October 01, 2009
Compared to the rest of the working world, no professional athlete is underpaid. After all, a player earning the minimum yearly NBA salary ($457,558) is in the top one percent of American earners. But compared to other athletes who can earn $20 million not to play (Stephon Marbury) or $15 million to pitch 17 innings in a season (Jason Schmidt), there are plenty of players who are underpaid in comparison to the rest of their peers
With that in mind, Yahoo! Sports Blogs has ranked the 10 most underpaid athletes in sports, with the understanding that the word underpaid is all relative. The list is heavy on baseball and basketball players, owing to the restrictions those sports place on rookie contracts. (Baseball's free agency/arbirtation system is confusing and archaic, while NBA players are subject to slotted salaries based on draft position).
For many reasons, the NFL tends to have fewer underpaid players owing to the league's lack of rookie scale, non-guaranteed contracts and threats of holdout. Players who would have been on this list last year (Maurice Jones-Drew, James Harrison) signed massive extensions in the offseason despite still being under contract for 2009. It's rare for a player in football to stay underpaid for long. And to show how static these things can be, New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel would have been near the top of this list one year ago. Now, after signing a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, he might be on the most overpaid list.
But that's a topic for another day. For now, the top 10 underpaid athletes in sports:
10) Mark Reynolds, MLB, Arizona Diamondbacks, 3B, $422,500 -- Beginning our list is the guy who just broke his own dubious major league record for most strikeouts in a season. Yes, he's underpaid. Look past all the Ks and you'll find an excellent young player who hits for power, drives in runs and gets on base decently enough for someone who has gone down on strikes 212 times so far this season. As Big League Stew writes, Reynolds could stand to cut down on the strikeouts, but even if he doesn't, he'll command a huge salary when he is eligible for arbitration after next season.
9) Joe Flacco, NFL, Baltimore Ravens, QB, $1,300,000 -- Like most first round picks, Flacco signed an incentive-laden deal that could eventually get him upwards of $17 million in guaranteed money. For this year, at least, he'll be getting $1.3 million to quarterback a team many think is the best in football. That's a pretty good deal for a player who already has more playoff wins than high-priced talent such as Tony Romo and Matt Schaub.
8) Rajon Rondo, NBA, Boston Celtics, G, $2,623,326 -- The engine that fuels the mighty, aging Celtics is the 22-year-old guard who played his college ball at Kentucky. Rondo is in year three of a four-year deal and is slated to get paid less in 2009-2010 than most backups. Boston has until Halloween to extend Rondo's contract, so it's quite possible that Rondo will go from underpaid to well-paid by the end of the month.
7) Martin Brodeur, NHL, New Jersey Devils, G, $5,200,000 -- The best goalie of all-time took a hometown discount to stay with the New Jersey Devils. Five million might seem like a lot for a 37-year old goalie, but that was almost $2 million less than Henrik Lundqvist got from the Rangers last year, despite the fact that Brodeur has three Stanley Cups, four Vezina trophies and has been named an all-star 10 times while Lundqvist had a really nice rookie season.
6) Hanley Ramirez, MLB, Florida Marlins, SS, $5,500,000 -- Even though he's getting paid twleve times more than he did last year, the 25-year old shortstop for the Florida Marlins is still a tremendous bargain. Ramirez is the consumate five-tool player, hitting for average and power, exhibiting blazing speed on the basepaths and combining top-notch fielding ability with a great arm. He signed a five-year, $70 million deal at the beginning of 2008 to avoid arbitration, but could have commanded much more on the open market. Normally Florida trades away its young talent to keep payroll down (that's how they got Ramirez -- he was part of trade that sent budding superstar Josh Beckett to Boston), but with the Marlins set to open a new stadium in 2012, Ramirez could be one of the first "homegrown" Marlins to stay with the team long-term.
5) Adrian Peterson, NFL, Minnesota Vikings, RB, $2,821,320 -- Like Ramirez, Peterson is a star whose compensation is adequate, but not in line with his talents. Despite leading the NFL in rushing yards for the second consecutive season, Adrian Peterson was the 28th highest paid running back in the NFL in 2008, behind such luminaries as Ahman Green, Cadillac Williams, Kevin Faulk, Greg Jones and Ovie Mughelli. The rookie contract Peterson signed after being drafted No. 7 out of Oklahoma guaranteed him $17 million and it's heavily backloaded and filled with incentives (for instance, Peterson will get $2.5 million next year for rushing for over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons), but even those additional bonuses aren't enough to bring Peterson in line with what he deserves.
4) Zack Greinke, MLB, Kansas City Royals, P, $3,750,000 -- Sports Illustrated put Greinke on its cover in May with the headline "The Best Pitcher in Baseball." Greinke hasn't let down since, having one of the best pitching seasons of the last decade en route to what should be his first Cy Young Award. The four-year, $38 million deal he signed in January to avoid arbitration will end up being a bargain for the hapless Royals.
3) Elvis Dumervil, NFL, Denver Broncos, LB, $535,000 -- Dumervil might be most famous for getting stomped on by Michael Vick's brother during a college football bowl game, but the Broncos linebacker has quietly turned into one of the game's premiere pass rushers. His six sacks through three games is second in the NFL. Dumervil is set for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, which means his time on this list will be brief. Expect a deep-pocketed owner (Dan Snyder or Jerry Jones) to make Elvis a very rich man next March.
2) LeBron James, NBA, Cleveland Cavaliers, F, $15,771,992 -- How can a player getting a shade under $16 million in 2009-2010 be considered underpaid? When your name is LeBron James. Sure, LeBron gets the maximum for a player of his service and will be eligible for free agent riches in nine months. But, for now, the $15 million+ he gets (a lot less than Tracy McGrady or Jermaine O'Neal) make him a steal. Not only does LeBron make the Cavs a title contender, but he also played savior to the franchise as a whole. In the season before LeBron was drafted, the Cleveland Cavaliers finished dead last in NBA attendance, barely filling half the seats at their stadium. Now it's rare for there to be an empty seat at the Quicken Loans Arena. Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don't Lie said James' rookie contract (four years, $19 million) was the greatest NBA value of the decade. But his extension wasn't bad either.
1) Tim Lincecum, MLB, San Francisco Giants, P, $695,000 -- The lanky 25-year old is set to win his second straight Cy Young Award after another stellar season that will see him lead the NL in strikeouts, finish second in ERA and end up in a tie for the most complete games and shutouts. And, for all this, Lincecum gets paid almost 20 times less than another pitcher on his team (Barry Zito). He'll enter arbitration this year but may sign a Greinke-like extension with the Giants, just going to show that in all sports, greatness doesn't stay unrewarded for long.