MLB free agency is underway, and two bonafide superstars—Bryce Harper and Manny Machado—are available for all 30 major-league teams to sign. The exact amount of money they’ll be able to get is unclear, but they’re going to command hundreds of millions of dollars—and will get it—from the team that signs them.
However, Harper and Machado would not be the highest-paid free agents if every player in the majors hit the open market. So if all things were equal (no arbitration, exclusive rights, etc.), who would be the highest-paid players in baseball, and how much might they make? High-caliber starting pitchers can push for league-leading yearly salaries, but they are excluded from this because they probably wouldn’t get the same 8-12-year commitments position players would.
10. Jose Ramirez
Projected deal: 8 years, $216 million
Just eight current players have salaries over $26 million, and this would put Jose Ramirez in that class. The Indians currently have their versatile slugger at a major bargain for just $26 million total through 2021 with team options for 2022 and 2023, but he would’ve received a much bigger contract if he became an unrestricted free agent. And after the last two seasons he’s had (.318/.374/.583, .270/.387/.552 while upping his home run total from 29 to 39), his value has only increased. This season, Ramirez became a rare member of the 30-30 (30 home runs, 30 stolen bases) club.
9. Corey Seager
Projected deal: 10 years, $300 million
After undergoing Tommy John surgery and not being on the roster for another run to the World Series, a lot of people might have forgotten about Corey Seager among baseball’s best. Power-hitting lefty shortstops are rare, and Seager will turn just 25 next spring. The projected 10-year, $300-million deal might be conservative considering Seager can probably make an easy switch to third base if he loses some athleticism into his 30s.
8. Manny Machado
Projected deal: 10 years, $310 million
Manny Machado will be an interesting case study for how much a player of his caliber will make as an unrestricted free agent, but there are some variables to consider—like his actions during the postseason and his attitude in general. Machado is likely pushing for a deal over $300 million ($400 million is probably a stretch), and he’ll likely get it from a team that’s willing to spend.
7. Christian Yelich
Projected deal: 10 years, $325 million
If there’s an MLB contract that’s more team-friendly than Jose Ramirez’s, it’s likely 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich’s deal with the Brewers. The seven-year, $49.6 million deal signed with the Marlins in 2015 is now paying off for the Brew Crew, as Milwaukee has a true all-around superstar under contract at a major discount through 2022 (including a club option). If Yelich was to hit the open market today, he’d almost certainly get over $300 million as a Gold Glover that hits for contact and power with plus ability as a base runner.
6. Kris Bryant
Projected deal: 12 years, $384 million
Kris Bryant already received a record first-year-arbitration salary of $10.85 million, and he still has a few years before he can hit the open market as a free agent. But if he was available right now for all 30 teams to sign, a long-term contract in the 10-12-year range pushing $300 to $400 million would be a real possibility. Bryant has 107 home runs with a .285 average through four seasons, including an injury-plagued 2018 in which he had just 13 homers in 102 games. The former NL MVP and World Series champion is on the Hall of Fame track.
5. Jose Altuve
Projected deal: 10 years, $330 million
Jose Altuve just inked a five-year, $150 million contract earlier this year, but he was under team control and wouldn’t have seen free agency for a couple more seasons. If he was available for any team to sign today, it’s easy to see him doubling the early total along with a nice increase in yearly salary. The five-foot-six star should remain a consistent force for at least the next several years.
4. Bryce Harper
Projected deal: 12 years, $432 million
We’ll see what happens, but Bryce Harper might get much less than this—both by year and by salary—from the team that signs him. Or maybe he’ll somehow get even more. Whatever happens, he’s going to be a wealthy guy whenever he makes his decision. If he just wants to get his huge payday out of the way and just worry about playing ball for the rest of his career, something like a 12-year deal is the way to go. And at $36 million per year, it’s not so outrageous for MLB teams to pay.
3. Nolan Arenado
Projected deal: 10 years, $375 million
Nolan Arenado is about a year and a half older than Bryce Harper, so it might be tough for him to get a 12-year deal in this hypothetical scenario, but he will probably get a higher yearly salary than Harper when he hits free agency—which is set to happen after next season, so we’ll find out soon enough. Arenado is an elite power hitter; and he’s won a Gold Glove six consecutive seasons, or every year he’s been in the big leagues. The All-Star third baseman plays the game extremely hard, so he’s an easy sell to fans, too.
2. Mookie Betts
Projected deal: 10 years, $400 million
Mookie Betts just turned 26, and he’s coming off a World Series season in which he’s likely to take home AL MVP after hitting .346 with 32 home runs and 129 runs scored. He’s won a Gold Glove in each of the past three seasons, and he’s in the 30-30 club as a rare player that has power with great base-running ability. If Harper doesn’t hit the mark this year, then when Betts becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2021 (if the Red Sox don’t sign him to an extension before then), he should have a good chance to become the MLB’s second $400 million player, after the most valuable player in baseball.
1. Mike Trout
Projected deal: 13 years, $585 million
At $585 million, Trout’s projected total contract if he was a free agent right now is $150 million more than anyone else, but it’d be worth it for the team that signs him. The 27-year-old is on track to have one of the best careers in the history of baseball, and he’ll help fill the seats every night. Other players will want to play with the greatest, while a franchise’s fans will get to follow the rest of his career—including a potential chase for Barry Bonds’ home run record, among other big-time milestones. As a living legend, Trout is worth at least half a billion dollars for an MLB franchise.