Major League Baseball teams started going yard on player contracts when Kevin Brown became baseball’s first nine-figure player in 1998. And by 2007, Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $275m contract with the New York Yankees. But since 2015, MLB salaries have been in a slump.
With adjusted inflation even Bryce Harper (who signed a record 13-year, $330m deal with the Phillies this year) can’t match what the Yankees shelled out for A-Rod 12 years ago.
So why the small ball?
Blame Billy Beane
Over the years, clubs have fielded armies of statisticians who’ve realized it’s not always a home run to pay top dollar for top-level talent. Why swing for one when you can field an entire infield for the same price?
Now, many top players have lost interest in free agency, instead opting to sign extensions with their current teams for a set salary after their contracts expire.
The free agency curveball
In 2018, superstar Mike Trout stayed with the Anaheim Angels instead of testing the market. That led to the largest contract extension in baseball history.
Anyone else would’ve likely made more in free agency than by signing an extension — but if you get hurt when you’re about to become a free agent, you could lose out on the grand slam tickle.