The best money can buy? A look at the American League's highest-paid players since 2001

We looked at the National League in the last article, now it's time to examine the American League. Who did it better?

World Series - Texas Rangers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Five
World Series - Texas Rangers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Five / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

In my last article, I talked about the players with the highest salary in the National League that year and what they brought to their team. Now it is time to look at the American League and let’s see if they fared any better.

2023: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer $43,333,3333. Two sides of the same coin. Both their 2023 season are awfully similar in so many categories and they both got their teams into the World Series (Scherzer got the ring) but neither got their original team in since both signed with the Mets. Which is crazier ... the Mets had the two highest-paid players, or that both of them didn’t propel them to anything? You decide.  

2020-2022: Mike Trout $37 million and change. What do I say here? Do I say this is the best player on the planet and of course you are going to pay big money, or do I go the team route and say, “the Angels have won nothing even with Mike Trout?” Well, let’s just look at the numbers. His 2021 season is a wash, but solid numbers in 2020 and 2022. Nothing to show for it though. I don’t think Angels fans would forgive them if they didn’t sign him to that contract … it’s just all the other contracts, and that’s not Trout’s fault. OPS+ rating of 173 for his career makes this one an easy choice to spend the money.

2016, 2017, 2019: David Price $30 million. Funny part is the year that’s missing is the year he put it all together and helped them to a World Series title. His 2016 was solid. Led in starts, innings, and batters faced, so you got a lot of work out of him. 2017 was an injury year and 2019 was pedestrian at best. Against my better judgement, I’ll put this as a good signing because of the contributions he made in 2018, but I never was a David Price fan.

2015: Justin Verlander $28 million. A younger Verlander, but he was not quite in his second wind phase. 5-8 with a 3.38 ERA in 20 starts is not worth anything close to $28 million (perhaps not even worth $8 million). He did overcome the triceps injury to go on to have those great years after, but 2015 was bad.

2014: Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder $24 million. I remember hearing the Cano signing and going, “What?” I guess you needed to put that kind of money up to go from the Bronx to Seattle. He put up solid numbers there, but never won them a thing. For the kind of market Seattle was, this was an albatross of a contract and should have never been offered. Fielder’s is another one that shouldn’t have been offered, but this one had to do with his injury that ended up costing him a career. Before then he was elite and very dependable, having missed one game in the least five seasons. He did give you 158 games and a good season in 2015, but fell off a cliff and was gone. This was a terrible year for signings.

2001-2006, 2008-2013: Alex Rodriguez $22-33 million. $252 million. That came off the wire like a nuclear bomb. It shocked everyone who was and even people who weren’t a baseball fan. Like him, hate him, feel indifferent, whatever ... he was a monster on the diamond. In those years he led the league in home runs five years, RBI in two, runs three times, and even played all 162 games three times. Durable, and a force with the bat, he was someone you pencil in, and watch the scoreboard light up. The problem with this signing was it was done by Texas, so he didn’t get them anything. He did help the Yankees win a title and make some really great drama for his time there. For 2001-2003, he was Mike Trout … big money, nothing in return as far was playoffs. Texas did get Alfonso Soriano when they dealt him, so they didn’t win anything from him either.

So … what jumps out at you looking at these American League players? For me, it is seeing more hitters than in the National League. Also seeing the contracts got you titles, but for other teams. It is a good/bad kind of situation … they have the hardware to justify the signing, it’s just they had to go somewhere else to get it. That happened two times with another one getting there (2023), whereas in the NL, you got one title and the player stayed (Stephen Strasburg). The exception is Price getting the Red Sox their World Series in 2018, where he wasn’t the highest-paid player. I think the money was spent slightly better here, but just not as wisely for the teams doing the signing.

As we move forward to the signings that will affect 2024 and beyond, time will tell if the bad signings of the past will continue, or if teams will finally see that it takes 25 (and even more) to get them to a World Series title. Since there will always have to be a top guy every year, the debate will continue.