Was it wise for the Mariners to spend $240 million for 10 years on Robinson Cano? Were the Yankees insane to write a check for $155 million to a pitcher who’s never stepped onto a Major League Baseball mound? How can anyone — even Clayton Kershaw — deliver value on a contract worth over $30 million per year?
Only time will tell, though it’s been incredibly hard for clubs to get an honest return for the wild investments they’ve made in star players over the past 15 years. You only need to glance at the contract terms of Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and Barry Zito to recall a few free agent deals that became nightmares for management. If there is anything at all to learn from these deals, it’s not to pay big money for star players who will end up over 40 (as the Mariners did with Cano), don’t invest heavily in an unproven entity (as the Yankees did with Tanaka), and don’t saddle your franchise with an enormous contract, no matter the player (as the Dodgers did with Kershaw).
Yet, there’s a flip side to free agent signings. Whether they involve players who exceeded their promise or ballyhooed stars who met their sky-high expectations, there are several examples of MLB players who delivered a real return on the investment their teams’ owners made in them. One recipient of this rare gift was George Steinbrenner.
Here are five baseball players who managed to shut out the pressure and perform at the level they were paid to do. Contracts considered were from 1999 or later.