The 21 Highest-Paid Baseball Players of 2021 (And All-Time)

Make no mistake, America's pastime is incredibly lucrative.

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We are slowly creeping our way to the start of Spring, which is coming back! Now, this isn’t your standard ‘predictions’ article where we go into power rankings and potential playoff standings—we are looking at the highest-paid MLB players heading into the 2021 season and revisiting the top ten highest-paid players of all-time. 

Now in a world where we see NBA players securing absolutely massive contracts, we tend to forget that MLB players are ‘silent killers’ as well. Professional baseball players have proven over time that they can land some of the biggest contracts in sports history. For example, All-Star pitcher Trevor Bauer recently inked a deal worth $102 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers making him the top earner for both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, and Alex Rodriguez remains the highest-paid MLB player ever with $450 million in earnings. There are no restrictions on MLB contracts—players can make as much money as what their teams are willing to pay them, and teams, in general, seem to be pretty lax when it comes to the luxury tax component of baseball salaries. Another key factor in the overall net worth of baseball players is the longevity element—a baseball career can last much longer than other major league sports because of its limited contact. Baseball players aren’t getting banged and bruised up as much as their counterparts, making the injury rates relatively low. In theory, an MLB career could end up lasting anywhere from fifteen to twenty years, whereas in the NBA or NFL, those career lengths could span much less due to serious injuries, roster limitations, and other factors

Nerdy sports facts aside, baseball players can land some monumental deals. Here is a list of the highest-paid active players, as well as the highest-paid MLB players in the history of the league.

Let’s start with the present. 

1. Trevor Bauer, Los Angeles Dodgers

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Contract: 3 Years (2021-2023), $102 Million 

Trevor Bauer entered the free-agency period as the most coveted player on the market. The 2020 National League Cy Young Award posted his best season to date with the Cincinnati Reds, ending the year 5-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 11 games. Bauer was later selected as the starting pitcher for the Reds wildcard matchup against the Atlanta Braves, and the competition for the rising superstar was huge, ending with the Dodgers offering him a record-setting contract. Bauer ended the 2020 campaign making the All-MLB First Team and will presumably add another All-Star appearance this year if everything continues to go well in terms of Covid precautions. The RHP will make roughly $40 million this season.

2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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Contract: 12 Years (2018-2030), $430 Million

At some point in the decade, the current all-time salary ranking will have to be completely revamped. When that happens, Mike Trout will join that list as his current extension is only $20 million less than Alex Rodriguez’s total career earnings. The Los Angeles Angels didn’t give Trout a promise ring; they locked him down with a long-term commitment—and for a good reason. Trout has displayed consistent dominance over the past few years with three MVPs and eight All-Star appearances under his belt. The All-Star’s ten-year $400 million contract was the largest contract extension in professional sports history before being eclipsed by Patrick Mahomes in 2020. Trout will pull in a little over $37 million this year.

3. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

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Contract: 9 Years (2020-2028), $324 Million

This three-time All-Star and 2019 MLB Strikeout Leader had a lot to be happy about in 2019 when the New York Yankees offered him a nine-year $324 million contract to lure him away from the Houston Astros. That deal was the largest ever given to a pitcher at that time and came on the heels of an incredible season from Cole where he led the league with 326 strikeouts, finishing the year 20-5 with a 2.5 ERA. Cole’s debut with the Yankees last season was equally impressive but cut short due to the pandemic. The right-hand pitcher will net $36 million for the 2021 campaign as he looks to have a second successful season with The Bronx Bombers.

4. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

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Contract: 5 Years (2019-2023), $137.5 Million

Considered to be one of the best pitchers in the MLB, deGrom is a three-time All-Star with two First-Team appearances and two National League Cy Young Awards. deGrom has spent his entire career with the Mets, and the two agreed to a five-year $137.5 million contract in 2019. Despite battling injuries, the Mets star has continued to make a valid case for being the best pitcher in the league-leading the NL in strikeouts last season. deGrom fell just short of winning his third-consecutive Cy Young proving that at 32-years-old, he keeps getting better. The pitcher will make $33.5 million this season.

5. Zack Greinke, Houston Astros

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Contract: 6 Years (2016-2021), $206.5 Million

Acquired by the Houston Astros in 2019, Greinke remains one of the league's top veterans and still pulls in excellent numbers proving that he is very much worth the money. The six-time All-Star was fourth in home runs allowed last season, finishing 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA in 12 starts. Greinke’s performance helped the Astros make a deep playoff run last year, and the team will need a similar performance this year as Justin Verlander is likely to miss the 2021 season. Greinke is expected to take home $32.9 million for the 2021 campaign.

6. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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Contract: 7 Years (2020-2026), $245 Million 

Pulling in $35 million this season, Stephen Strasburg put together a 2019 playoff performance worthy of being in the baseball hall of fame, leading the Nationals to a World Series win over the Houston Astros. The MVP was rewarded for his showing with a seven-year $245 million contract. The deal will keep the three-time All-Star with the Nationals until 2026, and barring a major turn of events, Strasburg will likely finish his career with the team that drafted him.

7. Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals

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Contract: 8 Years (2019-2026), $260 Million, 1 Year (2027),  $15 Million

Since his 2013 debut with the Colorado Rockies, Arenado has made five All-Star appearances, while also having multiple Gold Glove Awards and numerous other accomplishments on his resume. A three-time NL Home Run Leader, Arenado agreed to an eight-year contract extension worth $255 million in 2019. Arenado was traded to the Cardinals on February 1st in a blockbuster deal, and St. Louis added an extra $15 million to his contract for good measure. The Cards will pay Arenado $35 million for the upcoming season.

8. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

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Contract: 7 Years (2015-2021), $210 Million

Arguably one of the best deals in MLB history, Scherzer heads into the final season of his contract with a 3.74 ERA and 92 strikeouts. While not as prolific as his 2019 World Series campaign, the seven-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner is still remarkably efficient. Scherzer will make $34.5 million in his last year with the Nationals, and at the moment Scherzer's immediate future is still unclear. Scherzer has made it clear that he would like to continue playing, but as of this writing, a contract extension has not been reached.

9. Justin Verlander

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Contract: 2 Years (2020-2021), $66 Million

As mentioned earlier, Verlander is expected to sit out this season as he recovers from an injury that also kept him out pretty much all of the 2020 campaign. While Verlander won’t see the field in 2021, he still remains one of baseball’s top earners as he is still expected to earn $33 million this year. With Verlander turning 38 this month, his future in baseball remains uncertain. Whatever the case may be, the eight-time All-Star and World Series champion deserves his flowers (and coins).

10. Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

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Contract: 10 Years (2019-2028), $300 Million

The San Diego Padres are in it for the long haul with Manny Machado and made it official in 2019 when they offered him a 10-year, $300 million contract which was then the biggest free-agent contract in the history of American sports. The four-time All-Star’s contract was eclipsed two weeks later by Bryce Harper’s $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, but the heavy hitter remains top ten in earnings. Machado finished third last season in the National League with 16 home runs and 47 RBIs. Machado is expected to take home $34 million this year.

11. Bryce Harper

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Contract: 13 Years (2019-2032), $330 Million

One of baseball's best talents, Bryce Harper began his career with the Washington Nationals before eventually signing with their divisional rival, the Philadelphia Phillies.

Since signing with Philadelphia, he has maintained much of the same success that he had in Washington, hitting 35 home runs in 2019. In 2020, he batted .268 with just 13 homers in the shortened campaign, but he is poised for a true return to form in the 2021 year.

Now that we have covered the highest-paid players for the 2021 season, let's get into the highest-earning MLB players of all-time.

1. Alex Rodriguez

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Total Seasons: 22

Total Earnings: $450 Million

A-Rod earned an estimated $450 million during the course of his 22-year career. Rodriguez’s two highest-earning seasons came during the 2009 and 2010 seasons which coincided with the Yankees 2009 World Series championship. The fourteen-time All-Star also received a slew of endorsements deals which included partnerships with Nike, Giorgio Armani, and Radio Shack bringing him an additional $35 million on top of his MLB salary. Rodriguez retired from baseball in 2016, and currently works as an analyst for ESPN and Fox Sports.

2. Albert Pujols

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Total Seasons: 20

Total Earnings: $309.2 Million

In a nineteen-year career that featured ten all-star appearances, two World Series championships and plenty more, Pujols spent the first half of his career in St. Louis with the Cardinals where he experienced the majority of his professional success, and has since spent the second half of his career with the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols has collected $309 million to date, and this season will mark his highest single-season salary with a base rate of $30 million. The 2021 campaign also marks the final year of Pujols’ contract with the Angels, so we’ll have to see what move he makes next.

3. Miguel Cabrera

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Total Seasons: 19

Total Earnings: $291 Million

Another veteran still going strong, Cabrera is currently on a ten-year contract with the Detroit Tigers as part of an eight-year contract extension signed back in 2014. At the time the contract qualified for the largest in baseball history, and was considered a major power move making it clear that the Lions were ‘all in’ on Cabrera. The eleven-time All-Star will earn a base salary of $30 million this year, and $32 million during the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

4. Derek Jeter

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Total Seasons: 20

Total Earnings: $266 Million

One of the greatest baseball players the world has ever seen, Derek Jeter grossed $266 million during his two decade career. Similar to his Yankees teammate A-Rod, Jeter’s highest earning season came during the 2010 campaign, where the fourteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion earned the coveted AL Hank Aaron Award. Jeter also had brand partnerships with Nike and Gatorade which brought him an estimated $10 million on top of his annual baseball salary. Jeter spent his entire career with the Yankees retiring in 2014, and is now the Chief Executive Officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins.

5. CC Sabathia

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Total Seasons: 19

Total Earnings: $264.8 Million

Since we’re on the subject of top-earning Yankees, CC Sabathia banked $264 million in his nineteen-year career, which also included tenures with the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers. Sabathia signed a seven-year $161 million deal with the Yankees, which at the time was the biggest contract ever for a starting pitcher. The LHP earned $25 million during the 2017 season, making it his highest single-season salary. Sabathia retired a world champion and six-time All-Star in 2019.

6. Carlos Beltrán

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Total Seasons: 20

Total Earnings: $248.9 Million

While Beltrán has experienced some controversy recently, that doesn’t take away from his professional accomplishments as a player. Beltrán collected $248.9 million in a career that spanned 20 years, playing for eight different teams during the course of his 20 seasons. Beltran earned $18.5 million during his 2009 and 2010 seasons with the New York Mets, making those the highest-earning of his career. The outfielder made nine All-Star appearances and retired in 2017 after winning a title with the Houston Astros.

7. Justin Verlander

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Total Seasons: 16

Total Earnings: $241 Million

Earlier in this article we mentioned how future all-time lists will have to eventually be revamped to include the current top-earners due to their massive contracts. Since we have already covered Verlander, we won’t go over all of his earnings again. However, as a reminder, Verlander has made over $241 million in his career, and will make $33 million this upcoming season despite being on the injured list thanks to the MLB’s guaranteed contracts. Verlander currently sits at number seven on the all-time list.

8. Manny Ramirez

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Total Seasons: 19

Total Earnings: 232.1 Million

One of the most beloved players in the history of Major League Baseball, Manny Ramirez brought in $232 Million in a career that included twelve All-Star appearances, and two championships with the Boston Red Sox, where Ramirez experienced his highest yearly salaries. The hall of famer retired from the MLB in 2011, and coached in the Australian Baseball League for a brief period in 2020.

9. Zack Greinke, Houston Astros

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Total Seasons: 17

Total Earnings: $227 Million

Similar to Verlander, we won’t go over all of Greinke’s earnings again. Just as a reminder, Greinke is ranked fifth in earnings for this upcoming season, and will take home $32.9 million this year.

10. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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Total Seasons: 14

Total Earnings: $228 Million

Riding high on the Dodgers World Series victory against the Tampa Bay Rays, the eight-time All-Star will enjoy a $23 million salary as a part of the $93 million contract extension he signed with the Dodgers back in 2018. Kershaw has earned $228 million to date, making him one of the highest paid players in the league. With this season being the last in Kershaw’s deal, things are sure to get interesting in Los Angeles. Whether Kershaw remains in the City of Angels or not, he’ll be sure to command a hefty payday.

So as you can see, MLB players are among some of the highest-paid figures in sports. With more stars on the rise, we expect to see more groundbreaking contracts in the future.

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