MLB deferred salaries history: Shohei Ohtani joins Bobby Bonilla, Max Scherzer with unique long-term contract

When the news of Shohei Ohtani’s contract with the Dodgers first dropped, it was a staggering number to look at — 10 years, $700 million, with an annual average salary of $70 million. 

If fans didn’t think their jaws could drop to the floor any more, pick it up and think again.

The baseball world was stunned even more a couple of days later when the news of Ohtani’s deferred payments came out. The two-way stud is pushing $680 million of his contract until 2034 and beyond, giving Los Angeles much more financial flexibility to build around him — a move that reportedly was an idea Ohtani presented to the team. 

Ohtani isn’t the first player to defer payments to future years. Baseball has a history of players deferring salaries to later dates, resulting in stars still getting paychecks from MLB clubs years after hanging up the cleats. 

In fact, two of the Dodgers’ biggest signings in recent years, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, both have deferred salaries in their contracts. They are just not nearly as much as Ohtani’s. 

MORE: Why Shohei Ohtani will only make $2 million a year with Dodgers

Here is a look at other crazy deferred salaries in MLB history:

MLB deferred salaries history

Bobby Bonilla, Mets

Before Ohtani’s massive deal, there was no contract with crazier deferred salaries than that of Bobby Bonilla. The former Mets outfielder originally signed a five-year contract worth $29 million with the Mets in 1991. At the time, it was the richest contract in team sports. Bonilla was traded away in his fourth season in New York before returning to the Big Apple in 1998.

He was released from the Mets after the 1999 season, but the team elected to defer the $5.9 million. The result? The creation of Bobby Bonilla Day every July 1: the date each year from 2011 through 2035 that the former player receives a payment of $1.19 million.

Bruce Sutter, Braves

Bruce Sutter isn’t exactly a household name in the MLB world, but the dominant reliever had a Hall of Fame career working out of the bullpen. Sutter signed a six-year, $9.1 million contract with the Braves in 1984, however his salary was actually converted into interest payment on his money. That meant that Sutter earned $750,000 per year over those six years with Atlanta. 

Since 1990, the Braves have paid Sutter $1.12 million every year, with his final payment of $9.1 million given to him in 2022. In total, the reliever made $47 million from the contract.

Ken Griffey Jr., Reds

Ken Griffey Jr.’s time with the Reds was fairly forgettable. Between an underwhelming production with his bat and all his injuries, the Hall of Fame outfielder was far past his prime when he was in Cincinnati. However, he was still paid big to stay with his hometown team, signing a nine-year, $112.5 million contract extension with the Reds in 2000. The deal included $57.5 million in deferred payments, with four percent interest to be paid from 2009 to 2024.

“The Kid” had a salary hit of $3.59 million in 2023 on the Reds’ books, which was higher than every player on the roster besides Joey Votto. Griffey will receive one more deferred payment of roughly $3.5 million in 2024. 

    Manny Ramirez, Red Sox

    Manny Ramirez has been out of MLB since 2011 and hasn’t suited up for the Red Sox since 2008, but he’s still getting paid by major league organizations. Ramirez signed an eight-year, $160 million contract with the Red Sox prior to the 2001 season, but he did not finish out the deal with Boston. During the 2008 season, Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers in a three-team deadline deal.

    At the time of the trade, the Red Sox still were on the hook for $32 million, so the two sides agreed to defer the payments. Since 2010, Ramirez has been paid nearly $2 million annually, with his final payment set to go through in 2026. 

    MORE: How much endorsement money does Shohei Ohtani make on top of Dodgers contract?

      Chris Davis, Orioles

      Chris Davis was one of the league’s greatest sluggers in the mid-2010s. The Orioles handed him a seven-year, $161 million deal, with $42 million deferred over 15 years. The parameters were that Davis would be paid in 10 installments of $3.5 million annually each July 1 from 2023 2032, and then five installments of $1.4 million each on July 1 from 2033 to 2037.

      The deal itself was an abysmal one, as Davis’ statistics plummeted immediately after getting the bag and the outfielder/designated hitter retired in 2021. When he retired in 2021, Davis agreed to receive his 2022 salary of $17 million over a span of three years. In total, Davis will be on Baltimore’s books for another decade. 

      Max Scherzer, Nationals

      Max Scherzer is one of the highest-paid players of all time, and he’s still set to make many millions once he finally retires. The two-time World Series champion signed a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals in 2015. He elected to defer half of his deal to be paid through 2028, putting $105 million in deferrals. The $15 million increments began in 2022 and will continue to be on Washington’s books for another five years. 

      Even though the 39-year-old hasn’t played for them since 2019, Scherzer’s salary in 2023 was the second-highest on the Nationals. Not only that, but Scherzer is set to be on three different payrolls next season — his current contract with the Rangers, the retained salary by the Mets and the deferred salary by the Nationals. 

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