Scherzer, Seager deals make history

Largest FA contracts in history by total value and average annual value

November 29th, 2021

We've already seen some massive free-agent deals signed this offseason, but where do they rank among the largest free-agent contracts in baseball history?

Here are the 10 biggest contracts MLB free agents have ever received, both by total value and average annual value.

The second of those lists is about to get a new No. 1 -- Max Scherzer on Monday agreed to a three-year, $130 million deal with the Mets, sources told MLB.com's Anthony DiComo, that will give him the largest free-agent contract on a per-year basis, at $43.3 million. Just hours later, Corey Seager agreed to a 10-year, $325 million deal with the Rangers, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

(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. His deal was the biggest free-agent contract in the history of the four major North American professional sports. In his third year with the Phillies after signing his record deal, Harper won his second career National League MVP Award in 2021.

2) Corey Seager, Rangers: 10 years, $325 million (2022-31) (sources)

Seager earned his historic deal on the heels of slashing .306/.394/.521 with 16 home runs, 57 RBIs and a .915 OPS in 95 games for the Dodgers in 2021. That came one year after finishing ninth in 2020 National League MVP voting and earning MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series en route to Los Angeles' title run. Along with his pair of postseason MVP Awards, Seager was also the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year and he was a two-time All-Star before signing his historic deal at the age of 27.

3) Gerrit Cole, Yankees: 9 years, $324 million (2020-28)

With Cole’s deal setting a record for pitchers, both of the top two free-agent deals by total value were given to No. 1 overall picks. Cole was taken first overall by the Pirates in 2011, while Harper was first overall in ‘10. Cole’s nine years are also the second most for any pitcher contract, trailing only Wayne Garland’s 10-year contract in the 1970s, in a far different era of free agency. Cole has delivered a 3.11 ERA with 337 strikeouts over 254 1/3 innings in two seasons with the Yankees, though his loss to the Red Sox in the 2021 AL Wild Card Game (2 IP, 2 HR, 3 R) is a blemish on his early résumé with the Bronx Bombers.

4) Manny Machado, Padres: 10 years, $300 million (2019-28)

Machado holds the distinction as being the first $300 million free agent in MLB history with the deal he inked with San Diego. An elite offense/defense two-way player, Machado and shortstop phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. gave the Friars two superstars to build around on the left side of the infield.

5) 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."

6) 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).

7t) Anthony Rendon, Angels: 7 years, $245 million (2020-26)

Rendon was considered the best position player on the free-agent market after the 2019 season, and he got paid like it. He became just the sixth player to be an All-Star for a team that won the World Series, then leave in free agency that offseason. Rendon’s $35 million average annual value is the highest ever for a third baseman and tied for third highest regardless of position, with Strasburg. The only AAV higher? Cole’s $36 million and Trout’s $35.5 million.

7t) Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: 7 years, $245 million (2020-26)

When Strasburg opted out of his existing contract after winning the 2019 World Series, he still had $100 million due to him over four years. It turned out to be a highly lucrative decision. While Strasburg appeared to be far from certain to opt out when the season began, he proceeded to produce arguably his finest year, leading the NL in innings (209) and wins (18), posting a 3.32 ERA and 251 strikeouts while finishing fifth in the Cy Young Award race. He then put together one of the more spectacular postseason runs in history, culminating in a World Series MVP Award. Unfortunately for the Nats, Strasburg has made just seven starts and recorded a 5.74 ERA through the first two years of his seven-year contract.

9t) 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 sapped Pujols of his elite production after he arrived in Anaheim, and the amount of money the Angels had to pay him through his decline caused many to criticize the contract. But Pujols also had 1,180 hits with the Angels -- making him one of just nine players in MLB history with 1,000 hits in both leagues -- and 222 homers, including a 40-homer season and a pair of 30-homer seasons. He 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 further cemented his Hall of Fame legacy with the Angels.

9t) Robinson Canó, Mariners: 10 years, $240 million (2014-23)

Canó 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. Canó, now a member of the Mets, is sitting on 2,624 career hits entering his age-39 season in 2022, though his year-long suspension for violating MLB's performance-enhancing drug policy in 2021 (his second violation) could cost him a shot at 3,000.

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. Max Scherzer, Mets: $43,333,333 (2022-24) (sources)

2. Gerrit Cole, Yankees: $36 million (2020-28)

3t. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: $35 million (2020-26)

3t. Anthony Rendon, Angels: $35 million (2020-26)

5. Trevor Bauer, Dodgers: $34 million (2021-23)

6. Zack Greinke, D-backs: $34,416,666 (2016-21)

7. Corey Seager, Rangers: $32.5 million (2022-31) (sources)

8. David Price, Red Sox: $31 million (2016-22)

9t. Manny Machado, Padres: $30 million (2019-28)

9t. Max Scherzer, Nationals: $30 million (2015-21)