What a Christian Yelich contract extension could mean for the Brewers

MLB

It looks like Christian Yelich will be signing a contract extension that could keep him with the Milwaukee Brewers through 2028 (or 2029 if both side exercise a mutual option), for a total value for the deal at about $215 million. Nine-figure contracts in Major League Baseball aren’t that common, but in light of the Brewers’ proving able to afford the 2018 National League MVP (and 2019 NL MVP runner-up) far into the future, we asked ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, Jesse Rogers and Alden Gonzalez for their evaluations of what a contract extension of such magnitude means for Milwaukee, and what else could come out of this kind of commitment for the rest of MLB.

Good deal, bad deal? What does this mean for the Brewers?

Rogers: It really is a good deal for both sides, but especially the Brewers. If Yelich were on the open market, would Milwaukee really be able to snag him without a huge overpay? They haven’t signed any big names in recent years — this is their version of a major free-agent signing. For Yelich, it’s simple. Being a free agent after turning 30 years old is not a place any player wants to be, so he continued a trend of younger players signing up well before hitting the market. Milwaukee has a new player to build around just as Ryan Braun’s huge deal ($105 million over five years through 2020) is about up.

Olney: A good deal. For any small-market or midmarket team such as the Brewers, there is risk, of course. But Yelich has vastly outproduced his contract, and it stands to reason he’ll continue to be a 7.5 to 8 WAR player annually for the years ahead. Milwaukee’s investment in Braun turned out to be a drag on the franchise after he was damaged as a product by his PED suspension, but Yelich is among baseball’s elite hitters and could turn out to be the franchise centerpiece the team had hoped Braun would be.

Gonzalez: This is a great deal — for the Brewers. A nine-year, $215 million contract for someone who might be among the top five position players in baseball seems relatively light.

Remove the $26.5 million owed to Yelich over the next two seasons, from the deal he signed with the Miami Marlins five years earlier, and you basically get a seven-year, $190 million extension. That’s an average annual value of about $27 million for Yelich through ages 30 to 36. Fourteen players currently average more than that. They are: Gerrit Cole, Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Nolan Arenado, Miguel Cabrera, David Price, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Manny Machado, Yoenis Cespedes and Jacob deGrom.

Yelich didn’t have a ton of leverage because the Brewers could have controlled his rights for the next three years at $41.5 million by virtue of their $15 million club option for 2022. But this seems like a large concession.

Now that he’s there for the next nine years, will the Brewers be able to build a consistent contender around Yelich?

Rogers: There’s a good chance Yelich’s career as a Brewers could go much like Braun’s: multiple periods of retooling followed by multiple years of contending. It just doesn’t seem feasible that this signing is the start of a monster, Yankees-like collection of the best talent in the league. Having said that, the braintrust that brought Yelich to Milwaukee in the first place shouldn’t be underestimated. They’ve made the most of working with less in payroll than most teams do. Nothing but the law of averages says that should change.

Olney: That totally depends on how successfully Brewers general manager David Stearns and his staff can find the right pieces to put around him. They’ve got their lineup anchor for the foreseeable future, but they need a core of arms on the pitching side.

Gonzalez: Regardless of whether or not you think Yelich did well on this deal — I mean, seriously, who are we to tell him what to do with his life or how much money to make? — the reality is that he signed at a discounted rate. He did so in part, I presume, to help a small-market team such as the Brewers maintain the payroll flexibility to spend on its roster and continue to surround him with talent.

The problem is the Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in the sport, and Yelich might eventually absorb about a quarter of their major league payroll commitments — the type of scenario the Cleveland Indians might avoid by trading Francisco Lindor. Nolan Arenado signed an extension with the Colorado Rockies and quickly came to regret it. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen here.

Who are some other current stars you think could be in line for an extension soon?

Rogers: There’s little doubt Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs would be in line for a similar deal, especially considering he’s a year younger than Yelich as the duo finished 1-2 in MVP voting in 2018. Their trajectory has been nearly the same. Like Yelich, Baez has become the face of the Cubs even with fellow stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant on the team. In fact, the Cubs haven’t made any progress in signing up any of their young players except for Baez. A deal before the season begins is a possibility — perhaps Yelich’s contract is the impetus for both the Cubs and Baez to make one.

Olney: Among players closer to free agency, Baez seems like an obvious candidate — he’s a popular star for a wealthy franchise, and someone whose skills will translate into his 30s.

With all of the bad news around the Boston Red Sox this year, they need some good news in the form of a long-term deal with 23-year-old third baseman Rafael Devers, a high-end hitter who had 201 hits, 54 doubles and 32 homers last season. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it’s clear the missed opportunity for the Red Sox was their failure to work out a deal with Mookie Betts after his second or third year in the big leagues — and in the end, that cost them one of the game’s greatest players. Devers begins this year with two-plus years of service time, and the Red Sox cannot — or should not — make the same mistake.

Gonzalez: This deal got me thinking about another star outfielder, Cody Bellinger, who has built a nice friendship with Yelich over the last year or so. Bellinger loves it in L.A., for obvious reasons, and the Los Angeles Dodgers would love to get more cost certainty for a roster that includes several players primed to cash in big during their arbitration years. Bellinger will make $11.5 million in 2020, a record for a first-year arbitration-eligible player, and he won’t be a free agent until after the 2023 season, at which point he’ll be 28 years old.

The Dodgers would love to buy out the remaining arbitration years and a few others in free agency. But Bellinger is represented by Scott Boras, so, uh, yeah.

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