When the Seattle Mariners unveiled their new second baseman, Robinson Cano, at a Safeco Field press conference last month, the get-together was attended by one of Cano's agents, Jay-Z.
The hip-hop magnate was smiling. Cano was smiling. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon were smiling. Many residents of the city of Seattle, presumably, were smiling.
Their team, which has suffered through some tough years of late and had been unable to land some big stars -- including free-agents Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton, and Justin Upton in a trade rejected by the player -- over the past three winters, finally landed a big one. No, make that the biggest one.
"I think it can help an awful lot," Zduriencik said. "We have elite pitching and we're going to get better. But we didn't have an elite player on the field. And I think, when you're going to put that player there, if I am his teammate right now, I am some kind of pumped."
Cano, at 10 years and $240 million, or $24 million per year, owns one of the largest contracts in the history of the sport. However, when it comes to his average salary, Cano is just one of a growing number of players who have cracked that $20 million mark.
"It goes to the fact that these teams are anticipating revenue from regional television networks, and the new cable agreements are an accelerant to the spending," said David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute.
"The owners feel as though they're going to get that money back, and the cash flowing in from media does not seem to be ending any time soon. I think that what's pretty clear, is that the overall interest in sports and entertainment and media is just continuing to grow."
So is the list of $20 million men.
Alex Rodriguez, who on Saturday was suspended for 162 games (plus any Yankees postseason games this season), signed a 10-year, $275 million deal with New York in 2007. That deal came on the heels of a 10-year, $252 million contract signed with Texas.
In Detroit, Tigers ace Justin Verlander leads a healthy list of pitchers who have exceeded $20 million per season during the life of their current contracts. Verlander, who was extended by Detroit in late March 2013 to the tune of seven total years and $180 million, or $25.7 million average overall. That includes the final two years of his existing contract plus the $140 million, or $28 million per year, over the final five years of the deal.
Verlander joins Cano's new Mariners teammate, Felix Hernandez (seven years, $175 million, or $25 million per year), plus Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke ($24.5 million per year), Yankees lefty CC Sabathia ($24.4 million per year), Phillies southpaws Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels ($24 million per year) and Giants ace Matt Cain ($21.25 million per year).
In the cases of Verlander, Hernandez, Hamels and Cain, the pitchers were still in their 20s and had only been with one franchise. The big dollars came via contract extensions that bought up free-agent years. It was, in all cases, a combination of reward for and investment in excellence at what most baseball people would consider the most important position in the game.
"Cole grew up with us," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said after making Hamels' five-year extension official in July 2012. "He's still growing. He's a special player. He's someone who's grown up in our organization. We think he's one of the elite left-handers in the game. We're happy to have gotten it done.
"We think this is the best way to give ourselves a chance to bring home another championship here in Philadelphia, with Cole [rather] than without him. And we've expressed that to him pretty explicitly."
Similar motivation ran through the reasoning behind the huge deals for $20 million men among position players, including Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who will average $23 million for the rest of his eight-year deal that is good through 2018, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who re-upped for $25 million per year from '12-16, Reds first baseman Joey Votto ($22.5 million per year through '23), Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp ($20 million per year through '19) and Ryan Braun ($21 million per year through '16).
Some players struck it super-rich through free-agent deals, like Hamilton ($25 million per year through 2017 with the Angels), Fielder ($23.8 million per year through '20 in a deal signed with Detroit before his trade to Texas) and Albert Pujols ($24 million per year for the Angels through '21, plus Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million per season through '16), Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez ($22 million per year through '18) and outfielder Carl Crawford ($20.285 million per year through '17), both of whom originally signed their current deals with Boston.
This list now inlcudes the newest Yankee, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who will make $21.86 million per season through 2020.
The bottom line? Baseball is very popular, teams are doing well, and they're not afraid to spend big to win.
"More and more, we're seeing sports and entertainment and media just growing together, and this is a good example of it," Carter said. "And it'll probably get bigger."