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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Big-money players don’t guarantee World Series rings

Baseball players get big bucks, but few clubs have earned a World Series trophy as a return on their massive investments

Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels.

Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Rob Tringali

Now that baseball finally has its first $400 million player in Mike Trout — actually $426.5 million, to be exact — there is one statistic that stands out along this escalator ride of leapfrogging megadeals.

Forget the advanced metrics. It’s not OPS, or anything as antiquated as batting average. No need for algorithms or even a calculator.

Call it WSRE, or World Series Rings Earned.

Counting last month’s big paydays for Bryce Harper ($330 million) and Manny Machado ($300 million), along with Nolan Arenado’s $260 million extension, the sport has accumulated 13 contracts above $200 million in the past two decades.

The list includes only a dozen players, however, because Alex Rodriguez gets counted twice, first for the $252 million deal with the Rangers, then the $275 million he got from the Yankees after opting out.

To cash those big checks, you’ve got to be a transcendent talent, right? But among that stellar crew — before and after signing those contracts — there is a total of five World Series rings, with A-Rod and David Price the only ones to get them during the term of their $200-plus million deal.

Albert Pujols has two, both with the Cardinals before jumping to the Angels for 10 years and $240 million. Robinson Cano has the other, won with the Yankees in 2009, before cashing in with the Mariners, also at 10 years for $240 million.

Something to think about on the eve of Opening Day, now that Harper is in Philadelphia and Machado in San Diego, two franchises separated by far more than the 3,000 miles between coasts. Both had to be patient to ultimately get the record cash they were seeking, waiting four months for teams to show them the money.

As for the eternal question “are these players worth it?” that answer is going to take a little while, at least another seven months, maybe by the end of October. Harper very well could be hoisting a trophy come November, riding that boat down Broad Street, as he said during his introductory news conference with the Phillies.

Machado? Not so much. That would take a miracle. For the Padres, signing Machado represents what they hope will be a long leap toward respectability. It won’t happen overnight. But the Phillies, having switched into win-now mode, didn’t simply view Harper as a ticket-selling mechanism, a charismatic bat with hair product, to lure people back to Citizens Bank Park. Harper becomes another weapon with a star’s skill set, and going to $330 million for him was an indication of just how badly Phillies owner John Middleton wanted another ring to add to the 2008 jewelry.

“All I really care about is getting that trophy,” Middleton said. “What we do know in Philadelphia is if we put a winning team on the field, they’re going to pack the house. They did it for Chase [Utley], and Jimmy [Rollins] and Ryan [Howard] and Cole [Hamels] and Brad [Lidge] and Chooch [Carlos Ruiz] and Shane [Victorino] and Jayson [Werth]. They’ll do it again.”

That group made it to back-to-back Series, beating the Rays and then losing to the Yankees, before the Phillies eventually broke under the weight of having to pay all those championship pieces.

With Harper, Middleton’s checkbook is in play again, and now that he’ll be a Phillie for the next 13 seasons, it would be stunning to imagine him not getting a parade or two out of it.

“I’m not going to tell you I’m going to win the MVP every single year,” Harper said. “Is that my goal? Absolutely. I want to do that every single year. But there’s going to be down years, there’s going to be good years, there’s going to years that are just OK. And for the team, for the organization, we’re going to try to do everything we can to win and play well.”

Even the most irrational, taser-dodging Philly fans aren’t expecting the MVP every year. To them, top five probably would work. And Harper’s only 26, with the 2015 MVP already on his resume. But the pressure on Harper is going to surpass what he experienced in D.C., which everyone can agree is a more reasonable place to play baseball.

Machado, however, found the one spot in 30 where a player can enjoy the perfect confluence of gorgeous weather, a spectacular stadium and a correspondingly-chill fan base. The Padres are just about locked into fourth place in the NL West, leaving Machado to go about his business trying to justify his $300 million in a ballpark that’s far more pitcher-friendly than Camden Yards.

Just like the signing of Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million contract last winter, Machado is an investment for the future as San Diego waits for its young talent to mature.

“This is just the beginning,’’ Machado said during his Padres intro. “Obviously, I have put up consistent numbers, as everyone knows, but at the end of the day, it’s about winning games. I know the production is going to be up there. I’m going to bring it every day. But at this point in my career, it’s about the numbers and helping your team win, but helping others out around you makes everyone else better.”

You’d think that last part would be included in the $300 million sticker price, but Machado knows he probably has some reputation-repairing to do as well after the way last season ended. As much as those “Johnny Hustle” comments were a bad look in October, his behavior didn’t end up hurting his bank account. Or if it did, certainly not enough to complain about.

The ironic thing about this offseason? Despite the two record free-agent signings, it may be more notable for the big names who chose to skip reaching the open market in the very near future. And how baseball’s shifting economic tides are making free agency a less attractive option.

Aside from Trout, who would have been a free agent in 2021, Arenado chose to stay put in Colorado for the next eight years, Jacob deGrom got a five-year, $135 million deal from the Mets, Paul Goldschmidt agreed to stick in St. Louis with a five-year, $130-million deal, Chris Sale re-upped with the Red Sox for five years, $145-million and Justin Verlander passed on his pending free agency in getting a two-year, $66-million extension from the Astros. Clubs also were aggressive locking up their younger stars, as Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, Alex Bregman, Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks agreed to sell off arbitration/free-agent years.

“People are placing their bets around the game,” Brian Cashman said last week as spring training was winding down. “Good for the players, good for the clubs, and hopefully everybody’s bets pay off.”

Not everybody can win, of course. But starting Thursday, some are going to feel better than others about those chips on the table.

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