Is Albert Pujols' $240 million flop an outlier among mega-contracts? Here's how the others fared

The Los Angeles Angels ended an era on Thursday, announcing they would be releasing future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in his 10th season with the team.

The decision marks the end of what was at the time one of the biggest deals in MLB history, and what has since become one of the biggest albatrosses in MLB history. During his time in Anaheim, Pujols went from being the most feared hitter of his generation to a player barely scratching replacement level.

It's hard not to watch Pujols' decline and start believing that mega-contracts are a bad idea. To get a more accurate picture of how those deals fare, though, you have to look at the whole landscape. Some deals are indeed disasters, but others are runaway successes and some are just fine.

Here's how each deal has played in MLB's mega-contract age:

Alex Rodriguez

How it started: 10 years, $252 million, Texas Rangers, signed Dec. 2000

How it started (again): 10 years, $275 million, New York Yankees, signed Dec. 2007

How it ended (both times): Can you really say that anything connected to A-Rod’s baseball career ended well? To start from the beginning, he was traded to the Yankees in 2004 and opted out of his first mega-deal in 2007. To that point he’d definitely earned it, hitting .305/.402/.593 with 370 home runs. He signed his second 10-year mega-deal before the 2008 season, and that’s when … well, we all know what happened. He did win a World Series in 2009, but then created a wave of headaches. The PED scandal. The one-year suspension. And on top of that, he was getting older and injured. He hit just .269 in his final eight seasons, and paired with the PED scandal and his constant petulant/adolescent teenager attitude, it couldn’t have ended worse.

Miguel Cabrera

How it started: 8 years, $248 million, Detroit Tigers, signed March 2014

How it ended: Better than anyone expected. Despite the fact that Miggy is hitting under .100 in 17 games this season, the seven years before that were remarkably productive on the whole. Even including 2021, he’s hit .293/.370/.476 since he signed that contract in 2014, and hit under .250 just twice. So why did we all stop hearing about Cabrera? He’s on the Tigers, who took a massive nosedive they’ve yet to recover from, and a bunch of young, talented players came in and stole the spotlight. He wasn’t the overwhelmingly amazing player he was at his peak, but the Tigers could have paid a lot more for a lot less. (See also: Pujols, Albert)

Albert Pujols

How it started: 10 years, $240 million, Los Angeles Angels, signed Dec. 2011

How it ended: Let’s just say it could have ended better. Over 10 seasons, Pujols hit .256/.311/.447 for the Angels, which includes his abysmal 2021 line of .198/.250/.372 in 24 games. Granted, he’s 41 and well past his prime, but you never want to see a legendary player end their career that way. Especially since his release on Thursday came about after Pujols was reportedly upset over the front office directing manager Joe Maddon to keep him out of the lineup against a pitcher he’d previously owned. Instead, remember his first season with the Angels, which was his best. Unfortunately, he couldn’t just copy and paste that for the other nine years.

Los Angeles Angels Albert Pujols walks to the dugout after he was called out on strikes during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Sunday, May 2, 2021, in Seattle.  (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Albert Pujols' contract was something of a disaster for the Angels. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Prince Fielder

How it started: 9 years, $214 million, Detroit Tigers, signed Jan. 2012

How it ended: It ended way earlier than anyone thought it would. Fielder was traded to the Texas Rangers before the 2014 season, just two years into his contract, and underwent season-ending neck surgery that June. It was a harbinger of things to come. His 2015 season was spectacular — he hit over .300 and played 158 games — but it was the last good season, or full season, that he'd ever have. He played just 89 games in 2016 and was forced to retire that August due to serious neck injuries. He was just 32, and we'll never stop wondering what might've been if he'd been able to stay healthy.

Clayton Kershaw

How it started: 7 years, $215 million, Los Angeles Dodgers, signed Jan. 2014

How it ended: Incredibly. Even when Kershaw wasn’t great, he was still really good. If your extremely expensive pitcher has a 3.03 ERA in his worst season, you’re getting more than your money’s worth. Kershaw had an ERA of 1.77 in the first season of his new contract, which is not a typo. It won him a Cy Young and an MVP, and he’d finish in the top five of Cy Young voting three more times. Kershaw’s blockbuster contract technically ended after the 2018 season when he opted out and re-signed with the Dodgers, but endpoints almost don’t matter here. There’s no way to make his contract look bad. He was worth every penny the Dodgers paid him.

That does it for the mega-deals that have already expired, but there are a few more nearing completion where we can already come to a reasonable conclusion:

Robinson Canó

How it started: 10 years, $240 million, Seattle Mariners, signed Dec. 2013

How it (almost) ended: Pretty well for the Mariners (despite a PED suspension), pretty badly for the New York Mets (especially because of a PED suspension). Canó’s contract might carry a reputation as a massive albatross, but the Mariners got five seasons of .296/.353/.472 hitting at the second baseman position from Canó, then traded him alongside Edwin Díaz for a group headlined by Jarred Kelenic, currently one of the top prospects in baseball. Canó’s Mets tenure has been less of a success, to put it mildly, with him posting the worst season of his career at the plate in 2019 and missing all of 2021 after testing positive for Stanozolol.

Joey Votto

How it started: 10 years, $225 million, Cincinnati Reds, signed April 2012

How it (almost) ended: Not too well, but Votto’s prime definitely made the contract worth it. From 2012 to 2018, only Mike Trout surpassed Votto’s .408 wOBA, though the Reds did little to leverage their perennial MVP candidate into an NL Central contender. Votto is one of the few active players with a trip to Cooperstown basically booked whenever he retires, and should go down as one of the best first basemen of the era.

Max Scherzer

How it started: 7 years, $210 million, Washington Nationals, signed Jan. 2015

How it (almost) ended: Quite possibly the most successful free agent signing of the century. Let’s just run through a list of Scherzer’s accomplishments in a Nationals uniform: Two Cy Young Awards, five All-Star berths, three strikeout titles, two no-hitters, a 20-strikeout game, two immaculate innings and a World Series ring. The Nationals made a big swing for Scherzer and will be rewarded with a Hall of Famer who enters Cooperstown in a Nationals cap. That kind of reward is why teams take these risks in free agency.

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer celebrates after Game 7 of the baseball World Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Houston. The Nationals won 6-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Signing Max Scherzer may be the best decision in Nationals history. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

David Price

How it started: 7 years, $217 million, Boston Red Sox, signed Dec. 2015

How it (almost) ended: It’s been … not great. Price was signed to that contract after a dazzling 2015 season that earned him second place in the AL Cy Young race, but he was never able to get close to that 2.45 ERA again. Over four seasons with Boston he pitched to a 3.84 ERA and started losing time to injuries. He missed most of 2017 with elbow inflammation, and sat out the final two months of 2019. Earning AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2018 and vanquishing postseason demons that October was as close as he’d get to his former glory. After being traded to the Dodgers, he opted out of the 2020 season. He has been used out of the bullpen so far this season, and his ERA currently sits at 5.59.

There are also some deals currently in progress.

Mike Trout

How it started: 12 year, $420 million, Los Angeles Angels, signed March 2019

How it’s going: Markedly better than the Angels’ other contract on this list. Really, what were we expecting? It’s Mike Trout. He was hitting .307/.416/.573 before signing the deal and has hit .301/.435/.647 since. He’s been the clear best player in baseball for nearly a decade now, and yet he’s on track for a career season this year. With several contracts now in the $300+ million range, this contract is already starting to look like a bargain.

Giancarlo Stanton

How it started: 13 years, $325 million, Miami Marlins, signed Nov. 2014

How it’s going: If you asked Yankees fans in 2019 or 2020, they’d tell you it’s the worst deal ever. Ask them now? Full of praise. The truth is harder to figure out. Stanton spent the first four years of this deal with the Marlins, and when he wasn’t injured, he turned in MVP (or MVP-worthy) performances. Since 2018 he’s been with the Yankees, and here’s the problem: he’s spent a lot of time injured. He’s healthy in 2021 and has come out swinging (and hitting), which is a great sign. Even better is that after 2021, he still has five more years on his contract. That’s five more years for him to hit every baseball into absolute oblivion, which is exactly why you sign, trade for, and pay Giancarlo Stanton.

Bryce Harper

How it started: 13 years, $330 million, Philadelphia Phillies, signed March 2019

How it’s going: Pretty well! Granted, his first two seasons (.262/.385/.518) weren’t overwhelmingly great, but when they signed him, the floundering Phillies were looking for a marquee player to energize the franchise and lead the team into a new era of success. He’s done, uh, some of that. The fans love him, his teammates love him, and he seems to love everyone back. As far as team success … that’s the piece that hasn’t hit quite yet, but it’s also not in his control. Harper has looked stellar in 2021 (prior to his current wrist injury), and he’s just 28. His ceiling is high, and there’s plenty of time for him to reach it again — whether or not the Phillies figure out how to succeed.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - APRIL 21: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrates a home run during the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park on April 21, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
It's been so far, so good for Bryce Harper on the Phillies. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Manny Machado

How it started: 10 years, $300 million, San Diego Padres, signed Feb. 2019

How it’s going: His first season wasn’t anything to write home about, but Machado showed why the Padres signed him last season with a third-place MVP finish as the team finally made the jump to the playoffs. He’s fallen off a bit through a month this season, but there probably isn’t much buyer’s remorse in San Diego right now. Of course, it’s worth noting that Machado tragically lost his contract through an ill-advised bet with a Dodgers fan, so it hasn’t all been good.

Nolan Arenado

How it started: 8 years, $260 million, Colorado Rockies, signed Feb. 2019

How it's going: Well, in the only full season since signing, Arenado hit 41 homers and finished sixth in MVP voting. But since then, the guy who negotiated the deal has traded it along with $50 million, then resigned as a laughingstock of baseball, so it could be going better for Colorado. The Rockies' fall was hardly Arenado's fault, though a down (and pandemic-shortened) 2020 created some worries. He's been fine with the St. Louis Cardinals so far, and will hopefully enjoy a bit more team success.

There are also the contracts of Mookie Betts, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr., but those are a bit too recent for us to pass any sort of judgment on right now (though a World Series ring already makes it hard for Betts' deal to not be a success).

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