The Largest MLB Free-Agent Contracts of the Last Decade

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVNovember 5, 2022

The Largest MLB Free-Agent Contracts of the Last Decade

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    Bryce Harper
    AP Photo/Matt Rourke

    Practically the moment the World Series ends, the building buzz of Major League Baseball's upcoming free-agent class becomes the sport's main storyline.

    Who's the next $200 million, $300 million man? Which franchises are taking an all-in approach?

    And when those questions mix together, the result is a record-breaking deal—or at least one close to historic value.

    The list highlights the six MLB free agents who have signed with a new organization on a contract north of $215 million. Big-money extensions, as Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr. signed, are not considered.

David Price, Boston Red Sox

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    Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price delivers against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in Baltimore. The Red Sox won 5-3. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
    AP Photo/Gail Burton

    Contract: Seven years, $217 million

    David Price enjoyed a rapid rise as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, playing his first full season in 2009. After earning a runner-up finish in 2010 Cy Young voting, he won the American League honor in 2012.

    For a half-decade—also bouncing to the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays in deadline trades—Price established himself as one of the game's premier pitchers. His excellence culminated in a seven-year contract to join the Boston Red Sox for the 2016 season.

    Unfortunately, the well-deserved deal ended poorly—his outstanding play in the 2018 World Series notwithstanding.

    Injuries overshadowed a disappointing four-year stint in Boston, which absorbed part of his contract in a blockbuster 2020 trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Price admirably finished his career as a solid reliever with the Dodgers, posting a 2.45 ERA over 40.1 innings in 2022 before announcing his retirement. But there's no question the Sox hoped for more production when they offered Price an average annual salary of $31 million.

Robinson Canó, Seattle Mariners

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    Seattle Mariners' Robinson Cano bats during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
    AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

    Contract: 10 years, $240 million

    For nearly a decade, Robinson Canó was a tremendously impressive high-average hitter. He batted .309 in nine seasons with the New York Yankees.

    But as a free agent before the 2014 season, Canó traded the iconic pinstripes for the Pacific Northwest.

    He had a few superb years with the Seattle Mariners, making the All-Star team in three of his first four seasons. However, he served an 80-game suspension for a violation of the performance-enhancing drug policy in 2018. That effectively marked the beginning of the end for Canó.

    Seattle unloaded his contract on the New York Mets, with whom he followed a disappointing 2019 with a solid 2020 before a 162-game suspension for another PED violation.

    Most recently, Canó bounced around the Mets, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres in 2022.

Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels

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    Los Angeles Angels' Anthony Rendon (6) is congratulated after scoring against the Oakland Athletics on a single by Brandon Marsh during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
    AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn

    Contract: Seven years, $245 million

    As with Price, hindsight has become an issue for Anthony Rendon's megadeal. However, it'd be unfair to say he didn't look worthy of a massive salary at the time.

    During his last three seasons on the Washington Nationals, he posted a .310/.397/.556 triple slash. Rendon averaged 43 doubles, 28 homers, 95 runs, 106 RBI and 73 walks to 83 strikeouts from 2017 to 2019, playing a key role in Washington's 2019 World Series title.

    Aiming to bolster the Mike Trout-led lineup, the Los Angeles Angels committed nearly a quarter-billion dollars to Rendon.

    So far, though, the superstar addition has been a letdown.

    Rendon had a decent debut in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but injuries cost him 100-plus games in both 2021 and 2022. In his 157 games, he's mustered a .252/.359/.420 slash line.

    Los Angeles and Rendon alike are hoping for a resurgence during his age-33 season in 2023.

Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

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    San Diego Padres' Manny Machado celebrates his home run during the seventh inning in Game 2 of the baseball NL Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
    AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

    Contract: 10 years, $300 million

    Manny Machado backed up his billing as a top prospect in seven seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. He was a four-time All-Star who earned two Gold Gloves.

    However, the O's simply didn't win enough. As his contract neared its conclusion, Baltimore dealt him to the Dodgers at the 2018 deadline. Machado made the World Series that season, but Los Angeles lost to the Red Sox.

    Although he stayed in the NL West, Machado traveled south to the San Diego Padres.

    Signed for $300 million, he inked the largest deal in MLB history—although Bryce Harper soon surpassed him.

    Nevertheless, it's a "so far, so good" contract on both sides. The long-term risk remains on his 10-year contract, but Machado's four seasons in San Diego have produced 162-game averages of 32 doubles, 34 homers and 106 RBI with a .280/.352/.504 slash line.

Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

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    New York Yankees' Gerrit Cole pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the third inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
    AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

    Contract: Nine years, $324 million

    The highest-paid pitcher in MLB history, Gerrit Cole parlayed his five-year Pittsburgh Pirates and two-year Houston Astros tenures into a record-setting contract.

    Cole never won a Cy Young in those seven seasons, but he earned three top-five finishes in the voting and developed into a strikeout machine with Houston. He whiffed 326 batters in 2019, the most in the modern era by anyone not named Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson.

    And then, the Yankees came calling in time for 2020.

    Cole notched a 7-3 record and 2.84 ERA in the shortened year. Fair or not, he then became the face of the "sticky-stuff crackdown" in June 2021. However, he rebounded from the late-season decline with a 2022 season in which he tallied an MLB-best 257 strikeouts.

Corey Seager, Texas Rangers

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    Texas Rangers shortstop Corey Seager reaches out to field a ground out by Washington Nationals' Victor Robles in the fifth inning of a baseball game, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
    AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

    Contract: 10 years, $325 million

    Corey Seager burst onto the MLB scene with a sizzling September in 2015 and NL Rookie of the Year win in 2016. He also finished third in MVP voting that season.

    Although a couple of injuries stung his seven years on the Dodgers, he became one of the league's top shortstop bats. Seager registered a .297/.367/.504 triple-slash in Los Angeles, smacking an NL-high 44 doubles in 2019 and winning two Silver Sluggers.

    The team's trade for Trea Turner signaled the likely end to Seager's tenure in L.A., and he promptly linked up with the Texas Rangers before the pre-2022 MLB lockout.

    While it's too early to judge the contract, Seager's slash line dipped to .245/.317/.455 in his Texas debut. He belted a career-best 33 homers and drove in 83 runs, though.

Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper hits two-run home run during the first inning in Game 3 of baseball's World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    AP Photo/Matt Rourke

    Contract: 13 years, $330 million

    After the Philadelphia Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a mammoth deal, the baseball gods had a cruel surprise in store.

    Harper rose through the Nationals' system, arrived in 2012 as a 19-year-old and immediately sparked a climb. Washington won four NL East titles in six years but could not escape the NL Division Series in any season. Harper won a Rookie of the Year, an MVP, a Silver Slugger, landed six All-Star nods and never celebrated a playoff series win.

    Before the 2019 season, Harper left the Nationals for divisional foe Philadelphia. Washington promptly turned around and won a World Series without him.

    Three years later, Harper has found a bit of redemption—and the memorable 2022 season followed a second MVP (and Silver Slugger) honor in 2021.