Top 10 Showdown: Comparing the Salaries of Baseball's Best Home Run Hitters and Batting Leaders

In baseball, the debate between power hitters who can provide teams with many home runs and the types of hitters who can consistently finish with a high batting average has gone on for decades, and will probably never have a true answer. While a few truly great players can provide both, like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr., the vast majority of players are known for one or the other. Some fans dream of having the next great pure hitter like Pete Rose, John Olerud or Ichiro Suzuki, while others covet players more in the slugging mold of Reggie Jackson, Jim Thome or Frank Thomas. Both have proven successful in both regular season and post-season play, and in large part the choice between them is more about asserting a style of play or which era you discuss than one being inherently better than the other. Whether you marvel at consistency or spectacle, swing technique or raw power, or contributing to a larger effort or stealing the spotlight, both types of players can bring excitement and results.

Sometimes, however, the types of players signed are as much to do about cost and value as style or overall play. Not every general manager has the financial assets of the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox, and must be more prudent and careful in their spending. This article is going to compare the 2014 salaries of the top 10 batting average leaders and home run hitters in Major League Baseball in 2013 to evaluate the ways in which teams today value average and power. Each page in the top 10 will have one high average hitter and one home run hitter and compare their salaries, giving an advantage at each stage. These ten, combine with an overall total comparison, will be scored to see which side is paid better. Which do MLB GMs value more: power or pure hitting? The answers might surprise you.

20 Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates: .317 Average in 2013, $7,458,333 Salary in 2014

19 Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays: 32 home runs in 2013, $7,500,000 salary in 2014

Home-run hitting Evan Longoria edges out talented hitter Andrew McCutchen for salary, but only barely. The two players have led similar career paths, emerging from small-market teams with poor records to lead their once-woeful franchises to new found prominence and earn six-year contracts in the process. Longoria’s contract started in 2008, guaranteeing him only $17,500,000 over six years, but is now in the first of three option years which grow increasingly lucrative. McCutchen’s contract commenced in 2013, but is similarly structured so that it will continue to rise each year. Longoria has achieved prominence as one of the league’s rising stars and is set for a significant increase in pay once his contract expires, while McCutchen has emerged as one of the game’s true stars and most exciting players to watch day in and day out.

Home Run Hitters 1, Hitters for Average 0

18 Matt Carpenter, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals: .318 average in 2013, arbitration eligible in 2014

17 Adam Jones, CF, Baltimore Orioles: 33 home runs in 2013, $13,333,333 salary in 2014

Carpenter has only played two full seasons so far, so his salary is still controlled, allowing the team strong leverage to maintain his services at a cost-effective rate, especially considering his prodigious talents. In 2013, Carpenter was named as an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger Award and led the Major Leagues in hits, doubles and runs, as well as finishing in the top 10 in batting average. Strong play in future seasons will guarantee a Carpenter a massive payday in his future, but until then all he can do is continue to play hard and keep his value high.

Adam Jones, on the other hand, had been a consistent player with strong defensive and hitting ability until he blossomed into a premier power hitter as well. He has finished with more home runs than the previous year in every season he has played so far, demonstrating a clear 25-30 home run capability with potential for more. Jones is currently going into the second year of a six year, $85,500,000 contract, demonstrating the value that power can hold on Major League general managers.

Home Run Hitters 2, Hitters for Average 0

16 Jayson Werth, RF, Washington Nationals: .318 average in 2013, $20,571,428 in 2014

15 Mark Trumbo, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks: 34 home runs in 2013, $4,800,000 in 2014

The free-agent signing of Werth by the Nationals in December 2010, months after the team drafted Bryce Harper first overall and allowed pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg to make his Major League debut, marked a new era for the team that culminated in a postseason berth in 2012. The team was unable to make the playoffs again in 2013 but remained strong, winning 86 games. Werth has provided consistent hitting and veteran leadership to the young team, as they’ve turned the page on the poor early years after moving from Montreal to establish themselves as a franchise to be reckoned with, searching for their first World Series appearance (the Mariners are the only other MLB franchise to have never played in the World Series).

Trumbo, still early in his career, has been unable to secure the long-term stability Werth has enjoyed, but looks set to get a contract similar to Werth’s seven-year, $136,000,000. Traded from the Angels to Arizona in a three-team deal in December 2013, Trumbo will be forced to prove himself to a new manager, fan-base and set of teammates. If his numbers from the last three seasons are any indication, however, Arizona should have acquired a cornerstone player who can anchor their batting order for a decade or more.

Home Run Hitters 2, Hitters for Average 1

14 Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals: .319 average in 2013, $15,200,000 salary in 2014

13 Alfonso Soriano, LF, New York Yankees: 34 home runs in 2013, $5,000,000 salary in 2014

Though Yadier is the youngest of the three Molina brothers who have played catcher in the Major Leagues (Bengie and Jose are the other two), he has also proved to be the best. He has been named as an All-Star five times, won six Gold Glove Awards and a Silver Slugger Award, and is known equally well for his outstanding ability to throw out runners as he is for his hitting abilities. Already a two-time World Series winner, Molina has benefitted from his success, signing a five year, $75,000,000 with the Cardinals that doesn’t end until after the 2017 season.

Soriano has come full circle late in his career, re-joining the Yankees in June 2013, where he had started his career from 1998-2003. Now 38 years old, Soriano recently surpassed the 400 home run plateau for his career, adding to his resume as a seven-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger Award winner and two-time World Series champion with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. 2014 is the last year of the eight year, $136,000,000 contract he signed with the Cubs in 2007, which was structured to make the final years of his contract more palatable to teams for a player of his age by front-loading most of the money in the first few years of it. Having already made his money, Soriano is now seeking to cement his legacy and have one more run at a World Series.

Home Run Hitters 2, Hitters for Average 2

12 Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves: .319 average in 2013, $5,484,375 salary in 2014

11 Adam Dunn, 1B, Chicago White Sox: 34 home runs in 2013, $15,000,000 salary in 2014

Freeman’s salary isn’t currently as high as Dunn’s, but it won’t stay that way long after Freeman signed an eight year, $135,000,000 contract with the Braves that kicks in this season. His salary will rise to over $20,000,000 a year in the latter half of the contract and will make him one of the highest paid players in the game. Freeman has proved to be a talented hitter, putting together a twenty-game hit streak in July and August 2011, and has also demonstrated an ability to take walks to help his on-base percentage.

The more highly paid Dunn has similarly displayed a propensity for walks to complement his home run total, a necessary skill considering his pedestrian .219 batting average last season. Dunn is one of the most proven home run hitters playing right now, hitting at least 34 home runs in nine of his last ten season, including six seasons of 40 home runs or more. Despite his poor overall batting, Dunn’s power provides an essential spark in the White Sox line-up and is well-paid for it.

Home Run Hitters 3, Hitters for Average 2

10 Chris Johnson, 3B, Atlanta Braves: .321 average in 2013, $4,750,000 salary in 2014

9 Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks: 36 home runs in 2013, $1,100,000 salary in 2014

After his strong 2013 season, Johnson signed a new one-year contract paying him over double the $2,287,500 he earned last season, and is likely a strong candidate for a huge multi-year deal if he can replicate his 2013 form. Goldschmidt chose to be more cautious, however, signing a five year, $32,000,000 contract that increases in salary each season. While he will be compensated well, it is a markedly different approach from Johnson, who is risking long-term security for a potentially larger payday in twelve months time. If Goldschmidt can remain consistent, his new contract will look like excellent value for the Diamondbacks, giving them a potent one-two punch alongside Trumbo in the heart of their line-up.

Home Run Hitters 3, Hitters for Average 3

8 Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels: .323 average in 2013, $1,000,000 salary in 2014

7 Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: 36 home runs in 2013, $9,000,000 salary in 2014

If Mike Trout isn’t quite the best player in baseball yet, he appears to be well on his way to becoming the best. Though rumors abounded that he was going to sign a lucrative multi-year extension, Trout instead signed a one year, $1,000,000 contract, which sounds small but is actually the largest contract ever given to a player not yet eligible for salary arbitration, eclipsing the $900,000 contracts given to Albert Pujols in 2003 and Ryan Howard in 2007. The team was not required to grant Trout more than the $510,000 contract he received last year, which was barely above the rookie minimum, but demonstrates faith from the team and serves as a good investment in his long-term future with the club. After trading Trumbo to Arizona, the Angels have clearly chosen Trout as the face of the franchise going forward.

In Encarnacion’s case, his last two seasons have been pleasant surprises to the Blue Jays, and have elevated him to become an essential cog in the Blue Jays line-up alongside Jose Bautista. Encarnacion’s career highs going into 2012 were 26 home runs in 2008 and 76 RBIs in 2007, but he was able to smash those with 42 home runs and 110 RBIs in 2012 and then add 36 home runs and 104 RBIs in 2013. Encarnacion is going into the second year of a three year, $29,000,000 extension with an option for 2016.

Home Run Hitters 4, Hitters for Average 3

6 Joe Mauer, C/1B, Minnesota Twins: .324 average in 2013, $23,000,000 salary in 2014

5 Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates: 36 home runs in 2013, $4,250,000 salary in 2014

Mauer was the first overall pick of his hometown Minnesota Twins in 2001, and has proven to be a wise choice. Mauer is the only catcher to have won three batting titles, and has finished with at least a .319 average in six of the past eight seasons. Mauer was the AL MVP in 2009, and also has six All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers to his name. Mauer has struggled with recovering from knee surgery and a concussion that ended his 2013 season, so durability and longevity remain question marks. The Twins, however, announced in November 2013 that they would move him to first base for 2014 demonstrating a concern with protecting their player, as well as their eight year, $184,000,000 investment that runs through the end of 2018, to ensure he can remain productive for the team long-term.

Alvarez led the National League in home runs in 2013, and has demonstrated some serious power, setting the record for longest home run in PNC Park, the Pirates’ home stadium, in 2012 with a 469 footer. Similarly to Chris Johnson in Atlanta, Alvarez signed a one year contract that vastly increased his salary from last season, just $700,000, but with the hopes of continuing his success and parlaying it into a massive multi-year deal.

Home Run Hitters 4, Hitters for Average 4

4 Michael Cuddyer, RF, Colorado Rockies: .331 average in 2013, $10,500,000 salary in 2014

3 Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers: 44 home runs in 2013, $22,000,000 salary in 2014

Cuddyer shockingly won the National League Batting title this past season, having never previously finished a season with an average higher than .284. A long-time Twin, Cuddyer made the move to Colorado before the 2012 season, signing a three year, $31,500,000 contract with the team. Cuddyer’s batting title coincided with a twenty-seven game hit streak, a career high for him. Whether his 2013 season proves to be an aberration or a sign of late-career adjustments, his 2014 season will certainly be one to follow.

Cabrera hardly needs introduction to even the most casual baseball fan, especially after the last two seasons. In 2012, Cabrera became the first player since Carl Yastremski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown, leading in batting average, home runs and RBIs. In 2013, Cabrera actually equaled his home run total from 2012, and hit only two fewer RBI (137 instead of 139), proving able to defend his status as a baseball superstar even if he was unable to duplicate his Triple Crown. With two years left in an eight year, $152,300,000 contract, Cabrera is already being paid the type of money he is due, but the Tigers will undoubtedly be eager to extend his contract.

Home Run Hitters 5, Hitters for Average 4

2 Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers: .348 average in 2013, $22,000,000 salary in 2014

1 Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles: 53 home runs in 2013, $10,350,000 salary in 2014

Though Cabrera’s 2013 home run and RBI totals were exceeded by Davis, he actually bested his 2012 average by an astonishing 18 points, improving from an already impressive .330 average, which would have led the American League again, to reach a career-high .348. Cabrera has now won three straight batting championships in the American League and shows no sign of letting anyone else stop him from achieving a fourth in 2014. Davis had produced a very respectable 33 home runs and 85 RBIs in 2012, but 2013 truly served as a massive breakout season for him as he hit 53 home runs, besting Cabrera by nine in that category, and edging him out for the RBI title as well with 138. Like Johnson in Atlanta and Alvarez in Pittsburgh, Davis has signed a one year contract that significantly improves his pay from last season, over tripling it from $3,300,000 in 2013 to $10,350,000 in 2014. He will hope to have a similar season to reach the massive payday that is nearly automatic for anyone who demonstrates the potential to hit 50 or more home runs multiple times. With the best single-season home run total since Jose Bautista’s 54 in 2010, Davis has high expectations to live up to, but also plenty of incentive to do so.

Home Run Hitters 5, Hitters for Average 5

As promised, the overall combined totals will also be included, and are necessary as the tie-breaker between the two sides. The hitters for average totaled $89,694,136, but do not include Carpenter, as he still does not have a contract for the 2014 season. The top 10 home run hitters combine to make $92,483,333 this upcoming season, less than three million dollars more than the top hitters and with all ten players accounted for. Though the home run hitters defeated the hitters for average by the slightest of margins, the difficulty in separating the salaries of hitters for average and home run hitters, whether head-to-head or combined, proves that MLB GMs are as divided on the debate as fans, and that the contest between them will continue on for decades more to come.

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