamic wing scorer in Seattle but shaped himself into a jump-shooting big man with little versatility.

    He hit his peak in the 2009 playoffs, hitting key jumpers on the Magic’s way to the NBA Finals. Lewis is owed almost $46 million over the next two seasons while buried on a young Wizards team. 

    What is he worth?

    He is worth about 25 percent of his current contract. I hope that he helps out a very young Washington team with leadership, but his scoring is down, and he lacks the explosiveness he had years ago.

    You have to remember, he was drafted out of high school; he has more tread on his tires than his age will show.


    Is he worth it now?

    No. Like I stated earlier, few players deserve to make that much money. His agent was very good, and he is reaping the benefits.

8. Joe Mauer

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    2011 salary: $23 million

    In 2009, Mauer’s MVP season, he hit .365 with 28 home runs and 96 RBI. The team thought this would become a trend and signed Mauer to a mega deal. Management thought by locking up their homegrown talent they would ensure a winning product in Minnesota for years to come.

    Now, Mauer is the highest-paid singles hitter in the league.


    What is he worth?

    At his best, Mauer is worth every cent; that being said, there are now many question marks surrounding the young catcher. The Twins knew that he would have to move from behind the plate at some point, but never this quickly.

    His move to first base displaces Justin Morneau, further complicating the situation.


    Is he worth it now?

    Though immensely talented, the answer is no. His power outage may be a blip on the radar, or it may be a sign of things to come. Mauer is paid like one of the best players in the game, but his work in the field says otherwise.

    What some thought was a hometown discount at first has become a hometown larceny.

7. Peyton Manning

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    2011 salary: $23 million

    After the lockout ended, Manning re-signed with the Colts, all but ensuring he will be a Colt for life.

    Manning has been the cornerstone of the organization for over a decade and has not missed a game in his professional career.


    What is he worth?

    Without Manning, the Colts could not win more than four or five games in a season. He calls most of the plays at the line and is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. His worth can only be truly determined once he no longer plays.


    Is he worth it now?

    Manning is still worth the big contract this year, and maybe one more after that. His five-year, $90 million deal is a lifetime achievement award. He will not be nearly as effective five years down the road, but he is still better than anything else they got.

6. Mark Teixeira

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    2011 salary: $23.125 million

    The Yankees first baseman has already won a Silver Slugger and two Gold Glove awards. In addition to his career accolades, the switch-hitting slugger has made the middle of the Bombers lineup look like a modern-day murderers' row.

    Teixeira led the team to its first World Series title in nine years and is on pace to hit 500 home runs.


    What is he worth?

    His defense alone makes him one of the most valuable first basemen in the game. Add his power from both sides of the plate, mild-mannered attitude and plate discipline, and you have the ideal baseball player.


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes. At 31, Teixeira still has three to four more highly productive years remaining. He protects Curtis Granderson by batting behind him in the order and is having an MVP-type season himself.

5. CC Sabathia

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    2011 salary: $24,285,714

    Sabathia cashed in after a dominating second half of 2008 for the Milwaukee Brewers. The free-agent ace chose to sign with the New York Yankees for seven years with an opt-out option after three seasons.

    Since he joined the staff, he has outshined every Yankee starter and been a model of consistency and success.


    What is he worth?

    If you want to assess his true value, compare him to A.J. Burnett, who signed in the same offseason with the team. You never have to worry about Sabathia getting hurt or missing a start. He was key in the team’s 2009 World Series run, and you have a chance to win every time he is on the mound.

    How often do you feel so secure with one pitcher?


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes. Without Sabathia, the Yankees would be fighting for a playoff spot instead of being all but a lock. There are few pitchers that are as good as the perennial Cy Young contender. Sometimes you pay for the ability to sleep the night before his outings.

4. Kobe Bryant

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    2011 salary: $25.244 million

    Bryant recently extended his deal with the Lakers, which will pay him over $30 million come 2013.

    The Lakers have the highest payroll in basketball and have shown no problems with going over the luxury tax. Bryant is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, names in international basketball. His endorsements nicely complement that nice salary, so don’t worry about him.


    What is he worth?

    Bryant is still one of the best five to 10 players in the NBA. That being said, he is worth about 10 to 15 wins over the course of the season.

    He puts fans in the seats every night, does everything to market himself well and wins championships. What else is there?


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes. Though he is getting up there in age, Bryant still has the skill sets to be an elite player in the NBA. He will slow down, but for now, there is still nobody I would rather have taking my last-second shot.

3. Vernon Wells

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    2011 salary: $26,642,857

    The Blue Jays got caught in a position no major league team wants to face. What do you pay a player who has performed consistently well and has become the face of the organization? You know he will not play well until the end of his contract, but when will that happen?

    It becomes difficult to find a trade partner, further straining the relationship between ownership and the player.

    When Vernon Wells re-signed with the Blue Jays, there was no hometown discount. The cliff was much closer than the Blue Jays thought, and the contract was moved, much to their surprise.


    What is he worth?

    Not $26 million. He is a rotational outfielder at this point with a powerful bat and a good glove.


    Is he worth it now?

    Not even close. Unless he experiences the fountain of youth, Wells is not getting any better. The Angels lost out on Carl Crawford and panicked. This is a lesson for everyone—panic and you get stuck with expensive toys you found in the garbage. At the end of the day, it’s still garbage.

2. Samuel Eto'o

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    2011 salary: $28.9 million

    The former Inter Milan forward was courted by Anzhi Makhachkala and wooed into joining the club by Suleiman Kerimov, a oil tycoon.

    This will make the Cameroonian the highest-paid footballer in the world. His nearly $29 million a year contract over three years puts him ahead of greats such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi when it comes to the size of their bank accounts.


    What is he worth?

    He is still in the prime of his career, and his speed and quickness alone can turn around the entire team. He may very well be worth a league championship and at the very least is a great draw.


    Is he worth it now?

    Yes, he is worth the price of admission, which is something the owners hope he increases. He can win games by himself and will prove to be a valuable asset. He is not as good as Ronaldo, Rooney or Messi, but then again, they weren’t for sale.

1. Alex Rodriguez

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    2011 salary: $32 million

    In 2001, when A-Rod signed the largest sports contract to date, a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, we thought we had seen the apex of MLB contracts.

    That was the largest contract, only be to be topped by Rodriguez’s self-negotiated 10-year, $275 million deal in 2007. This new contract will allow the Yankees third baseman to remain with the team for the rest of his career.


    What is he worth?

    At this stage of his career, he still produces enough to keep him amongst the highest-paid players. Ask me again when he is 41 and is the permanent designated hitter.


    Is he worth it now?

    In a short answer, yes. In reality, the Yankees are talented enough that he doesn’t need to be in the lineup for them to be productive. However, he’s an asset in the field and a power bat in the middle of the order.

    Though nobody really “deserves” $32 million in an injury-plagued season, he should be a top-paid player.