It was officially confirmed on Friday 6 March that Christian Yelich had signed a nine-year $215 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. Given that the deal contains no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause, it is more than likely that Yelich will remain a Brewer for life.
With the first rumblings of the deal emerging a few days earlier, Brewers social media basked in the euphoria of Milwaukee’s favourite son (sorry Giannis) wanting to remain in the Cream City for remainder of his playing days.
Since being acquired from the Miami Marlins in 2018, Yelich has been extremely comfortable in his Miller Park surroundings, accruing 207 runs, 80 home runs and a 1.046 OPS in 277 games with the Brewers on his way to the National League MVP in 2018 as well as twice making the National League all-star team.
The former first round draft could arguably have commanded a contract of greater financial reward. Yelich will receive the $12.5 million in 2020 and the $14 million in 2021 stipulated under his previous contract, before being paid $27 million per year from 2022 to 2028. There is a mutual option for 2029. When the $27 million annual salary kicks in Yelich will rank just inside the top 20 best paid players in baseball according to Spotrac.com, alongside the likes of Anthony Rendon, Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper.
Sure, Yelich will become an astronomically rich man. Yet, the outfielder is currently considered to be amongst the best hitters and baserunners in baseball, so his contract does seem a little on the lighter side.
Yelich comes across as somewhere between laidback and shy, content enough to engage in the media requirements of being one of baseball’s biggest stars, but perhaps not always totally at ease. His clubhouse presence stems from his actions on the field, rather than through vocalised leadership.
The deal came somewhat out of the blue, way in advance of the point when it might have become a real concern Yelich may depart Milwaukee as a free agent. This, coupled with the somewhat modest nature of the deal, suits Yelich, allowing him to continue to focus on his game knowing his long-term future is secure and without being bogged down by the weight of one of the league’s biggest contracts.
From the Brewers’ perspective, it is a colossal deal, far exceeding the five-year $105 million contract handed to Ryan Braun in 2016, the previous franchise record contract.
The decision to hand out a nine-year contract would not have been taken lightly by Brewers General Manager David Stearns and principal owner Mark Attanasio, despite Yelich’s stature. They have operated with relative caution in recent years, refusing to be drawn into handing out long term contracts to the likes of Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas, instead offering short-term ‘prove-it’ deals to obtain players that may otherwise be out of reach.
Furthermore, Yelich missed a number of games in 2019 due to recurring back issues, before then missing the final stretch of the season and NL Wildcard game as a result of a dislocated kneecap. The Brewers must be comfortable that the rehabilitation of the knee injury has been successful over the offseason, whilst the back troubles can be managed.
The Brewers, despite issuing the largest contract in their history, still have room to manoeuvre and add pieces around Yelich in a bid to build a roster that can challenge for the World Series. Per Spotrac.com, the Brewers’ 2020 opening day payroll currently stands at $94.5 million, which compares favourably to 2019 total payroll, which was £135.9 million. The increase in Yelich’s annual salary is likely to be offset by Ryan Braun’s $17 million adjusted annual salary coming off the books at the end of 2020.
As discussed in my last post, the Brewers do not have any immediate prospects ready to come into the major league team and contribute, so they must continue to work the market and look for value where other clubs do not. Yelich clearly trusts the front office to do just that.
From a personal point of view, I am so glad that a player of Yelich’s undoubted ability will continue to step out at Miller Park for the foreseeable future. He plays the game with a smile and is a joy to watch every day. When the alert from The Athletic came through last week containing Ken Rosenthal’s piece that broke the story there was a moment of disbelief, then a string of profanities followed by a punch of the air.
When discussing the news with my fiancée I described it as being told you can eat pizza every day for the rest of your life without getting fat. The more I thought about that analogy, the more I liked it: Brewers fan will get to watch their star turn for the best part of the next decade without a worry that he could run down his contract and leave or be traded to another team.
It is official, Yelich is here to stay.
Matthew Robinson is covering the Milwaukee Brewers during 2020 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @tacticsmatt