For a long time, the 2018-19 free agency period was hyped as a potentially historic one. Now it’s exactly that.
With Bryce Harper and Manny Machado both hitting the market at once, it seemed like it was just a matter of who would sign a record-setting contract first. After a long winter of waiting, the baseball world got its answer: Machado, who signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres.
That marked the largest free-agent deal in Major League history — surpassing Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees that he signed in December 2007 — but Machado’s record didn’t last long, as Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies in March, putting the slugger in the City of Brotherly Love for what could be the rest of his career.
Harper tops an impressive list. Here are the 10 biggest contracts MLB free agents have ever received. (Note: These don’t include contract extensions where the player didn’t actually become a free agent, like the 12-year, $426.5 million extension Mike Trout signed with the Angels on March 20, 2019.)
1. Bryce Harper, Phillies: 13 years, $330 million (2019-31)
Harper’s impending free agency defined his final season with the Nationals and dominated headlines all the way into the second week of Spring Training games, and a number of factors collaborated along the way to get Bryce to the top of this list. First was Stanton’s record extension with the Marlins in 2014, which gave Harper and his agent Scott Boras an early goal for the most guaranteed money of any kind for an MLB player. Then, Machado inked his $300 million deal with the Padres in mid-February, giving Harper a floor for the contract he could demand from his final suitors that reportedly included the Phillies, Giants and Dodgers. Multiple reports stated that San Francisco lengthened its offer from a short-term structure to a much longer commitment in the final days leading up to Harper’s signing, so Philadelphia’s 13-year commitment might have put the NL East club over the top.
Harper’s deal — the biggest free-agent contract in the history of the four major North American professional sports — includes a full no-trade clause, per multiple reports, but notably does not include any opt-outs, making it a straightforward, old-school mega-contract. Harper and the Phillies are committed to each other for more than a decade to come.
2. Manny Machado, Padres: 10 years, $300 million (2019-28)
Though he ultimately won’t bring a record deal into 2019, Machado does hold the distinction as being the first $300 million free agent in MLB history with the deal he inked with San Diego. An elite two-way player, Machado will anchor what the Padres hope will be a bright future with top infield prospects Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urías establishing themselves as early as ’19, and many more elite up-and-comers on the way from MLB’s top farm system.
3. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: 10 years, $275 million (2008-17)
In the middle of Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, announced that A-Rod would be opting out of the final three years of his contract with the Yankees. (This was the contract he had originally signed with the Rangers prior to the ’01 season, which carried over to New York when he was traded in ’04.) The timing created a torrent of controversy, and it seemed like Rodriguez’s tenure with the Yankees was over. Rodriguez would later call the opt-out a “huge debacle” and a “mistake that was handled extremely poorly.”
Seeking to repair the relationship and re-open negotiations, A-Rod approached the Yankees through a Goldman Sachs managing director, and the two sides were able to work out a new deal in mid-December. That deal was the richest free-agent contract in MLB history. Rodriguez would go on to lead the Bronx Bombers to their 27th World Series championship in 2009. “All along,” A-Rod said after reaching his new deal, “I knew I wanted to be a Yankee.”
4. Alex Rodriguez, Rangers: 10 years, $252 million (2001-10)
Rodriguez’s first free-agent megadeal — the one he signed with the Rangers before the 2001 season — ranks right behind his one with the Yankees. It pried him away from the Mariners at age 25, and at the time completely shattered the record for the largest free-agent contract, more than doubling Mike Hampton’s $121 million deal with the Rockies that had been completed just days before Rodriguez’s agreement was reached. In fact, it also doubled the largest professional sports contract to that point, Kevin Garnett’s $126 million contract with the NBA’s Timberwolves signed in 1997.
A-Rod played only the first three seasons of that contract in Texas before he was traded to the Yankees, but for his part, he lived up to the deal. Rodriguez averaged 52 home runs and 132 RBIs with the Rangers — leading the American League in homers all three years — with a 1.011 OPS from 2001-03. He won the AL MVP Award in ’03. Rodriguez kept up the pace after he was traded to New York, winning two more MVP Awards in ’05 and ’07 (although his postseason struggles at times caused a lot of consternation among Yankees fans).
5 (tie). Albert Pujols, Angels: 10 years, $240 million (2012-21)
Pujols was coming off a historically great 11-year run with the Cardinals when he hit free agency following the 2011 season. He was a three-time National League MVP Award winner (’05 and ’08-09), a two-time World Series champ (’06 and ’11), the ’01 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, a nine-time All-Star (’01, 2003-10), a back-to-back home run champion (’09-10) and a batting champion (’03). His accomplishments earned him a mega-deal with the Angels entering his age-32 season.
Injuries have sapped Pujols of his elite production since he arrived in Anaheim, and the amount of money the Angels have to pay him through his decline have caused many to criticize the contract. But Pujols also has over 1,000 hits with the Angels — making him one of just nine players in MLB history with 1,000 hits in both leagues — and close to 200 homers, including a 40-homer season and a pair of 30-homer seasons. He’s reached several career milestones in Anaheim: 500 and 600 home runs, as well as 3,000 hits. Pujols’ best years came with the Cardinals, but he’s further cemented his Hall of Fame legacy with the Angels.
5 (tie). Robinson Canó, Mariners: 10 years, $240 million (2014-23)
Cano signed his contract with Seattle at age 31 after spending the first nine years of his career with the Yankees. In New York, he was a five-time AL All-Star, a five-time AL Silver Slugger Award winner and two-time Gold Glove Award winner at second base, as well as winning the World Series in 2009. He continued to excel with the Mariners, earning All-Star nods in three of his first four seasons in Seattle. Cano, now a member of the Mets, is sitting on 2,470 career hits entering his age-36 season in 2019, which gives him a shot at 3,000. He’s on a potential Hall of Fame track, although his suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy in 2018 might cast a shadow over his case.
“I want to earn every penny that I get here,” Cano said at the beginning of 2018. “I don’t want to be like those guys that, two or three years into their contract, they do really good and then they don’t care. I do care. … That’s how I want to be remembered, as a guy that was productive in this game, not a guy that just feels comfortable because he gets the money.”
7. David Price, Red Sox: 7 years, $217 million (2016-22)
The largest free-agent contract ever awarded to a pitcher belongs to Price, who joined a small group of $200 million pitchers — Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw are the others — when he went to Boston in the offseason of 2015. The left-hander was 29 when he signed the deal after spending his first eight Major League seasons with the Rays (with whom he won the AL Cy Young Award in ’12), Tigers and Blue Jays.
For a while, Price wasn’t always the most popular player with Red Sox fans — especially due to postseason struggles and a verbal altercation with NESN broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley in 2017 — but he reversed all those narratives in the 2018 World Series. Price was brilliant in winning both Game 2 and the clinching Game 5 over the Dodgers, leading the Red Sox to their fourth championship in 15 seasons.
8. Prince Fielder, Tigers: 9 years, $214 million (2012-20)
Fielder was one of the game’s premier power hitters when he signed his blockbuster deal with Detroit entering his age-28 season, the largest contract the Tigers had ever given out. Fielder was coming off five straight seasons of at least 30 home runs with the Brewers, including 46 in ’09 and 50 in ’07. His first year in Detroit, Fielder teamed up with Miguel Cabrera to slug the Tigers to the AL pennant, although they were swept by the Giants in the World Series. Detroit reached the ALCS again in ’13.
Fielder was an All-Star in both of his two seasons in Detroit — although some Tigers fans weren’t happy with the size of his contract, as his home run totals were “only” 30 in 2012 and 25 in ’13 — before Detroit traded him to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler in an offseason blockbuster. Fielder had one excellent season in Texas in 2015, helping lead the Rangers to the playoffs, but his health ultimately failed him. Neck injuries forced Fielder into early retirement in 2016.
9. Max Scherzer, Nationals: 7 years, $210 million (2015-21)
Scherzer has been everything the Nationals could have wanted and more through four seasons. He won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2016-17, led the Nats to a pair of postseason appearances, made four All-Star teams and eclipsed 30 starts, 200 innings and 250 strikeouts with a sub-3.00 ERA in all four seasons in D.C.
When Scherzer signed with Washington entering his age-30 season in 2015, he had just emerged as one of the game’s top aces. He’d led the AL in wins with the Tigers two years running, and he’d won the AL Cy Young Award in 2013. But there were a lot of questions whether he was worth the money. His track record as a star pitcher wasn’t very long, and $200-plus million was a ton of money to be offering a pitcher who was about to be in his 30s. It’s amazing how Scherzer has more than lived up to the contract.
10. Zack Greinke, D-backs: 6 years, $206.5 million (2016-21)
Greinke’s sensational 2015 with the Dodgers — he went 19-3 with a Major League-leading 1.66 ERA in one of the best pitching seasons since MLB lowered the mound in 1969 — helped make him a $200 million man in free agency. Even with Greinke being a 12-year veteran entering his age-32 season, Arizona shelled out the big bucks to have him front its starting rotation.
Greinke had some ups and downs in his first season in Arizona in 2016, but since then, he’s returned to form as one of the better pitchers in the NL. In 2017, he led the D-backs to their first postseason berth since 2011, going 17-7 with a 3.20 ERA and 215 strikeouts en route to a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting.
Total value isn’t the only way to look at player contracts, as the length of the deal also matters. Here’s a list of the biggest MLB free-agent contracts by the amount they were worth per year.
Top 10 free-agent contracts by average annual value
1. Zack Greinke, D-backs: $34,416,666 (2016-21)
2. David Price, Red Sox: $31 million (2016-22)
3 (tie). Manny Machado, Padres: $30 million (2019-28)
3 (tie). Max Scherzer, Nationals: $30 million (2015-21)
5. Roger Clemens, Yankees: $28,000,002 (2007)
6 (tie). Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: $27.5 million (2008-17)
6 (tie). Yoenis Céspedes, Mets: $27.5 million (2017-20)
8. Jon Lester, Cubs: $25,833,333 (2015-20)
9. Bryce Harper, Phillies: $25,384,615 (2019-31)
10. Alex Rodriguez, Rangers: $25.2 million (2001-10)