Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Felix Hernandez All Candidates to Follow $30 Million Man Alex Rodriguez

Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Felix Hernandez All Candidates to Follow $30 Million Man Alex Rodriguez Editor’s Note: NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will examine one hot-button baseball topic each day in December. On Monday, he looked at which closer is tops in the bigs.

The general consensus is that the New York Yankees will end up regretting at least portions of their massive contract extension with Alex Rodriguez. The star third baseman already has been hampered by hip issues, is approaching 35, has seen his OPS drop in three straight seasons and will be paid at least $20 million through 2017, in addition to payouts when he reaches certain home run milestones.

In the midst of the 10-year, $275 million deal are three seasons, the last of which is 2011, that pay Rodriguez a base salary of over $30 million, a record for the sport.

At some point, when Rodriguez is retired, living in Los Angeles and dating another blonde, the $30 million mark will have been surpassed multiple times. The question is, after Alex Rodriguez, who will be the next $30 million man?

The answer may come before we even play meaningful baseball again. Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals could reach an extension prior to the 2011 season, and if Pujols gets what he wants, his contract will approach that of Rodriguez’s in both years and annual value. At the very least, it should surpass that of Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard, who will make $25 million per year from 2014-16.

According to one poll of high-ranking baseball officials, the Pujols deal could be for as high as $30 million annually, but likely more in the $27 million range. Should the annual amounts form somewhat of a bell curve, a few of those years could reach the magical mark that only A-Rod has experienced.

Others will be watching the Pujols situation with their own futures in mind. Guys like Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder, also a potential free agent next offseason, are hopeful the Cardinals’ superstar gets everything he can from what has been a player-friendly market this offseason. But Fielder is not even in such a discussion. He’s good, but not that good. Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez will be approaching the age of 31 when he next hits the market. If, by some chance, he is still trending upward at the time and the market has remained favorable to big deals, he could be a candidate. However, the chances are he’ll be too far into or past his prime to elicit such big money.

Indeed, after Pujols, there are not many position players who will challenge that mark any time soon. For that, we might need to turn to the men in the middle. There, we find one Felix Hernandez, arguably the best pitcher in baseball and still only 24. Hernandez will be 28 when his current deal with Seattle expires and fixing to cash in big time.

That was the same age at which CC Sabathia inked a $161 million deal with the Yankees, who pay him $23 million annually through 2015. Of course, Cliff Lee will make $25 million over the final two years of his Philadelphia Phillies contract, and he’ll be in his late 30s at the time. Certainly, a horse like Hernandez, if he stays healthy, will have some suitors willing to go higher than that.

The average annual salary topped $3 million for the first time last year. Rodriguez may be alone in his camp for now, but the trend continues to suggest he will have some company soon, and it may be in the form of a pair of kings, Albert and Felix.

After Alex Rodriguez, who will be the next $30 million man in baseball? Leave your comments below.

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