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How many players are earning guaranteed money in 2016 and beyond?


All things considered, baseball players have it pretty good.  Besides making more money in a few years than most of us make over the majority of our working careers, many players have guaranteed contracts that will pay them well into the future. This is not true for all players, as some players are under team control or playing out the end of an existing contract, hoping to sign a new one in the offseason.

Which begs the question, exactly how many players are guaranteed to collect a salary in 2016?  How about in 2017?  Again using the USA Today Baseball Salaries Database, the table below shows how many players have contracts guaranteed to pay them in each of the upcoming years:

Years Left on Contract

Total

%

0

687

79.1%

1

68

7.8%

2

43

5.0%

3

26

3.0%

4

19

2.2%

5

13

1.5%

6

6

0.7%

7

2

0.2%

8

3

0.3%

12

1

0.1%

Total

868

100.0%

Needless to say, I found the numbers in this table quite surprising. According to USA Today, of all 868 players under contract in 2015, 687 of them (79.1%) are not signed for 2016. This includes players who are under team control year-to-year until they become eligible for free agency. Among this group that can include rookie players as well as players who have been patiently waiting for their years of team control to end so they can enter the free agent market (such as David Price).  This can also include players who previously signed free agent contracts that end following the conclusion of the 2015 season (such as Yoenis Cespedes).

(For those who may be wondering, the player who has 12 more years on his contract – running through the 2027 season – is Giancarlo Stanton, unless he opts out of his contract before then.)

I fully expected more players to be expecting a paycheck beyond this season.  For these 79.1%, if they were to suffer a career-threatening injury this year, significant doubt would be case on their future earning potential.

From a team’s perspective, having players under contract long term can be a double-edged sword.  Chances are the Tigers will be ready to have Miguel Cabrera off their payroll by the end of the 2023 season (he’s one of the three players above with 8 more full years on his contract, along with Robinson Cano and Joey Votto).  On the other hand, many teams would welcome the “problem” of having a player like Mike Trout locked up through the year 2020 (Trout could easily join the rare group of players such as Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera who sign multiple 9 figure contracts over the course of their career).

Here are the teams with the most contract year obligations they have in the upcoming years:

Team

Contract Years Remaining

NYY

27

LAD

26

CIN

24

TEX

24

CHC

23

ATL

22

SEA

22

BOS

19

DET

19

CWS

18

MIN

18

SF

18

LAA

17

MIA

16

SD

16

STL

16

WSH

16

KC

15

CLE

13

TB

13

COL

12

MIL

11

NYM

9

PIT

9

HOU

8

BAL

7

OAK

6

TOR

6

PHI

5

ARI

4

Grand Total

459

While the Yankees have been performing well so far in 2015, for a team largely believed to be on the tail end of their competitive years and perhaps entering a phase in which they continue to struggle to reach the playoffs, they have a lot of contractual obligations to fulfill over the next few years (the 27 years are spread among 10 players, with Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka leading the way with five more years apiece). It’s also not surprising given that teams like Arizona, Philadelphia, and Toronto are leading the way with very little in the way of upcoming contractual obligations, given how they’ve been shedding salaries over the past year.

Of the teams believed to be “up-and-coming” like those in Houston, the North Side of Chicago, and others, the Astros may be best positioned for future success given how few contractual years they have to pay (8) in case some of their younger players don’t work out as planned.

Finally, it’s interesting to look at how guaranteed contracts are spread out by position.  The figures below represent the total number of guaranteed contract years for all existing contracts, which of course can include years in the past, not just going forward as the tables above have shown.

 Pos

Total Players

Total Years Under Contract

Average

C

69

123

1.78

DH

8

16

2.00

IF

198

467

2.36

OF

150

345

2.30

P

443

726

1.64

Note that all players can only be assigned to a single position, and there are very few players classified solely as a designated hitter.  The average length of contracts isn’t terribly surprising.  If there was one thing I would have expected differently it’s that I would have thought outfielders would have more guaranteed years than infielders, but the difference is so small it hardly matters.  Additionally, if offense continues to go down (or at least remain stagnant) I might expect elite offensive players to lock up a few more guaranteed years as pitchers become more and more expendable. (To be fair it’s likely that if the table were to be broken down by starting pitchers and relief pitchers, starters would have on average more guaranteed years.)

As we all know, professional baseball can be a very lucrative career.  But what the tables above remind us is that the vast majority of players at even the highest level are a single injury away from not collecting any more money from the sport starting in 2016 and beyond.

 



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