We had every reason to believe a Christian Yelich extension with the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t have much of a chance of happening.
That’s before we get into any of the small market inferiority complex stuff.
Consider this, first: the Brewers already had Yelich’s services secured through the absolutely peak of his performance at an absurdly discounted rate. He was already theirs through his age-30 season, and anything after that was unlikely to be as good as what they’ve already gotten from him. Outside of the Lorenzo Cain signing, this has not been an organization that has devoted much money — let alone big money — to anyone over the age of 30.
Second: he was under contract for three more seasons, assuming they picked up the 2022 team option (and they were always going to pick up the 2022 team option). The Brewers had no reason to rip that up. Yelich had no reason to possibly limit his future earnings by agreeing to anything before going through those seasons, perhaps continuing the God-mode tear he’s been on the last two seasons.
Third: As one of the best players in baseball, he would’ve been within his right to just start the conversation at about $35 million per year, considering what Mike Trout is making and what Anthony Rendon got this past winter. That’s a price that would cause even us most strident “any team can afford any player” proponents to start tugging our collars a bit.
Fourth: Yelich had started talking a lot about wanting to become one of the Faces of Baseball over the winter. Baseball’s long offseason provides plenty of time for outside opportunities and he generally spends most of that time in California anyway, but one would think those opportunities are more plentiful in a bigger market, whether that’s LA, New York or — gulp — Chicago. It’s a lot easier for Giannis to be the face of a league in Milwaukee than it would be for Yelich, considering the way their respective leagues run their marketing departments.
Fifth: If the Brewers wanted to turn around their farm system fortunes in a hurry, trading Yelich away in a deal similar to the one that brought him to Milwaukee would’ve been the best way to do it. Mark Attanasio and David Stearns have always talked about being consistently competitive, not just competing in windows, and ultimately for teams like the Brewers, that relies on a. finding bargains on the open market and b. having cheap, controllable talent to either plug into the lineup or use as trade chips. The system is on a notorious downswing right now, but trading Yelich would have allowed them to quickly re-stock that high-end talent (even if it meant admitting to a year or two “reloading” process).
Those are just a handful of the reasons why something like this almost didn’t seem possible — any one of them would’ve been reason enough to think that, but all of them are legitimate.
And yet, here we are.
We won’t hear from the Brewers or Yelich until the deal is officially announced on Friday, but as of now it looks like the reason for this was simple: the guy has always been willing to leave some money on the table to find a situation where he’s comfortable. He did that in Miami when they were starting to build something potentially special (before they aborted halfway through, like they always do), and he may see the opportunity here, too.
There will be plenty of parallels drawn to Ryan Braun’s extensions, for better or worse, but for the purposes of this let’s just leave it at this one for now: both would have had every reason to chase brighter lights on bigger stages, but both decided to stay where they were comfortable, and likely gave up bigger paydays to make sure the talent to win would still be around them.
With this possibly being Braun’s last year in Milwaukee, it’s a pretty fitting passing of the torch.