In the 20 years since the Texas Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez his historic 10-year, $252 million deal, wins and championships have come at a price.
USA TODAY Sports has tracked Major League Baseball salaries since 1989 when the Los Angeles Dodgers made Orel Hershiser the highest-paid player at $2.8 million annually. That’s about $6.1 million in 2021 dollars and a bargain for a top pitcher today.
Even with quarter-billion-dollar, long-term contracts becoming more commonplace, no player’s contract has yet to eclipse Rodriguez’s longevity as MLB’s highest-paid player. We’ve adjusted pay totals for inflation to offer some perspective of his two contracts; he opted out of his original deal after the 2007 season and struck a new 10-year, $275 million deal with the New York Yankees that started in 2008.
In the past two decades, nine other players have earned more than $220 million from multiyear contracts.
The Yankees have spent more than any other MLB team on player salaries in 16 of the last 20 years, so it’s probably no surprise that A-Rod and three other players who spent time on the Yankees are among the 10 biggest earners in that span.
With all their spending since 2001, the Yankees have piled up an average of 95 wins in each full season – enough to win the American League East 10 times, make 16 playoffs and three World Series appearances and win one World Series (the Yankees also won the championship four times — 1996, 1998-2000 — leading up to 2001).
But “spend more and win more” isn’t a formula unique to the Bronx.
If you paid more than $2 billion in salaries during the last two decades, you were almost guaranteed a World Series appearance. Four of those 10 teams made three or more appearances.
The Atlanta Braves are a notable exception, spending $3.1 billion (second only to the Yankees) over that time. That investment still helped them win their division nine times and make 11 playoff appearances.
That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t possible to make the World Series if you don’t pay top dollar for talent — the Tampa Bay Rays reached the World Series last season with the 28th lowest payroll — but the odds haven’t favored teams with lower payrolls. For all the fanfare of “Money Ball,” the Oakland Athletics’ budget-conscious system hasn’t taken them to the World Series in this era.
Of the last 40 World Series participants, 10 (25%) have paid less than $2 billion on players during the last two decades. Four of those teams won the Series.
Put a different way: For every 2015 Kansas City Royals with a core of young, talented, less-expensive players who won the Series, there have been four winning Boston Red Sox teams filled with experienced, expensive talent.
And top talent is only getting more expensive. Not adjusted for inflation, Rodriguez’s 2008 contract ranks just ninth among the league’s biggest contracts. All but one of those contracts was signed in 2019 or more recently.
If you’re wondering which teams are paying to play their way into the playoffs for years to come, look no further than Southern California, New York and Philadelphia.
The top six teams have committed $3.5 billion for the 2022 season and beyond. That’s $620 million more than the 24 other MLB teams combined.
The biggest spender, the Padres, have $617 million committed to three players: Manny Machado ($218 million) Fernando Tatis ($339 million) and Eric Hosmer ($60 million) through 2036.