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About the Benjamins: How the top MLB wage earners are performing in 2012

Updated on September 5, 2012
Miguel Cabrera is providing the most bang for the buck in 2012.
Miguel Cabrera is providing the most bang for the buck in 2012.

In a perfect world, the highest paid players in baseball would also be the best players. This would mean that Vernon Wells (earning a cool $24.187 million this season, second highest in the majors) would be worth about 50 times more than Mike Trout (earning the MLB minimum of $480,000).

Of course, that isn’t the case. Trout’s performance is so much better that Wells should not even be allowed to carry Trout’s duffel bag off the team bus. Unfortunately for many baseball fans, this is not an isolated case. Many of the top earners are having average seasons at best and some are performing well below that. (Mets, Marlins and Giants fans should be especially devastated; you could include the Red Sox except that they traded away their overpriced dead weight).

25 players make $17 million or more

In 2012, there are 25 players earning $17 million or more this season. (One name conspicuously absent from this list is Albert Pujols. He chose to defer some of his salary to later in the life of his contract; thus he is making only $12 million in 2012.) So how are these top earners performing? I’ve ranked them using the A to F grading system. Of course, any ranking system is open to interpretation and you may disagree. But I think many of these are fairly obvious.

I didn’t attempt to make any gradations between how much they earn and how they’ve performed; i.e., I didn’t expect Alex Rodriguez to play better than Jason Bay just because A-Rod makes $30 million and Bay makes a little over $18 million. I figure if you’re making $17 million or more a year you should be expected to play at the same high level.

Tigers get the most for their money

One thing that is quickly clear when correlating salary and performance this year is that the Detroit Tigers are getting a lot bang for the buck. Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander all earn in excess of $20 million a year, but all are playing at a high level.

Cabrera is easily doing the most among the Top 25 in earning his salary. He is paid $21 million per year. So far this season he is first in the American League in OPS at .986, second in RBIs with 111, fourth in on base percentage at .398 and fifth in homers with 33. (Stats are through Sept. 3 games.)

Fielder, making $23 million, is first in OBP at .411, fifth in OPS at .929 and RBIs at 93 and 17th in homers with 23.

Verlander, while not quite having a repeat of last year’s MVP season, is still first in strikeouts with 209, second in WHIP at 1.04 and third in ERA at 2.73.

Wells leads in being worst

No player is doing worse for the money than Vernon Wells. He has hit 10 homers, driven in 24 runs and has a completely pedestrian .283 OBP. He is not even the best Wells in the league; Seattle’s Casper Wells has eight homers, 29 RBIs and a .291 OBP. Yet Wells is the second-highest paid player in the majors.

Jason Bay has been nearly as bad for the Mets. The oft-injured slugger has hardly contributed at all. The same is true of Carl Crawford of the Red Sox/Dodgers. Even when they return from injuries both of them struggle to perform.

Other top performers

Felix Hernandez of the Mariners also gets high marks for his $19.7 million salary. He is first in ERA (2.51), third in strikeouts (191) and WHIP (1.04).

I give both Joe Mauer and Alfonso Soriano B ratings. Although they aren’t having stellar seasons, considering the teams they’re on and what they’re expected to do, they are both having good seasons. Mauer is second in OBP at .411, 14th in OPS and 20th in RBIs. Soriano is seventh in RBIs (85) and eighth in homers (25), the things the Cubs are paying him to do.

C.C. Sabathia and Jake Peavy also get Bs. Although Sabathia’s season is a bit down for him, it’s still a good season and Peavy is doing slightly better than that.

Plenty of underachievers

The C seasons are primarily average seasons, not spectacular but not awful. Cliff Lee, despite a horrible won-loss mark and an inability to win at home, has pitched relatively well. I could be persuaded to give him a B-minus.

Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history but still gets a D. Even that no-hit game can’t save his numbers from being awful. Tim Lincecum is also having a bad year, especially for him, although there’s always a chance he’ll bounce back next year into the A category.

While some of these contracts are starting to wear down, like those of Soriano and Zito, others still have a long way to go. For the Tigers, that’s a good thing if those players keep performing well. It may not be so wonderful for the Dodgers, now saddled with Gonzalez and Crawford for many years, or the Phillies, who won’t know for a while how Howard will rebound from his devastating injury in last year’s post-season.

Ranking the top 25 wage earners

Here are my rankings of the top 25 wage earners in 2012. The first list orders the players by their salary, the second by my rating of their 2012 season.

Player
2012 Salary (in millions)
2012 Grade
Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
$30
C
Vernon Wells (LAA)
$24.187
F
Johan Santana (NYM
$23.145
D
Mark Teixeira (NYY)
$23.125
C
Prince Fielder (Det)
$23
A
Joe Mauer (Min)
$23
B
C.C. Sabathia (NYY)
$23
B
Adrian Gonzalez (Bos/LAD)
$21.857
C
Cliff Lee (Phi)
$21.5
C
Miguel Cabrera (Det)
$21
A+
Carl Crawford (Bos/LAD)
$20.357
F
Justin Verlander (Det)
$20.1
A
Ryan Howard (Phi)
$20
C
Roy Halladay
$20
C
Felix Hernandez (Sea)
$19.7
A
Carlos Zambrano (Mia)
$19
D
Carlos Lee (Mia)
$19
D
Barry Zito (SF)
$19
D
Alfonso Soriano (Cubs)
$19
B
Torii Hunter (LAA)
$18.5
C
Tim Lincecum (SF)
$18.25
D
Jason Bay (NYM)
$18.125
F
Ichiro Suzuki (Sea/NYY)
$18
D
Josh Beckett (Bos/LAD)
$17
D
Jake Peavy (CWS)
$17
B
A+
 
 
Miguel Cabrera (Det)
$21
 
A
 
 
Prince Fielder (Det)
$23
 
Justin Verlander (Det)
$20.1
 
Felix Hernandez (Sea)
$19.7
 
B
 
 
Joe Mauer (Min)
$23
 
C.C. Sabathia (NYY)
$23
 
Alfonso Soriano (Cubs)
$19
 
Jake Peavy (CWS)
$17
 
C
 
 
Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
$30
 
Mark Teixeira (NYY)
$23.125
 
Adrian Gonzalez (Bos/LAD)
$21.857
 
Cliff Lee (Phi)
$21.5
 
Ryan Howard (Phi)
$20
 
Roy Halladay (Phi)
$20
 
Torii Hunter (LAA)
$18.5
 
D
 
 
Johan Santana (NYM)
$23.145
 
Carlos Zambrano (Mia)
$19
 
Carlos Lee (Mia)
$19
 
Barry Zito (SF)
$19
 
Tim Lincecum (SF)
$18.25
 
Ichiro Suzuki (Sea/NYY)
$18
 
Josh Beckett (Bos/LAD)
$17
 
F
 
 
Vernon Wells (LAA)
$24.187
 
Carl Crawford (Bos/LAD)
$20.357
 
Jason Bay (NYM)
$18.125
 

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