Why are basketball players paid so high

Giancarlo Stanton just signed the biggest contract in sports history. The next 10 biggest contracts in sports history all went to baseball players. 29 baseball players have signed contracts worth more than Kobe Bryant’s deal with the Lakers, the largest among any of the three other major U.S. sports.

Elvis Andrus’ deal with the Rangers is bigger in terms of total value than the one LeBron James signed with the Heat. Peyton Manning has earned less money to date than what Joey Votto stands to make by the time he’s Manning’s age, and Votto — though he’s an excellent player — is just no Peyton Manning.

No baseball player is, really: By nature of his position and his sport, Manning impacts all his team’s games in a way the best MLB players never can. A position player typically gets only four or five plate appearances and a few defensive chances. A starting pitcher only works once out of every five games. Manning’s a factor in every one of the Broncos’ offensive plays. Same for LeBron James with the Cavs.

Stars in other sports might get more magazine covers and bigger endorsement deals. But due to a variety of factors, MLB superstars command the biggest contracts. Here are five reasons why:

1. There’s no salary cap or max contracts

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If every sport’s economy rewarded its players the same way baseball does, LeBron James would almost certainly have the largest contract of any athlete. But James is subject to the NBA’s byzantine salary-cap and contract limitations. Major League Baseball has a luxury tax for teams with huge payrolls, but the threshold is so high that it won’t likely affect Stanton’s Marlins anytime soon. And big-market clubs like the Yankees and Dodgers are routinely willing to blow past that threshold to sign marquee free agents.

NFL teams maintain 53-man active rosters and have a salary cap of $133 million. MLB teams have 25 guys on their active rosters for the first five months of the season, and seven teams spent more than the NFL maximum on payroll in 2014.

2. They have a strong union

Marvin Miller (PHOTO: AP Photo)

The MLBPA has made its share of missteps, but the union’s progress under legendary director Marvin Miller paved the way for the giant contracts ballplayers get today. In his tenure leading the MLBPA, Miller helped raise minimum salaries from $19,000 to $326,000, established the union’s right to collective bargaining agreements with the league, and ended the sport’s antiquated reserve clause to usher in free agency for players.

Unlike in the NFL, MLB contracts are guaranteed, so players stand to earn all the money their teams have committed to them even if they are cut from the rosters. People sometimes act like this is a bad thing, but the massive contracts show that there’s a ton of money in baseball, and if it weren’t going to players, it’d likely be staying in owners’ already giant pockets.

3. They play 162 games a season

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This is a big one: Because the baseball season is so long, teams provide tons and tons of reliable, popular content for regional sports networks. Though MLB’s postseason TV ratings often draw negative comparisons to their counterparts in other sports, 12 different MLB teams provided the top-rated prime-time programming in their markets this summer. Local networks pay hundreds of millions a year for teams’ broadcasting rights, funneling money into the game and ultimately to the players who make it so entertaining.

4. They are easier to quantify

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The comprehensiveness of MLB’s statistics and the ability to distinguish individual players’ contributions from those of their teammates mean that baseball players often come with less risk than their colleagues in other sports. An NFL GM can rarely be certain that a wide receiver will provide elite-level production once he is separated from his previous quarterback and offensive coordinator.

With a player like Stanton, the Marlins take on relatively little risk he will completely collapse anytime soon. Even despite Stanton’s injury history, he’s a safe bet to continue producing huge offensive numbers for the near future because he’s only 25 and baseball players’ aging curves have been so thoroughly mapped.

5. Their teammates come cheap

Remember Jose Fernandez? (PHOTO: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Most MLB players need more than three years of service time before they’re eligible for salary arbitration, so most MLB players make something close to the league minimum for the first three seasons of their careers. That helps keeps costs down for young clubs like the Marlins, who can maintain young superstars like pitcher Jose Fernandez on the cheap while they shell out for Stanton. And that’s to say nothing of the poorly paid minor league players who help guys like Stanton and Fernandez ply their trades en route to the big leagues.