Now with free agency upon us, teams will be looking for that one guy who will get them over the top. Contracts that will make your eyes water will be handed out, but what will their money buy? In the National League over the past 10 years or so, not much.
Let’s take a look at the National League's highest annual salaries and see what all that money bought you
2023: Nolan Arenado, Stephen Strasburg, $35 million. Oh boy, this will be interesting. I like Arenado, but a .266 average, .315 OBP, and a horrendously huge step back in fielding makes this salary not worth it at all. Funny thing is, it looks like a total steal when we talk about Strasburg. Zero, zilch, nada. That’s what you got for 35 million. At least you got a title … four years ago.
2022: Max Scherzer $43,333,3333. He reminds me of late-career Roger Clemens. Rent him, he’ll get you a few innings, and you might come home to a parade. In 2022, the Mets didn’t get that. What they got was 11-5 with a 2.29 ERA in 145 innings. It’s a good year, but a $43 million good year? Nope.
2021: Jacob deGrom $35.5 million. What a first half for deGrom! There was whispers of Bob Gibson in his stats. 7-2 and that ERA! 1.08 definitely had him in that conversation. In fact, until his last start on July 7, his ERA was below 1! Going into that month he was at 0.69 … that’s elite Dead Ball Era territory. Then the news for forearm tightness and, of course, the dreaded “pain in the elbow” arose, and that was that.
2020: Max Scherzer $35,920,616. The year of COVID had Max in Washington going 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA. Pedestrian. Fifth-place finish and another example of the National League teams spending on starting pitching and not getting that kind of production you pay for.
2019: Stephen Strasburg $38,333,333. Finally! We find our first year where the money paid for itself. He led the league in wins and innings pitched. MVP of the 2019 World Series and brought home the trophy to DC. Money well spent.
2015-2018: Clayton Kershaw $35,571,429. The Sandy Koufax of our era, Kershaw led the league in ERA four consecutive years before signing his deal. From 2015 through 2018, you got ERAs of 2.13, 1.69, 2.31, and 2.73. You only got 200-plus innings once though. It’s a good signing, but those are not the kind of number we were used to with him … still very good though.
2014: Zach Greinke $26 million. His 2014 is OK, but I like the signing because of what they got from him the very next year. Still, 2014 got him 17 wins and over 200 innings. I’ll take that.
2010-2013: Johan Santana from $20-25 million. In his prime, this guy was the talk of Minnesota. With the Mets, well, injuries. Those four years got you two years — 11-9 in 2010 and 6-9 in 2012. Disappointing end to a great career, but so not worth the money.
So what jumps out at you looking at these players? Other than being dominated by the Mets and Dodgers, it’s pitching. They signed players based on previous seasons, and not what they would produce in the future. It’s been going on for as long as baseball free agency has been around, and it’s not getting any results. Other than Strasburg’s 2019, the last highest paid player to get a team a World Series title is (get this) George Foster in 1986. Wow.
In my next article, I will take a look at the American League. Teaser: more hitters, and more titles.