Ah, to be young and rich. We certainly know something about that. Despite living the glamorous lifestyle afforded to internet writers even we can’t come close to the vast amount of wealth young athletes make. When we were 25 we might have been in our seventh year of college – but these guys have it all figured out. They’re multi-millionaires and it’s unlikely that’s going to change anytime soon, because most of them are also really, really good at hitting or throwing a baseball. Of course with arbitration and team-friendly rookie contracts most players don’t make huge money until they reach their mid to late 20s. Smart teams lock up their young stars early. So who tops the list of young and extremely wealthy MLB players? Here are the players 25 and under who are making the most money in 2014.
10) Chris Sale — Chicago White Sox: $3,500,000 in 2014
Sale is an outrageous steal at this price, but his contract escalates quickly, jumping nearly $3 million a year until 2017 when will make $12 million a season. At this price the White Sox get a filthy left-handed innings eater who’s never posted an ERA lower than 3.07. Any team would be thrilled to have Sale at this contract price, and the vast majority of major league teams would take him this year at his 2017 salary if you asked. The White Sox were smart to lock him up early and thus far it looks like a bargain that’s going to pay off for them for a long time.
9) Eric Hosmer — Kansas City Royals: $3,600,000 in 2014
The Royals have Hosmer at this price through 2014. It’s a significant increase over Hosmer’s rookie scale salary in 2013. The Royals also have three more arbitration years to decide if they want to invest big dollars in Hosmer – which might be a good thing. Hosmer’s 2013 season was worth being encouraged about. He posted a decent walk rate, flashed some power, and even stole 11 bases. However, big, left-handed first basemen aren’t that difficult to find and the Royals will need Hosmer to keep improving to justify a larger deal. His 2014 numbers have dipped slightly so far. His batting average is down, but there’s still a lot of hope for him. Either way he’s likely due for at least a minor raise in 2015.
8) Yasiel Puig — Los Angeles Dodgers: $3,710,000
Puig’s harrowing escape from Cuba and eventual arrival as a star player for the Dodgers has been well documented and makes for a fascinating tale. Unlike a lot of American-born players, Puig was able to auction himself off to the highest bidder after fleeing Cuba and avoid a team-friendly deal forced on him by a draft slot. He’s signed through 2018 with a contract that gets increasingly more expensive for the Dodgers as it progresses. In 2018 Puig will earn $9,210,000 at 28 years old and be entering his arbitration year. He will likely cost a lot more money if he keeps up his torrent pace. He’s worth millions in advertising dollars for any club that signs him, not to mention he’s a link to the Cuban/American baseball fan. Right now he’s an absolute steal for the Dodgers at this price, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
7) Madison Bumgarner — San Francisco Giants: $3,750,000 in 2014
Bumgarner signed a contract that works well for both him and the Giants. It pays him an escalating salary that will keep him affordable during several productive years of his career. In his final year of the deal in 2017 Bumgarner will earn $11,500,000. While this sounds expensive, any top of the rotation pitcher hitting arbitration in 2015 will be shooting for a number in this range. Bumgarner gets his security and the Giants get a deal that works well in the long term. Bumgarner has kept his end of the bargain, posting decent numbers for the first six years of his career. He will hit free agency in 2018 as a 28-year-old pitcher entering his prime and looking for a massive contract – assuming he’s healthy and productive.
6) Stephen Strasburg — Washington Nationals: $3,980,000 in 2014
Strasburg seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s just over 25 years old and signed to an extremely affordable contract. However, his friendly deal is up after 2014 when he will be arbitration eligible and looking to sign something in the neighborhood of $10-15 million a year. Strasburg at the moment might not be worth that price, but pitchers, especially good young pitchers can make a lot of money. Strasburg posted a WAR of 3.1 in 2012, and while his efforts that year were good, he’s never come close to replicating it. Health has been a major factor, but more than likely Strasburg will get a big payday for 2015 and beyond.
5) Jason Heyward — Atlanta Braves: $4,500,000 in 2014
Atlanta inked Hewyard to an extension that runs through 2015. It’s been a solid value for them. Heyward is capable of playing every outfield position. He’s fast and possesses a great glove. He’s played a fair amount in centerfield but he’s primarily a right fielder. Heyward hits for power at times, can run the bases well and gets on a base at a decent clip. His age makes this contract team-friendly, but his 2015 salary is a hefty $7.8 million, so Heyward needs to prove he can keep progressing in order to justify his rising cost for a team that’s signed a lot of young players to a lot of long-term, lucrative deals.
4) Starlin Castro — Chicago Cubs: $5,000,000 in 2014
The Cubs locked Castro up to a long-term, team-friendly contract hoping he’d emerge as a superstar at shortstop. That hasn’t quite worked out as they envisioned yet, but Castro has proved to be a solid defender and shown flashes of greatness at the plate. He’s regressed a bit from his 2011 and 2012 seasons, but he’s been a consistent addition to the lineup and plays nearly every game. Castro doesn’t walk enough but if he can replicate his stats from two years ago he should prove an asset at a position that is hard to fill. Hopefully his 2013 season was an aberration in that regard.
3) Freddie Freeman — Atlanta Braves: $5,120,000 in 2014
Freeman is third on this list but next year he would be second and two years removed his salary would clock in at $20,500,000. Freeman earned his mammoth contract with three impressive years at first base in Atlanta. He increased his WAR from 1.5 in 2011 to 5.4 in 2013 while consistently hitting 20-plus home runs a year. His defense is solid and he’s emerged as a leader in the Atlanta clubhouse. His 2014 salary is a significant raise from the $560,000 he made the year prior. He’s slated to be at first base for a long time and appears to be a great signing for Atlanta for the foreseeable future.
2) Giancarlo Stanton — Miami Marlins: $6,500,000 in 2014
Stanton hits the snot out of the ball and he’s well rewarded for it. Even though he comes in second on this list his contract is incredibly friendly for a player who has blasted no less than 22 home runs in every season since 2010. In 2012 Stanton hit 37 home runs, most of them landing in the neighboring state. Stanton is arbitration eligible starting in 2015 so while he comes in second now, it’s likely he’s going to get a rather large raise, one way or another.
1) Masahiro Tanaka — New York Yankees: $22,000,000 in 2014
Tanaka just barely squeezes into this list as a 25 year old, and no one under 25 even comes close to his salary. The Japanese transfer has been amazing in his inaugural season with the Yankees, at least until his recent injury. He posted a 12-4 record, a 2.51 ERA, and a WAR of 4.2. He would have certainly made the All-Star team in the AL and might have had a real shot at the Cy Young. As impressive as these numbers are, his lifetime numbers in Japan are even better. His injury unfortunately ended his season, but there’s no reason to think that Tanaka can’t bounce back. If not, at least he has $22 million to console himself with.