This offseason, Gerrit Cole broke the record for largest total contract value for a pitcher, and the deal's $36 million average annual value is the highest in baseball history regardless of position. But the new Yankees ace doesn’t have the heftiest individual salary for the 2020 season.
The highest-paid player in '20 shouldn’t surprise you in the slightest. He’s the best player in the game, an individual who is already in Hall of Fame territory, stats-wise -- Mike Trout.
Cole, however, is second. In fact, seven of the top 10 in salary this year are pitchers. Here’s a look at that top 10, which is based solely upon 2020 salary, as opposed to the average annual value of the deal, because not every contract pays the same amount in every season.
The source for the salary info is Cot's Baseball Contracts, at Baseball Prospectus. Please note that you will see slight discrepancies at various sites that report salary info due to how they account for things like signing bonuses and deferred payments.
1) Mike Trout, CF, LAA: $37.7 million
Full contract: 12 years, $426.5 million (2019-30)
Trout signed an extension with the Angels just prior to the season last year, which replaced the final two years of his existing contract and made this the first -- and to date only -- $400 million contract in baseball history. He started off the new deal by winning American League MVP in '19, his third time receiving that honor. He was also an All-Star for the eighth time and won his seventh Silver Slugger Award. Trout enters this season ranking 57th all-time in Baseball Reference WAR among position players, just ahead of newly elected Hall of Famer Derek Jeter -- and he’ll continue to climb that list.
2) Gerrit Cole, RHP, NYY: $36 million
Full contract: 9 years, $324 million (2020-28)
Cole’s contract was record-breaking in a number of ways. How did he earn it? By being one of the best pitchers on the planet, especially in '19. He struck out a league-high 326 batters, set a single-season record with nine straight 10-strikeout games and didn’t lose a regular-season game after May 22. After that start, he went 16-0, with the Astros going 20-2 in his starts. He had a 1.78 ERA and a .171 opponents batting average, while striking out 226 batters in that span.
3) Max Scherzer, RHP, WSH: $35.9 million
Full contract: 7 years, $210 million (2015-21)
Simply put, Scherzer’s contract with the Nationals has been the best free-agent pitcher contract for the money. According to FanGraphs’ $/WAR calculation, Scherzer has already been worth more than the $210 million he signed for, with two years left on the deal. Not just more, but $50.9 million more -- the largest surplus in value for any $100 million pitcher contract. Scherzer’s contract has deferrals, so some of this salary will be paid after the deal’s expiration, but he’s listed at $35.9 million in salary for '20, thus putting him here on this list.
4-T) Zack Greinke, RHP, HOU: $35 million
Full contract: 6 years, $206.5 million (2016-21)
This will be the fifth year of a contract Greinke signed with the D-backs after opting out of his Dodgers contract following the '15 season. Last year, he was traded to the Astros at the Trade Deadline, so part of his '20 salary will be paid by Arizona. Greinke’s 2.93 ERA in '19 was the lowest he’s posted since signing the deal. He also was an All-Star for the sixth time and won both a National League Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award -- despite finishing his season in the AL.
4-T) Stephen Strasburg, RHP, WSH: $35 million
Full contract: 7 years, $245 million (2020-26)
After the World Series, Strasburg opted out of his prior seven-year, $175 million deal with the Nats that took him through the end of the '23 season. He stayed in D.C., however, signing a new pact with the reigning champs. As with Scherzer’s deal, there are deferrals involved, but $35 million is his listed 2020 salary. When he signed the deal, this was the largest contract for a pitcher, by both total value and average annual value -- but Cole surpassed that the same week. After injury limitations in recent years, Strasburg threw 209 innings in '19 and received votes for both the Cy Young and MVP. Not to mention, he won the World Series MVP after making two starts, including a Series-saving Game 6 start in Houston in which he went 8 1/3 innings.
4-T) Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL: $35 million
Full contract: 8 years, $260 million (2019-26)
Arenado signed an extension with the Rockies in February 2019. The third baseman, whom the Rockies took in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft, has put together quite the resume in his seven-year career. He’s won the NL Gold Glove at third base in each of those seasons and been an All-Star in each of the past five years. In '19, he received MVP votes for the fifth straight year, too. His contract has an opt-out after the 2021 season.
7) Justin Verlander, RHP, HOU: $33 million
Full contract: 2 years, $66 million (2020-21)
This past year would have been the last of a seven-year extension Verlander signed with the Tigers, but instead, he signed an extension with Houston just prior to the 2019 season. He’ll get $33 million in both seasons and will be 38 years old at the end of the deal. Verlander won his second career Cy Young Award in '19, reaching 300 strikeouts for the first time in his 15-year career. He’d previously won the AL Cy Young in 2011, and that span between Cy Young wins was the longest in the history of the award.
8-T) David Price, LHP, LAD: $32 million
Full contract: 7 years, $217 million (2016-22)
Price’s $32 million salaries this year and next are the highest over the life of his deal, which he signed with the Red Sox entering the '16 season. At the time, it was the largest total value ever given to a pitcher. Like Greinke’s deal, Price’s will be split between his former team and the one that traded for him this offseason. Price had a strong '18 and worked past prior playoff struggles to help the Red Sox win a World Series, but he did not carry that momentum into '19. His 4.28 ERA last year was the second-highest of his career, behind only his 4.42 mark in 2009, his first full season in the Majors.
8-T) Manny Machado, 3B, SD: $32 million
Full contract: 10 years, $300 million (2019-28)
At the time, Machado’s deal was just the second $300 million pact in Major League history, but it’s since been surpassed. Machado’s $32 million includes a $30 million salary and $2 million of his signing bonus, which is allocated in that amount over each year of the deal. He has an opt-out after the 2023 season. Machado’s first year in San Diego yielded 3.1 WAR, his lowest total since he played 82 games as a 21-year-old in 2014.
10) Clayton Kershaw, LHP, LAD: $31 million
Full contract: 3 years, $93 million (2019-21)
Kershaw signed an extension with the Dodgers instead of opting out of his previous contract following the 2018 season. His $31 million includes a base salary and payout of his signing bonus, much like Machado’s contract. After failing to receive Cy Young votes in '18 for the first time since 2010, Kershaw again appeared on ballots in '19, finishing tied for eighth, even in a year when he missed the start of the season due to injury. With Kershaw working out at Driveline in the offseason, we’ll see what '20 holds for the lefty.
Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.