5 Current MLB Contracts That are Hard to Believe

You’ve found your way to our breakdown of five MLB contracts you won’t believe.

A recent article in Forbes indicates NBA players earn an average of $5.15 million, MLB players earn $3.2 million on average, NHL players make $2.4 million, and the average NFL salary is $1.9 million per year.

As you’ve likely already guessed, the players on this list with unbelievably bad (grossly player-enriching) contracts are earning significantly more than the $3.2 million league average—some are raking in more than three times the amount in question. Those who are unbelievably underpaid are grossing close to the league average salary even though they’re turning in All-Star-calibre work.

Of course, there are an endless number of variables in contract negotiation, well beyond payroll and recent player performance, and hindsight is always 20/20 in matters of player paydays. Still, there are some contracts that didn’t make sense at the time pen was put to paper, and they certainly don’t make any more sense in the fullness of time.

It’s no great mystery why teams underpay: either they can, they have to, or both. Why are teams willing to overpay? Well, you’ll have to ask the Yankees or Dodgers to get the answer to that question. Mostly, it seems, the reason is simple: they have the money and don’t care about paying the MLB’s luxury tax, similar to the Knicks, Nets, or Lakers in the NBA.

Let’s have a look at the list, beginning with a player from the aforementioned Los Angeles Dodgers.

5 Carl Crawford, Left Field, Los Angeles Dodgers: 7 years/$142 million

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports Images

Carl Crawford, pariah of the Boston Red Sox prior to his trade to the Dodgers, is slated to earn a total of $21.1 million in 2014, which makes him the highest-paid left fielder in baseball. The injury-prone outfielder suited up 116 times for L.A. in 2013 and batted .282, which is a point lower than the .283 he batted during his unremarkable tenure in Beantown. To this he added a mere six home runs and 31 RBIs. Further, Crawford’s OBP was .329, significantly lower than his .356 mark during his final year in Tampa Bay, in which he batted .307 with 19 homers and 90 RBIs.

Let’s compare Crawford’s numbers with the second-highest-paid left fielder in the league, Matt Holliday. Holliday hit .300, with an OBP of .389, 22 home runs and 94 RBIs. Further, he earned $17 million for his services, compared to Crawford’s $21.1 million. Fortunately, Crawford is on a team that doesn’t care about grossly overpaying, so he has that going for him...

4 Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees, Third Baseman: 10 years/$275 million

What can you really say about Alex Rodriguez’s contract? Probably the most significant point is that it was already bad before his most recent PED scandal. Indeed, the PED business is actually great for the Yankees, as it saved the team $22.1 million in 2013, as A-Rod was suspended without pay for much of the season.

Rodriguez opted out of a 10-year, $252 million deal after seven years with the Rangers and then the Yankees, and eventually signed a new, $275 million contract with the Yankees in 2007. Nothing like striking while the iron is hot, eh Scott Boras?

Say what you will about Rodriguez after he joined the Bronx Bombers, but he put up quality numbers while with the Rangers and during the first portion of his tenure in New York. Keep in mind, too, that Rodriguez hit .314 with 54 home runs in the season immediately prior to opting out of his contract, and that he effectively forced the Yankees' hand.

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, but the idea that A-Rod could be worth $275 million to a team and that he’d be healthy until age 42 was, and is, absurd. Rodriguez hasn’t sniffed .300 since 2008 and his highest home run total in the past four years is 18.

Injuries and scandal have taken their toll on Rodriguez, which again, isn’t to delve into the PED discussion. If Rodriguez returns, he’ll likely be a .260 hitter making more than $20 million per year until 2018. Even for the deep-pocketed Yanks, that’s nutso.

3 Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, First Baseman: 5 years/$125 million

The Philadelphia Phillies will pay Ryan Howard $25 million in 2014. Unfortunately, the first baseman is widely considered to be worth significantly less than that amount. Since signing his five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies, Howard has batted .219 and .266, missing nearly half of the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Indeed, in 2013, Howard played in just 80 games due to injury. He batted .266 and only hit 11 home runs, knocking in 43 RBIs, recording his second-lowest slugging and on base percentages (his worst in both categories came in 2012). Offensively, Howard peaked several seasons ago, and physically, he’s just not durable at age 34, entering his 11th season in the league. This contract, and Howard’s sub-optimal performance will continue to haunt the City of Brotherly Love until 2017, the last year of its term—when a 37-year-old Ryan Howard is slated to earn $23 million.

2 Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates, Center Field: 6 years/$51.5 million

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ dynamic center fielder, Andrew McCutchen is significantly underpaid. McCutchen is due to receive $7.45 million in total for his services in 2014, which makes him the 16th-highest-paid center center fielder in the league. Last year, McCutchen had the second-highest batting average among center fielders, and he was sixth in home runs and third in RBIs among players of the same position.He’ll certainly be happier to be earning $51.5 million over six years, as the All-Star was originally paid just $708,333 for his services in 2012.

1 Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, Left Field: Five Years/$9.9 million

Bryce Harper is only 21. It’s difficult to imagine that a 21-year-old could be so grossly underpaid in the MLB, but that’s exactly what Harper is. He’s not eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season (per a verbal agreement between agent Scott Boras and the Nationals), and when that point comes, he’s certain to get paid in a ridiculous way.

In two years with the team, Harper has batted an average of .242 over his two major league seasons and hit 20 or more homers in each season, along with nearly 60 RBIs. In short, he’s delivered a heck of a lot of value as the 32nd best-paid left fielder in baseball.

Harper is signed to the five-year, $9.9 million contract with the Nationals he inked as a rookie. It’s incredible that the most he’ll earn in his first five seasons in the league (pending arbitration) is $2.25 million.

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