Many argue that Major League Baseball (MLB) players make too much money. This sounds reasonable when teachers, doctors, police officers, and firefighters are all making a fraction of the salary of someone whose good at hitting a little round ball. However, the best baseball players can make their organizations much more money. And wouldn't you rather the employee get the big checks instead of the owners holding onto it?
MLB players get paid well, but that doesn't mean they are helping their team win games. The 20 highest-paid MLB players will make at least $27 million in 2022. Needless to say, that is a lot of money!
Does salary determine value to a team? Or is a high salary detrimental to a team? What determines a player's value to their team?
Let's dive in and see what factors determine a player's salary and value to their teams.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
WAR is one of the best ways to estimate a player's performance over a year. WAR measures a player's value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at the same position. WAR quantifies each player's value in terms of a specific number of wins. And because WAR factors in a positional adjustment, it is well suited for comparing players with different defensive positions.
Who is the most valuable player in 2022 alone? We look at a combination of player salaries and their value to the organization. We estimate this by taking the highest-paid MLB players and dividing them by wins above replacement (WAR). This approach allows us to determine their salary per WAR, which is not perfect but provides good insight into the top performers.
Salary / WAR Grades
To estimate how much value an organization gets from their highest-paid MLB players, we divide a player's salary by their WAR in 2022 (as of August 5, 2022). This exercise determines how much value a player brings to their team this year.
- A Grade: <$10 million
- B Grade: $10 – $20 million
- C Grade: $20 – $30 million
- D-F Grades: > $30 million or Negative WAR
20 Highest-Paid MLB Players
1. Max Scherzer, New York Mets
At 37 years old, Max Scherzer signed a massive 3-year, $130 million contract to play with the New York Mets. Up to this point, Scherzer has delivered on his contract for the first-place Mets despite missing several starts with an oblique injury. Only time will tell if this contract will still be worth it as Scherzer approaches 40 when many pitchers begin to break down.
Salary: $43.3 million
2022 WAR: 3.4
$/WAR: $12.7 million
2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout may be one of the best baseball players of all time. Trout is also an excellent example of how difficult it is to win in baseball without a solid supporting cast. Between 2012 and 2019, Trout had a WAR of at least 6.9, leading his teams to approximately seven wins per year or more than an average player. Trout only played in one postseason during that period and didn't make it out of the first round.
Salary: $37.1 million
$/WAR: $9.51 million
3. Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels
Rendon significantly contributed to the Washington National's 2019 World Series title. Rendon cashed in with the Los Angeles Angels, who gave him a guaranteed 7-year, $245 million contract. The Angels will pay Rendon nearly 40 million dollars annually through 2026. Rendon has battled injuries the past two seasons, playing only 58 games in 2021 and 45 in 2022.
Salary: $36.5 million
$/WAR: $45.6 million
4. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
After being a relatively average pitcher for the first five years of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole had two incredible seasons with the Houston Astros that turned into the largest contract in history for a pitcher. Since joining the Yankees, Cole has pitched well, leading the American League (AL) in wins in 2021. In addition, Cole leads the AL in strikeouts this year despite a relatively low WAR.
Salary: $36 million
$/WAR: $21.4 million
5. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Jacob deGrom may have the best stuff in the game over the last eight years. deGromm won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2018 and 2019 and had a historic 2021 season with a 1.08 ERA through 15 starts. However, his most significant issue has been injuries over the past two seasons. As a result, he's only thrown five innings in 2022, which is the reason for his low WAR despite his talent. deGromm is getting ready to come off the injured list and has time to contribute this year to a first-place Mets team.
Salary: $36 million
$/WAR: $180 million
6. Trevor Bauer, Los Angeles Dodgers
Trevor Bauer is one of the most controversial players in baseball. Nobody doubts his outstanding talent on the mound. However, in 2021 he was accused of sexual assault against his former girlfriend and is serving a two-year suspension from baseball. Technically, Bauer's salary in 2022 is $0 since he's not getting paid during his suspension. He is eligible to play again in 2024.
Salary: $35.3 million
7. Carlos Correa, Minnesota Twins
Carlos Correa spent his first seven years in MLB for the Houston Astros before landing with the Minnesota Twins in 2022. Correa was part of Astros teams that made it to three World Series and won one in 2017. Correa is coming off his best season yet in 2021 and is doing almost as well in 2022 for the Twins.
Salary: $35.1 million
$/WAR: $14.6 million
8. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
After an incredible 2019 season helping the Nationals win a World Series, Stephen Strasburg has thrown a mere 31.1 innings over the past three seasons due to injury. Strasburg is an elite talent even as he approaches his mid-30s. We can only hope that Strasburg can get healthy. Not only for himself but also for the Nationals, who are in full rebuild mode and will pay him $35 million annually until 2026.
Salary: $35 million
$/WAR: -116.6 million
9. Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals
Nolan Arenado is currently top five in WAR in all of baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals are notorious for making great trades and signings, which has kept them competitive for the past two decades. However, the Arenado trade in 2021 may be one of their best yet. Arenado is one of the best defensive third basemen in the game, possibly of all time. With the Cardinals in a battle for first place in the National League (NL) Central, his 5.4 WAR may be the most valuable in all baseball.
Salary: $35 million
$/WAR: $6.5 million
10. Francisco Lindor, New York Mets
Francisco Lindor is in the first year of a massive contract that will pay him $34.1 million until he is 37 years old in 2031. Fortunately for the Mets, Lindor is off to a great start in his initial contract year. He's a big reason the Mets are in first place in the NL East. Lindor played his first five seasons with the Cleveland Indians before moving to the Big Apple.
Salary: $34.1 million
$/WAR: $9.0 million
11. Corey Seager, Texas Rangers
Corey Seager is one of the few star players that the Los Angeles Dodgers haven't been able to retain by throwing a massive amount of money at him. Seager signed with the Texas Rangers in the 2021 offseason and will be under contract until the 2031 season. Like Lindor, Seager is off to a good start, but time will tell if the contract is reasonable.
Salary: $33 million
$/WAR: $10.3 million
12. Manny Machado, San Diego Padres
Manny Machado has been a driving force in keeping the Padres in the playoff hunt in 2022. With the addition of Juan Soto and the return of Franando Tatis, Jr from the injured list, the Padres have the potential to make a late October run this year. Machado has been with the Padres since 2019 after spending most of his prior career with the lowly Baltimore Orioles. Machado can opt out of his contract after the 2023 season, though it might be tough to get a better contract than he has now.
Salary: $32 million
$/WAR: $7.6 million
12. David Price, Los Angeles Dodgers
David Price is one of the best pitchers of the past generation, winning one Cy Young award in 2012 and was the runner-up in three other seasons. However, if you are looking for Price in 2022, you'll find him hanging out in the Dodgers bullpen. While he is putting together a decent season out of the bullpen with a 2.70 ERA, it's something you might expect from a lefty reliever making a couple of million dollars or less a year. Even with the Red Sox paying half of Price's salary, it's still tough to justify his value to the team in the final year of his current contract.
Salary: $32 million
$/WAR: $80 million
12. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera is a sure-fire hall of famer, though his late 30s have not been kind to him. Cabrera's career has been steeply declining since turning 37 in 2020. Cabrera has one more year on his contract, and despite his play being so underwhelming this year, he plans to play again in 2023. Who can blame him for not wanting to leave another $32 million on the table? Cabrera has a mere four home runs in 360 plate appearances in 2022.
Salary: $32 million
$/WAR: $-64 mill on
15. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale is another pitcher on the back-end of their contract that has had trouble staying on the field. Of the six pitchers on this list of top 20 highest-paid MLB players, everyone has had injury issues, and the only ones who are currently starting pitchers are Cole and Scherzer. Unfortunately, Sale has had bad luck in 2022. After battling back from an injury, he had a line drive hit off his finger in his second season start. Hopefully, Sale will be able to make it back by the end of the season.
Salary: $30 million
$/WAR: $300 million
16. George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays
George Springer was another member of the Houston Astros organization that won the World Series in 2017. Springer was the most valuable player (MVP) of the World Series. Springer turned his success will the Astros into a 6-year, $150 million contract with the Blue Jays. Springer has put together a solid season in 2022 and is helping the Blue Jays battle for a wild card spot in the playoffs.
Salary: $29.6 million
$/WAR: $11.4 million
17. Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees
Giancarlo Stanton hits a baseball harder than almost anyone in the league. When Stanton is on the field, he is one of the best power hitters in the game. Since moving from the Miami Marlins to New York Yankees, Stanton has had some trouble staying healthy but has mostly been on the field in 2021 and 2022. The Marlins signed Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract before trading him to the New York Yankees.
Salary: $29 million
$/WAR: $26.4 million
17. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Jose Altuve is the third member of the 2017 Houston Astros World Series team on this list and the only of the three that the Astros were able to lock up to a long-term deal. Altuve spent ten years with the Astros, leading the MLB in hits in four of those seasons. Altuve has maintained a near .900 OPS in 2022, helping to lead the Astros to one of the best baseball records. He is one of the few players on this list that is delivering on a big contract after the first couple of years.
Salary: $29 million
$/WAR: $8.3 million
19. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
Bryce Harper was touted as a once-in-a-generation talent as he started getting recognition as a teenager in high school. Before breaking his thumb this season, Harper was putting together an impressive 2022 campaign. Harper played his first seven seasons with the Washington Nationals, leaving for free agency the year before the Nationals won a World Series. With the Phillies in the running for a wild card playoff spot, could this be the year that Harper finds the postseason success that is missing from his impressive baseball resume?
Salary: $27.5 million
20. Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles Dodgers
Freddie Freeman is a hitting machine. After helping the Atlanta Braves win a World Series in 2021, Freeman seemingly regrettably left the Braves for Hollywood. However, Freeman hasn't missed a beat, leading the first-place Dodgers while leading the league in hits and doubles in 2022. The Dodgers are poised to go on a deep post-season run and could meet up with Freeman's former Braves team at some point.
Salary: $27 million
$/WAR: $6 million
Summary of Highest-Paid MLB Players
After reviewing the success and failures of the top 20 highest-paid MLB players, one key theme emerges. The players with A and B grades are almost all early into their long-term contracts. Whereas many D-graded players are on the back-end of their contracts and have battled injuries as they have gotten older.
The lesson for MLB general managers is to know that you'll get the best of your star players in the first few years of their contract. Eventually, age and injuries tend to catch up with players, and the back half of contracts don't always look as good. That doesn't mean a player's long contract is a bust; it might just mean they are not delivering value in 2022.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.