Christian Yelich may end up winning his second straight National League Most Valuable Player award on Thursday. He’s become the national face of the Milwaukee Brewers, and he’s going to be in Milwaukee for the forseeable future.
But when has that ever stopped bored sportswriters in mid-November from speculating when the Brewers should trade a young superster under team control?
In his latest for The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal says a rival executive made a passing comment over the summer that the Brewers would need to trade Christian Yelich sometime soon to restock their poorly-ranked farm system. Aside from likely being a wishful fantasy from that rival executive, it also doesn’t make much sense.
As Rosenthal notes, Yelich is signed to one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball, and signed for several years to come, with the Brewers holding his rights through 2022, assuming they pick up the option on the final year of his current contract.
The issue is not yet pressing — Yelich, 27, is under team control through 2022 at insanely club-friendly salaries of $12.5 million, $14 million and $15 million (on a club option) due to the contract he signed with the Marlins in March 2015. The Brewers currently are more focused on re-signing two of their own free agents, catcher Yasmani Grandal and infielder Mike Moustakas. They have yet to even broach an extension with Yelich, sources said.
Still, owner Mark Attanasio eventually will need to make a decision on Yelich, particularly if the Brewers’ farm system remains thin and their window starts to close.
That Rosenthal’s source says a contract extension with Yelich hasn’t been brought up yet is probably the only newsworthy piece of information here — but it’s also fairly obvious why, since those discussions are likely at least a year or two away from even being a thought for either side considering — again — he’s signed already for three more seasons.
The Brewers likely learned their lesson on handing out unneccesary extensions with Ryan Braun, when they gave him a 5-year, $105 million extension in 2011 that didn’t even kick in until 2016 because he was already signed through 2015 on an 8-year, $45 million contract. There are obviously other reasons why that contract extension looked so bad before it even took effect that we don’t anticipate to be a problem with Yelich, but the point remains -- the Brewers are likely hesitant to start talking about a multi-year contract for someone who will be on the wrong side of 30 when that next contract begins (and as they saw this September, is one freak incident away from a serious injury).
That risk of an injury decreasing Yelich’s trade value or the organization’s prospects not being highly ranked or the fear of the Brewers’ window closing are going to be the reasons cited for why the Brewers “need” to trade Yelich before he hits free agency after 2022. That ignores a. the Brewers’ window right now is precisely the length of time they have Christian Yelich, b. the Brewers’ farm system ranking doesn’t matter (and will likely rise on its own anyway over time as lower-level talent gets closer to the majors) and c. the landscape of baseball economics may change dramatically before Yelich’s contract is even up with the CBA expiring after 2021 and a strike or lockout possible in 2022.
The “Brewers have to trade their young star before he reaches free agency” idea hasn’t been true for a long time, but talk like this shows it’s still the mentality around the league, despite what Mark Attanasio has shown since buying the team. The state of baseball economics is in a sad enough state that teams like the Boston Red Sox are talking about trading their MVP in Mookie Betts. That doesn’t mean the Brewers should talk about trading theirs, and there’s been no indication from Attanasio or David Stearns that Yelich will be anything but a Brewer for the next three years.
Contract info courtesy of Cot’s Contracts