The Highest-Paid MLB Players for the 2018 Season
Clayton Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball this decade, and the left-handed wonder has the salary to prove it. He tops the list of the highest-paid players in Major League Baseball in 2018 with more than $35.5 million coming his way this year.
According to Spotrac, Kershaw is one of six players making at least $30 million in 2018, and he is one of 44 players pulling in at least $20 million. Going one step further down that list, there are a total of 133 MLB players with an eight-figure salary this season.
Good money if you can get it!
But which of the 10 highest-paid players are actually worth that much money?
After briefly listing the top salaries per position, we'll take a look at the 10 richest players in 2018, discussing how they got such lucrative deals.
Though they don't appear on this list, get ready for current Washington Nationals Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer to top it next year. Harper will be a free agent who figures to be headed for the biggest contract in MLB history, while the pitchers are heading into the back-loaded portion of contracts that will pay them $38.3 million and $37.4 million respectively in 2019.
The Top-Paid Players at Each Position
Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants: $22.18 million
First Base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: $30 million
Second Base: Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners: $24 million
Third Base: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays: $23 million
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Toronto Blue Jays: $20 million
Left Field: Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets: $29 million
Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: $34.08 million
Right Field: Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs: $28.17 million
Designated Hitter: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels: $27 million
Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodges: $35.57 million
Middle Reliever: David Robertson, New York Yankees: $13 million
Closer: Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants: $20 million
10. Jon Lester, SP, Chicago Cubs: $27.5M
Contract Details: Six-year, $155 million deal ($30 million signing bonus) signed in 2015
Jon Lester is living proof that even if you have the worst pickoff move ever and an inability to hit the broad side of a barn with a baseball bat, you can still get a nine-figure contract in the National League.
Of course, those aren't the things the Cubs are paying Lester to do well. He's one of the highest-paid players because of his ability to keep runners from getting to first base in the first place.
The year before signing this hefty contract, Lester had a 2.46 ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 4.5. To date, it was the best regular season of his career. But 2016 (2.44 ERA with a 3.8 K/BB) was a close second, and what he did that postseason made him worth every penny left on his deal, even if he never wins another game.
After winning two World Series with long-cursed Boston, Lester was a huge part of the Cubs finally ending their 108-year championship drought. He was the 2016 NLCS MVP and made a total of four quality starts that October, as well as a key three-inning relief appearance in Game 7 of the World Series.
He doesn't go as deep into games as he used to. In 32 starts in 2017, he only twice made it into the eighth inning. But he's still the ace of the Cubs staff and a guy who's going to give them at least six good innings more often than not.
9. Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros: $28M
Contract Details: Six-year, $162 million deal signed in 2013
Not long after Justin Verlander signed this big contract, it seemed like the flamethrower had run out of gas.
From 2009-13, Verlander had five consecutive seasons with at least 217 strikeouts and a sub-3.50 ERA. In 2011, he won both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards, winning 24 games with a 2.40 ERA. Over the course of those five seasons, he averaged slightly better than one strikeout per inning pitched. As far as Fangraphs is concerned, no pitcher in baseball was worth more wins above replacement for that half-decade.
To put it lightly, he deserved a lot of money.
The year after he got his big payday, though, he had a 4.54 ERA with 6.95 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014. It suddenly looked like even more of an albatross contract than the infamous Barry Zito deal in 2007.
Fortunately, Verlander has had quite the career renaissance, regaining his Cy Young form in 2016 and 2017.
And just like Jon Lester, Verlander played a huge role for a franchise that ended a long championship drought, leading the Houston Astros to their first World Series title in franchise history. He was the 2017 ALCS MVP and had a 2.21 ERA in 36.2 innings pitched last postseason. He was the winning pitcher for four of the team's 11 victories.
8. Jason Heyward, RF, Chicago Cubs: $28.17M
Contract Details: Eight-year, $184 million deal ($20 million signing bonus) signed in 2016
With all due respect to a very rich Jason Heyward, his is the worst contract on this list without a close runner- up.
Early in his career with the Atlanta Braves and his one year with the St. Louis Cardinals, Heyward was a respectable hitter, a plus baserunner and an outstanding outfielder. Through his first six seasons, he batted .268 and averaged 16.2 home runs and 14.3 stolen bases per year. His runs above average (RAA) on Baseball Reference was 30.3 per year, and his average UZR/150 in right field was 13.7.
Through two seasons with the Cubs, he has been a .243 hitter with minimal pop (18 home runs in 268 games) and not much else. Even though he's only 28 years old, his value added in right field isn't anything close to what it used to be, and he hardly steals bases anymore. His average RAA in 2016 and 2017 was a meager 2.0, and his UZR/150 in 2017 was a respectable-but-not-as-good-as-usual 10.4. Also, he finished last year with just four stolen bases in eight attempts.
If you're thinking maybe he has been worth the money in the playoffs, that couldn't be further from the truth. In 65 postseason at-bats with the Cubs, Heyward has hit .108 with no home runs, one RBI and 16 strikeouts. He did steal four bases in the 2016 World Series, but none of those extra bags resulted in runs scored.
Maybe he can turn things around. He's certainly still young enough to do so. For the time being, though, the Cubs are shelling out a ton of cash for a guy who is only marginally better than a replacement-level player.
7. Yoenis Cespedes, LF, New York Mets: $29M
Contract Details: Four-year, $110 million deal signed in 2017
Yoenis Cespedes bounced around a lot before finally getting his big-boy contract. He started the 2014 season with Oakland prior to a trade to Boston. The following year, he spent four months with Detroit before his move to the New York Mets.
After trading for Cespedes, the Metropolitans won 37 of their final 59 games, surging into the postseason—and ultimately the World Seires—after a slow start. Cespedes hit a total of 17 home runs in just over two months, 15 of which came between August 21 and September 14. He blasted two more long balls in New York's first three games in the NLDS, ensuring he would be a rich man in short order.
That winter, he signed a three-year, $75 million deal (plus a $10 million signing bonus paid up front) with the Mets.
After hitting .280 with 31 home runs and finishing eighth in the NL MVP vote, he opted out of the contract following the 2016 season in order to sign an even bigger, longer one running through 2020. The slugging left fielder will make at least $29 million in each of the next three years.
That's quite the contract for an oft-injured, two-time All-Star with one Gold Glove and one Silver Slugger award, but it also feels like a small price to pay when he launches a ball more than 450 feet into the stratosphere.
5 (tie). Jake Arrieta, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: $30M
Contract Details: Three-year, $75 million deal (plus a two-year club option for 2021-22) signed in 2018
One of the greatest what-ifs in baseball over the past 10 years: What if Jake Arrieta had been this good with the Baltimore Orioles?
That's the team who drafted him in 2007 and with which he went 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA from 2010-13 before they finally gave up and dealt him to the Chicago Cubs. The Orioles were quite solid from 2012-16 and arguably would have been World Series favorites if there had been anything close to an ace on their pitching staff.
Out of nowhere, Arrieta became that ace for the Cubs. He went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 2015, winning the NL Cy Young and finishing sixth in the MVP race. In the Wild Card Game that year, he threw an 11-strikeout complete-game shutout. It was quite the performance for a guy on a one-year, $3.63 million contract.
Arrieta got two more one-year contracts after that before finally hitting the open market and signing a deal with the Phillies that could be worth more than $115 million by the end of 2022.
Even that feels like a bargain for a pitcher who won two games in the 2016 World Series and has a career 3.08 ERA and 11.28 K/9 in the postseason.
5 (tie). David Price, SP, Boston Red Sox: $30M
Contract Details: Seven-year, $217 million deal signed in 2016
The first two years of David Price's megacontract with the Boston Red Sox have been less than ideal.
Price led the majors in both games started (35) and innings pitched (230.0) in 2016, but he did so with a 3.99 ERA and both strikeout and walk rates that were worse than his previous two seasons. After finishing top six in the AL Cy Young vote in four of the prior six seasons, he wasn't even remotely in the conversation in his first year in Boston.
But at least he was healthy.
Last year, Price made only 11 starts, spending most of the season on the disabled list with an elbow injury. He was also involved in a verbal spat with Hall of Fame pitcher and NESN announcer Dennis Eckersley, though it probably wasn't anything close to the huge deal that the national media made it out to be.
Will Price bounce back to what he used to be, or is it going to be extremely painful for Boston to pay him another $157 million through the end of the 2022 season?
He had a sub-2.75 ERA in 2010, 2012 and 2015 and was one of the most reliable pitchers* in the sport. That's the guy the Red Sox paid for. We're still waiting to find out if they'll get him, but things are at least looking up early in 2018. Price started the season with 14 consecutive scoreless innings against his former team (Tampa Bay).
*During the regular season, at any rate. In the playoffs, Price has a career record of 2-8 with a 5.03 ERA.
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers: $30M
Contract Details: Eight-year, $248 million deal (with mutual options for 2024-25) signed in 2016
For now, Miguel Cabrera's salary is the same as that of Jake Arrieta and David Price. However, Cabrera's contract is loaded with incentives not afforded to those starting pitchers.
If he makes the All-Star Game, he gets another $50,000. A top-10 finish in the MVP race would be worth $100,000, while winning that award would net him an additional $2 million. There are also bonuses for Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, All-Star MVP and a half-dozen other things. Thus, we're putting him alone in fourth place.
For most of his career, those incentives would have been easy money. Cabrera won the AL MVP in both 2012 and 2013 and even hit for the Triple Crown in the first of those back-to-back campaigns. He has an additional seven top-10 finishes for MVP and is an 11-time All Star with seven Silver Sluggers.
So, was 2017 the start of his inevitable decline, or just a product of back and groin injuries?
After batting at least .313 in 11 of the previous 12 seasons and slugging at least .524 in all of them, Cabrera had a woeful (by his standards) triple slash of .249/.329/.399 with just 16 home runs last year. That .728 OPS was 151 points lower than any other year since 2003.
Considering the Tigers owe him at least $184 million through 2023, it was a terrifying age-34 season from one of the best hitters in the lifetime of a millennial. But early returns in 2018 are that there are still quite a few hits left in that bat—albeit with less power than in Cabrera's prime.
3. Zack Greinke, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: $34M
Contract Details: Six-year, $206.5 million deal ($18 million signing bonus) signed in 2016
Save for an outstanding 2009 season in which he won the AL Cy Young, Zack Greinke's first nine years in the majors left much to be desired. From 2004-12, 2009 was his only All-Star selection, and also the only year in which he received votes for the Cy Young or MVP.
But then he got a big contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers before the 2013 season and became one of the most unhittable pitchers on the planet.
In his three seasons in L.A., Greinke went 51-15 with a 2.30 ERA and a trio of top-eight finishes for the NL Cy Young. 2015 was the piece de resistance, as he posted a 1.66 ERA and an equally astounding 0.844 WHIP—the lowest among any qualified starter since Pedro Martinez in 2000. Greinke also sported a 2.38 ERA in six postseason starts during those three seasons.
After that incredible run, he opted out of the last three years of that contract to sign a bigger deal with the Diamondbacks.
His first year in Arizona was decidedly less than great (4.37 ERA), but 2017 was much better. Despite pitching home games in a hitter's ballpark, Greinke had a 3.20 ERA with 215 strikeouts—his most in a season since 2009. A few more years like that and he'll be worth every penny.
2. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels: $34.08M
Contract Details: Six-year, $144.5 million deal ($5 million signing bonus) signed in 2015
The ridiculous thing about Mike Trout being the second-highest-paid player is that he's still underpaid and just getting started.
Trout entered the 2018 season at 26 years of age, but he already has two AL MVPs and four other top-four finishes (in seven seasons). He has belted at least 27 home runs in each of the last six seasons despite playing only 114 games last year due to injury. He's also an outstanding baserunner and a darn fine center fielder.
From 2012-17, Trout had the highest cumulative Fangraphs WAR by an outrageous margin. His mark was 54.2. Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper had a combined total of 54.8. The second-highest individual score for a batter was Josh Donaldson at 35.3—almost six full years' worth of Jason Kipnis (19.0 WAR) behind Trout.
Now in the fourth year of his back-loaded six-year contract, at least he's finally the highest-paid batter in the game. After making $1 million or less in each of his first three seasons in the majors, Trout's average salary over the last three years was $14.08 million. Even at $34.08 million in each of the next three seasons, the Angels are getting a bargain.
If he keeps playing like this through 2020, he'll receive an astronomical contract on the open market.
1. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers: $35.57M
Contract Details: Seven-year, $215 million deal ($18 million signing bonus) signed in 2014
Even if Clayton Kershaw doesn't miss a single start during the regular season—which would be a nice change of pace after averaging 27 starts for the last four years—he's going to get paid more than $1 million per game pitched.
Considering there's a distinct possibility of a perfect game every time he steps on the mound, though, it's no surprise Kershaw is worth his weight in gold.
From 2011-17, he compiled a 118-41 record with a 2.10 ERA, 0.913 WHIP, 10.06 K/9 and 5.73 K/BB. He was named the 2014 NL MVP and won the NL Cy Young awards in 2011, 2013 and 2014. In each of the years that he didn't win, he still finished in the top five and had multiple first-place votes.
During those seven years, Kershaw fired 14 complete-game shutouts. No one else had more than eight. And only Max Scherzer—who was healthy enough to make 21 more starts than Kershaw—logged more strikeouts.
Long story short, he's the best in the business. And even though he is owed more than $70 million between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, he has an opt-out clause after 2018. It's unlikely he'll exercise it, but it's worth considering, because there's bound to be someone who would be willing to pay $40 million per year for his arm.
Kerry Miller is a multisport writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.