2012: The $20 Million Club


In the 2012 season, 13 players in Major League Baseball earned a total of $20 million or more for their services. As it turns out, that ominous number 13 is a pretty accurate omen in regards to how these deals have played out with less than a month of the regular season now remaining. Certainly it isn’t fair to begrudge all general managers for signing a player to a deal that pays in excess of $20 million a season — it’s often the length of a contract that kills, not the annual amount, after all.

That said, most of these contracts you’re about to learn more about were not short-term deals, but rather major overtures offered to premium players. Some of these contract situations are disastrous, and some are merely not working out as the team hoped, but one thing is for certain: very few of the following players have made their respective teams as happy to sign their paychecks in 2012 as they have been to deposit it.

(A quick note: all salary figures were pulled from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, while all WAR totals were pulled from FanGraphs.)

Alex Rodriguez ($29 million / 2.0 WAR) | $14.5 million
The once great A-Rod is rarely healthy anymore, and when he does play, he’s not quite the same force he once was at the plate. While still a valuable contributor on the field, he didn’t give the Yankees a very good return on their investment in 2012.

Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Johan Santana ($24 million / 1.2 WAR) | $20 million
At one point, this season was looking pretty promising for the two-time Cy Young winner. His first half of the season, which included a no-hitter, was fantastic. His second half, however, consists of just four starts in which he was absolutely destroyed.

Prince Fielder ($23 million / 4.0 WAR) | $5.8 million
Like his teammate and fellow middle-of-the-order slugger, Prince earns all of his money by what he does at the plate, not how he looks in his uniform or how long it takes him to get from base to base. He may not age well, but for now he’s still a top flight bat.

Joe Mauer ($23 million / 4.4 WAR) | $5.2 million
While he doesn’t possess a ton of extra-base power, Mauer is an excellent contact hitter with a knack for working walks, and that’s more than useful, especially for a guy who spends all his time behind the plate.

C.C. Sabathia ($23 million / 3.7 WAR) | $6.2 million
A very dependable pitcher, C.C. is putting up his usual solid numbers and is mostly an exception to the foreboding tone I struck up at the onset of the article.

Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million / 2.8 WAR) | $8.0 million
Like Rodriguez, Teixeira is not the hitter he once was, and it would have been hard to predict this kind of decline at such an early age from a once outstanding hitter. It’s looking like he no longer belongs in the elite territory his salary indicates he’s in.

Cliff Lee ($21.5 million / 3.8 WAR) | $5.7 million
Because Lee is 4-7 with an 3.50 ERA, the perception is that he’s having a terrible season. This is not the case. Lee is still a very good pitcher, just one with a bizarre record and a somewhat falsely inflated ERA.

Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

Miguel Cabrera ($21 million / 5.9 WAR) | $3.6 million
Still in his prime, no one can argue about the merits of having a hitter like Cabrera in the middle of your lineup. If any hitter is worth this kind of money, it’s him.

Adrian Gonzalez ($21 million / 2.7 WAR) | $7.8 million
Now that his BABIP returned to normal after last year’s ridiculous level, there’s nothing to hide the fact that Gonzalez may in fact be just a decent hitter who had just one truly elite season before signing his massive deal with Boston. Best of luck on this one, Dodgers.

Vernon Wells ($21 million / 0.6 WAR) | $35 million
Wells hasn’t been a consistently useful player since his solid stretch of seasons from 2003-2006 with Toronto, and by this point the contract he’s signed to is universally panned as perhaps the very worst in baseball. This season was no different.

Roy Halladay ($20 million / 2.8 WAR) | $7.1 million
The usually steady Halladay has missed time due to shoulder woes and just not pitched quite as well as he normally does in general. It’s too early to call out a decline, but for this season, he didn’t earn his money quite as handily as he normally would.

Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Ryan Howard ($20 million / -0.7 WAR) | Infinity Dollars
To be fair to Howard, he did miss a big chunk of the season while recovering from the Achilles injury he suffered as the Phillies were ousted from the playoffs a season ago. When he did return, Philadelphia was probably wishing he hadn’t. That .310 wOBA is just flat out alarming to look at, and because he’s been below-replacement level, there’s actually no way to calculate what the team is paying him per win. This would be an easier equation to solve if we were there were a stat called LAR, and then we could figure out precisely how much he’s earning per loss contributed. Seriously, no matter how much extra money you want to throw at him this season, there’s no way to assume that WAR total wouldn’t continue to get worse. No solution, Mr. Howard. You’ve broken the system.

Justin Verlander ($20 million / 5.8 WAR) | $3.4 million
The third Tiger on this list, Verlander joins his teammates in the sense that he actually earns his massive paycheck, if in fact anyone can really earn this kind of money. There’s no question he’s one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball, and he will continue to be.

Obviously, these calculations aren’t foolproof. The cost per win figured up in the list above does not take into consideration the various positions played, for a beginning. We’re using a strictly linear system to gauge one basic principle, essentially: as an organization, you’re never going to get a true bargain when you pay $20 million for a player, no matter how good he is. Sometimes that’s what it takes to land a star (especially on the open market), and it ends up being worth it, but in terms of raw value, you can almost always find a more shrewd investment to make.

Can’t get enough of Spencer? Check out his work at StanGraphs and follow him on Twitter at @shendricks221.