Why this inactive slugger might be MLB's highest-paid player in 2020


The 2020 Major League Baseball season — if it happens — will feature several unique elements. That much is already clear as the league and MLB Players Association attempt to formulate a plan to resume play amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the strangest possibilities that exist? The highest-paid player this season might be an inactive slugger who has not appeared in a game since July 18, 2016.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, former Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder is in position to hold that distinction if there are no significant changes to the shortened-season pay structure previously agreed to by the owners and players.

Here’s how, per Rosenthal’s report:

Prince Fielder, owed $24 million in the final year of his contract with the Rangers, is to receive his full termination pay under terms of the March agreement between the owners and players regarding a shortened or canceled 2020 season.

The amount Fielder receives might decrease if the parties reach a subsequent deal to reduce the pay of players who were released before the COVID-19 pandemic, but such an adjustment is unlikely, sources say. The players are no longer on 40-man rosters, and the sport’s collective-bargaining agreement seemingly protects the guarantees in their contracts.

In the March agreement referenced by Rosenthal, the players agreed to prorated salaries for the 2020 season based on the number of games played. On Monday, the owners approved a league proposal calling for an 82-game season. The players have not yet agreed to the proposal, but if they do players will receive just a little over half of their 2020 salary.

The owners are also seeking a 50-50 split of revenues, which didn’t sit well at all with union executive director Tony Clark. In other words, the money issues are far from settled. But the current agreement would bump Fielder into an unusual position.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is currently slated to be MLB’s highest-paid player this season at $37.7 million. Gerrit Cole is close behind at $36 million. The 29-year-old right-hander signed a nine-year, $324 million free-agent deal with the New York Yankees over the winter.

Trout would receive just under $19 million, while Cole’s salary would drop to just over $18 million if the prorated salaries stay in place. They are two of 24 players scheduled to earn at least $24 million this season.

Retired slugger Prince Fielder could be MLB's highest paid player in 2020. Here's how.. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Retired slugger Prince Fielder could be MLB's highest paid player in 2020. Here's how.. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Fielder, who was deemed medically unable to play after suffering a second herniated disk in his neck in 2016, would have been entering the final year of the nine-year, $214 million contract he originally signed with the Tigers.

The Rangers officially released Fielder after the 2017 season.

Editor’s note: This article previously described Prince Fielder as retired. He has not officially retired, which is why he’s still eligible to be owed money.

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