For superstar outfielder Christian Yelich, it was an “easy call” to play for the Milwaukee Brewers during the shortened 2020 MLB regular season. Yelich told reporters yesterday — including Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel — that he never really considered opting out in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with several players around the league making that decision, he says he can understand and support the guys choosing to sit out this summer:
“[G]uys are all in different boats and if you choose to opt out or if we ever had anybody that chose to opt out, then you would fully support that decision and understand where they were coming from. You know it’s a unique year. It’s something that we haven’t experienced before and guys have varying comfort levels with what’s going on, so if someone chose not to play on our team, I would definitely support them.”
Yelich doesn’t seem too concerned about what may happen to him personally if he were to contract the coronavirus, and he does not live with any high-risk individuals. But he understands the severity of the situation for others, saying “[y]ou have to be respectful of everyone’s views and take it upon yourself to take all the precautions and be a good teammate and do the best to your ability.” Yelich suggests that the unknown surrounding the virus will be a central point of this season, with every-other-day testing that could mean a player who contracts the virus could all of a sudden be out for up to a month.
Ever positive, however, Yelich says that the team is “looking forward to the opportunity to get back out there and provide some entertainment...We’re taking that seriously and trying to do everything we can to just get back out there and make sure that we follow all the rules and regulations that we have to, to enable that process to take place.” He is looking forward to the day the team is able to play in front of fans again, of course. “It’s going to be different, for sure. We obviously enjoy playing in Miller Park in front of the home crowd. As a team, we feed off that...To not have that is going to be different, and I think once we are back to the point when we do have a packed house at Miller Park again – whenever that might be – you’re going to appreciate it that much more.”
Where Yelich is in the prime of his career, his teammate and friend Ryan Braun is nearing the end of his time in the big leagues. Back in January, the former MVP went as far as to say that 2020 — the final guaranteed year of his contact with the Brewers — could be his last season playing Major League Baseball. But the shortened season now has Braun rethinking his retirement plans, telling reporters over the weekend that “I would say at this point, I’m more likely to play another year than I think I would have been.”
Braun suggested that a 60-game season rather than the rigors of a 162-game season on his aging body and the ability for him to receive significant playing time as a designated hitter in 2020 are factors in the decision for him to play beyond this year. “For me personally, playing a smaller number of games is something that’s beneficial. I think I’ve been able to be pretty good the last few Septembers because when I know it’s a smaller sample size we’re working with I can just focus on sprinting to the finish line.”
The Brewers and Braun have a mutual option for 2021 at $15 mil, though it’s unlikely that the team would bring their long-time franchise face back at that price. But at least on the player side of the matter, he would prefer that if he does return to baseball in 2021, that he’s suiting up for the Cream City Nine. “I love everything about the city, this organization and I’m incredibly close with the Attanasios, so the goal certainly would be, if I play another year, to play here.”
He didn’t mention it specifically, but there are some notable milestones that Braun is close to reaching that could be a factor in his decision to return. Braun needs six home runs to reach 350 for his career, which seems achievable in 60 games as long as he stays healthy. But he’s also 67 hits shy of 2,000 for his career, which may take until next season to reach. Braun needs to accrue 3.2 WAR to reach 50 wins above replacement as a big leaguer (per Baseball-Reference), and of course, he is still chasing his first World Series ring.
Braun and his wife just welcomed their third child earlier this year, but so far he feels confident in the safety protocols that have been instituted to protect the players. “The more I learned about the health and safety protocols that were in place, the more comfortable I felt with everything. But again, I’m continuing to assess on a day-to-day basis and Larisa and I continue to have conversations about what this looks like, whether it’s safe for me to be here, whether it would be safe for them to join me here.”
Braun knows that this season will be unlike any other before, and that each team and player will have to take things on a day-by-day basis. But he felt a responsibility to try and play this season. “First and foremost, I love this game. I love having an opportunity to compete. I think there’s a level of accountability that I feel toward my teammates. Also, the fact that obviously a lot closer to the end of my career than the beginning of my career so if this was to be my last year, I certainly wouldn’t want to have to sit out.”