Earlier this week Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic broke the story that the Brewers are close to announcing a contract extension with their former MVP outfielder, Christian Yelich. In an offseason mired in negative publicity of their Astros cheating scandal, the Red Sox trading a franchise-player, and in the wake of a myriad of spring training injuries (especially to the Yankees), it is refreshing to see a team lock-up their star player for the foreseeable future.
Per Rosenthal, the deal will be a nine-year contract in the range of ~$215 million. Under Yelich’s current contract, he is guaranteed $12.5 million for 2020 and $14 million in 2021. He has a club option for 2022, which will be voided in favor of the new agreement.
This contract extension is a win for everyone. Yelich sets a new franchise record for the largest in team history by a country-mile (the previous-largest Milwaukee contract was Ryan Braun’s $105 million deal), the Brewers lock up their former MVP, leaving themselves the financial flexibility to build talent around him, and a generation of fans get to see Yelich in a Brewers uniform for years.
The Yelich / Brewers marriage has been a positive development from the day MIlwaukee acquired him from the Derek Jeter Marlins in January 2018. While he had yet to hit his prime, Yelich still was coming off a 4.6 fWAR season in which he demonstrated power, socking 18 home runs, and speed, totaling 16 stolen bases in 18 tries.
Back in early-2018, the Brewers got a steal. They sent a bunch of players to Miami, who in the last two years, have not hit their potential, and have not even remotely made an impact in Miami’s organization.
In the original deal, Milwaukee sent Lewis Brinson, Isan Diaz, Monte Harrison, and Jordan Yamamoto to the Marlins in exchange for Yelich, a trade that will undoubtedly be featured in one of Luis Torres’ Trade Retrospective pieces, in which we’ll all inevitably ask, ‘what the hell was Miami thinking?!’.
In his first year with the Brewers, Yelich earned NL MVP honors, leading the league in batting average, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. In 2018, he totaled 7.6 wins per FanGraphs’ WAR, and somehow still managed to improve in 2019!
During his two-year tenure in Milwaukee, Yelich has posted a slash line of .327/.415/.631, and he’s blasted 80 home runs. He’s stolen 52 bases, and only has been caught six times. In a short time, Yelich has undoubtedly ascended to the face-of-the-franchise in Milwaukee, and he’s still only entering his age-28 season (he turned 28 this off-season).
Per FanGraph’s projections heading into the 2020 season (choose whichever you like, they all basically agree), Yelich is projected for a .300+ batting average, a .400 OBP, 35 home runs, and 20+ stolen bases. For a Brewers team that plays in a wide-open National League Central, they will need an MVP-caliber 2020 from Yelich to make the playoffs for the third consecutive year, and potentially take back the divisional crown they earned in 163 games in 2018.
Of course, it doesn’t make sense to talk about a major MLB extension without discussing the monetary attributes of the specific contract, but before diving into the details, it’s worth mentioning the important point that each and every MLB team is capable of locking up their star player. I want to reiterate this: every MLB team is capable of locking up their best player long-term, and constructing a team around them. Whether or not ownership chooses to make that deal is another matter entirely.
The Red Sox decided they simply would not offer a market rate to Mookie Betts in the 2020/2021 offseason, so dealt him to the Dodgers prior to the start of the 2020 season. The Brewers looked at their prospects for fielding a strong team, they made the call that the franchise is better with Yelich locked-up than taking their chances at the end of his deal, and for that, they should be lauded.
The Brewers had additional financial flexibility since they did not re-sign Yasmani Grandal after offering him a pillow-contract in 2019, and they let Mike Moustakis pursue free agency by buying out the last part of his contract (a contract the Royals inked with him, then traded to Milwaukee), but the fact remains that this type of thinking needs to be universal across baseball rather than a one-off.
Overall, Milwaukee will invest $215 million in Yelich over the next nine years, an average annual value of about $23.9 million. It’s an excellent raise over the $12.5 million due to him this upcoming season, and the $29 million total due to him in 2021 and 2022. The new contract is back-loaded, but considering many people decried the Mike Trout deal as overly team-friendly (one that pays him ~$35 million AAV, and just over $37 million per year from 2021 to 2030), this Yelich contract is a complete no-brainer for the Brewers.
If Boston fans are frustrated because it’s Milwaukee that’s in the news for inking their star instead of their own team, they can always root for the Brewers in 2020. After all, it’s not like it’s all strange faces being fielded for the Crew in 2020.