Since arriving in Milwaukee on January 25th, 2018, Christian Yelich has exceeded just about anyone’s wildest dreams.
It has been the perfect storm of making an adjustment in launch angle to capitalize on moving to a new ballpark. A modern day player development success story, the Brewers helped Yelich ascend from an already star-caliber outfielder to arguably the top player in the National League during his two seasons with the Cream City Nine. The results have been undeniable — back-to-back batting titles, consecutive seasons leading the Senior Circuit in OPS, a Most Valuable Player award in 2018 and nearly another one in 2019, had it not been for a freak knee injury that cost Yelich the final three weeks of the regular season.
One of the major reasons that David Stearns and the Brewers went out and acquired Yelich in the first place was because of the early-career extension he signed with Miami and the inexpensive control that it provided the team. The contract did give Christian financial security early on in his career, but after taking multiple steps forward as a player since agreeing to that pact, it became clear that Yelich was laughably underpaid. Had he played out the deal, he would have had to wait another three years, after his age-30 season, to get his first chance at free agency.
As we know now, however, reaching the open market is not something that was of particular interest to Mr. Yelich. After numerous conversations with teammate and close friend Ryan Braun, it became clear to Christian that Milwaukee was the place he wanted to be for the long haul. Neither he nor the Brewers wanted his contract status to become a distraction in the coming years, and on Halloween last year shortly after the end of the 2019 season, Yelich instructed his agent to reach out to the team and begin conversations regarding another extension. Those talks paid off last week in the form of a new, nine-year pact (with a mutual option) that could keep Yelich in a Brewers’ uniform for up to the entire next decade.
The deal is clearly a victory for both sides. Many fans of the Brewers believed that it would have taken a miracle scenario for the team to be able to retain Yelich past the end of his original extension, and that is basically what happened. Christian agreed to play out his next two seasons under the terms of that original contract, making $12.5 mil this season and then $14 mil in 2021. Then, instead of what was supposed to be a $15 mil club option for 2022, the new money begins. But rather than the $30+ mil per season that one would have expected Yelich to command, he’ll be playing at a discounted rate of $26 mil per annum from 2022-2028. Christian Yelich, a generational talent in Milwaukee and perhaps the best player in the National League, received only the 39th-highest average annual value in baseball across the life of this nine-year deal ($23,888,889), and there is $4 mil per year of deferred money beginning in 2022!
On Yelich’s side of things, his leverage was reduced by the fact that he would not have been able to hit the open market for another three seasons. But he and his agent still found a way to get handsomely rewarded for the work he has done over the past two years while also making a commitment to stay in a city that he’s clearly grown to love playing in. Yelich asked for no opt-outs and received a full no-trade clause in the agreement, essentially locking him in with the Brewers. Yelich grew up in California and started his career in Florida, yet he chose to represent this team, and this midwestern town, for the long haul.
For as team-friendly as the deal appears to be, of course, there is still risk to be considered. The Brewers did just guarantee $188.5 mil to Yelich to cover his age-30 through age-36 seasons. We can’t know exactly how age will affect Christian’s career over the next nine years, and this is a player who has missed multiple stretches of games during the last two seasons with back injuries. He is not an elite defender, checking in with -4 Defensive Runs Saved and -4 Outs Above Average last season. A move back to left field this year should help, but Yelich will likely need his bat to provide most of his value. ZiPS projections do believe that Christian should be able to justify his contract and then some, however, forecasting 36 Wins Above Replacement over the next nine years, including 24.1 WAR from 2022-2028.
In professional sports, fans are taught that they should root for the name on the front of the jerseys versus the ones on the back. But having a “face of the franchise” player, someone who is willing to commit to the city and team and able to convince the city and team to commit to him, is something that goes a long way for a lot of people. For 13 years and a couple generations of Brewers fans, that player has been Ryan Braun. And now those fans get to watch Braun pass the torch off to his close friend and fellow MVP-award winner Christian Yelich, who will continue creating memories for the generations that follow.
Yelich wanted to stay in Milwaukee and made his desires known to the front office and ownership. They, in turn, found a way to get a mega-deal done that works for both sides. Despite constant reminders regarding the “small market” that the Brewers play in and the financial restrictions they supposedly face, they figured out how to keep a generational talent in Milwaukee for what figures to be the rest of his career.
That is pretty cool.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant, salary details courtesy of Cot’s Contracts