Every year athletes sign big-money contracts and are expected to perform. Players like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Vincent Jackson, David Wright and many others have new seven-figure deals that make them some of the highest-paid athletes in sports.
The group of competitors on this list mostly performed better than their higher-paid counterparts and recieved far less compensation for it. Here are some of the top underpaid athletes of 2012 (in no particular order):
Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
2012 Salary: $540,000
Victor Cruz will surely be getting a contract extension in the offseason, but for now, he is one of the most underpaid athletes in sports based on his performance on the field. Last season he had a breakout year after making $770,000 in his first two NFL seasons, making 82 receptions for a franchise-record 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns last season. He was one of Eli Manning's most effective and favorite targets and was one of the biggest reasons why the Giants won the Super Bowl.
Cruz had his first breakout game in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2011 season, making three catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including a stellar 74-yard reception. He became the primary playmaker for the Giants last season, posting at least 119 receiving yards in five of the last seven games. His most important play was against the Jets when the Giants were backed up on their own 1-yard line. With the Giants' playoff hopes on the line, he scampered past Antonio Cromartie and other tacklers to score a 99-yard touchdown, the longest in team history.
This year Cruz is playing at bargain prices and is leading the Giants again in receiving with 73 receptions for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns. The team is ranked ninth in passing offense and is Cruz has been crucial in every win for the Giants, including against the Saints when he had eight catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Cruz will be doing his patented salsa dance celebration when he receives his much-deserved contract extension.
Mike Trout, Outfielder, Los Angeles Angels
2012 Salary: $480,000
Like most athletes on the underpaid list, Trout took the MLB by storm this season. He was promoted to the majors at the end of April and it looks like he will never be back in the minors unless it's for some rehab assignment. He hit .326 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs and led the American League with 129 runs and 49 stolen bases on his way to winning AL Rookie of the Year. He made slightly less than Albert Pujols' $12 million salary and performed way better.
According to Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports, Trout might be the most underpaid athlete in history. In one of his latest articles, Passan speculated based on past player deals and projections that Trout could become the first-ever $300 million athlete when his time comes to sign a bigger deal.
The 20-year-old easily could have won the AL Most Valuable Player award this season and to many writers and fans, he was in fact the MVP. He set numerous rookie records and became the first player to score 120 runs in his first professional season since Ichiro Suzuki did it for the Mariners in 2001. Trout also became the first player in MLB history to hit 30 homers, steal 45 bases and score 125 runs in one season, according to Jayson Stark at ESPN.com.
Trout proved throughout the season he is an elite outfielder, robbing multiple homeruns with highlight-style catches. What's even more amazing, 24 teams passed on Trout before the Angels took him in the 2009 MLB Draft. Those teams sure wish they could be underpaying for Trout's services.
J.J. Watt, Defensive End, Houston Texans
2012 Salary: $885,795
Based on how well Watt has played this season, there's no way Watt can't make this list. He is currently tied for the NFL lead in sacks and has been a dominant force in every game this year. Watt has recorded 10.5 sacks, 74 tackles and three forced fumbles while also swatting down a position-leading 15 passes this season.
Watt will likely win Defensive Player of the Year and will absolutely get votes at MVP (although there is no doubt that the award will go to Adrian Peterson or Peyton Manning). In the future, Watt is likely to get a huge deal from someone, maybe even the Texans. They let their last superstar defensive end Mario Williams leave to Buffalo where he signed a six-year, $96 million contract, but Watt may be even better than Williams was with the team.
Watt has been freakishly dominant and had three sacks in last week's win over the Indianapolis Colts. Over the past five games, Watt has made at least four tackles in each contest and has combined for 7.0 sacks. The Texans have won four of those five games. The team is ranked fifth in rushing defense this season, in large part because of Watt's ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage.
Buster Posey, Catcher, San Francisco Giants
2012 Salary: $615,000
Posey is only in his third season in the pros, so he is still playing on his rookie contract. No doubt the Giants will pay up to this year's National League MVP after he helped lead them to a World Series victory. Posey was injured for most of last season, but in the two years he has played a full slate of games, the Giants have won the World Series.
The team could very well become a dynasty if they win another one in the next few years and there's no doubt Posey will be a big part of it. This season he was the NL batting champion with a .336 average and added 24 home runs and 103 RBIs while scoring 78 runs. He added 39 doubles and was essential for the Giants in the postseason, hitting three home runs with nine RBIs in 16 games played. The Giants paid rock-bottom prices for Posey, who was second in the National League in OPS and third in slugging this season.
- Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
2012 salary: $390,000
- Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
2012 salary: $613,785
- Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
2012 salary: $390,000