The Milwaukee Brewers, despite being in one of the smallest markets in the game, are ready to pay big to keep superstar outfielder Christian Yelich. The Brewers and Yelich reached an agreement on a contract extension that will keep him in Milwaukee for the long term, the team announced on Friday.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the deal will be a seven-year extension on top of the two remaining years on Yelich's contract. All told, Yelich is expected to make $215 million over the next nine years with the Brewers.
Yelich, 28, has been among the game's best players since arriving in Milwaukee two years ago. He hit .326/.402/.598 with 36 home runs en route to winning NL MVP honors in 2018, then followed it up with a .329/.429/.671 batting line and 44 homers in 2019. His 2019 season came to an end on Sept. 10, when he fouled a pitch into his knee and suffered a fractured kneecap.
Clearly, the knee injury is not a long-term concern. Yelich is expected to make his spring debut later this week ---- and all indications are his knee has healed nicely. If you're going to give a player $200 million, it should be someone like Yelich. He impacts the game at the plate, in the field, and on the bases.
The Brewers are in the middle of the most successful stretch in franchise history since Harvey's Wallbangers in the early 1980s. Milwaukee won 96 games and advanced to Game 7 of the NLCS two years ago, then last year they qualified for the NL Wild Card Game. It's only the second time in team history they've reached the postseason in back-to-back years.
David Samson, who was the Marlins president when the franchise drafted Yelich in the first round of the 2010 draft, weighed in on the extension on Wednesday's episode of Nothing Personal with David Samson.
The Yelich contract is a very strong indication owner Mark Attanasio and his front office want to extend the club's contention window as long as possible. Locking up Yelich gives the Brewers a bona fide superstar and long-term building block. Here are five things to know about Yelich's monster extension.
Yelich was already signed through 2022
For the Brewers, there was no real urgency to get Yelich signed. They already had him locked up through 2021 and under team control through 2022. That stems from the seven-year, $49.57 million extension Yelich signed with the Marlins back in March 2015.
Here is what remains on Yelich's current contract:
- 2020: $12.5 million
- 2021: $14 million
- 2022: $15 million club option ($1.25 million buyout)
Rosenthal reports Yelich's new contract will still pay him $12.5 million in 2020 and $14 million in 2021. The 2022 option will be torn up and replaced with a seven-year extension in the $190 million range. The total value is around $215 million and the contract will also include deferrals.
Elite players command north of $30 million annually nowadays but Yelich's new extension is worth $27 million or so per year from 2022-28. That falls below Manny Machado money ($30 million annually) but is a tick above Bryce Harper money ($25.4 million annually). Had Yelich waited until he was closer to free agency to sign an extension, he could've sought more.
It's worth noting that, by signing Yelich now, the Brewers avoid Mookie Betts skewing the market this offseason. Betts is in line for a massive free agent contract that could approach $400 million. Mookie could have reset the market for elite players and pushed Yelich out of Milwaukee's price range. The Brewers don't have to worry about that now.
This is the largest contract in team history
The Brewers are not historically big spenders, so the Yelich extension is easily the largest contract in franchise history. The club's three largest deals have all gone to outfielders currently on the roster:
- Christian Yelich: 7 years, $190 million (2022-28)
- Ryan Braun: 5 years, $105 million (2016-20)
- Lorenzo Cain: 5 years, $80 million (2018-22)
Yelich's nine-year, $215 million total package is tied for the 16th-largest contract in baseball history with Clayton Kershaw. The new seven-year extension is the 20th contract worth at least $190 million. The contract is both team friendly given Yelich's production but also extremely lucrative.
The Brewers have money coming off the books soon
Long-term, the Brewers can afford the Yelich extension because Braun's contract expires after 2020 -- it's safe to assume the team will decline its half of his $15 million mutual option for 2021 and instead pay the $4 million buyout -- and Cain's expires after 2022.
Here's what Braun and Cain will combine to make the next three years:
- 2020: $33 million (Braun's and Cain's salaries)
- 2021: $21 million (Braun's buyout and Cain's salary)
- 2022: $18 million (Cain's salary)
Braun's contract expires before Yelich's extension even begins, and Cain's expires one year into Yelich's extension. Right-hander Freddy Peralta is the only other Brewers player signed beyond 2022. He inked a five-year, $15.5 million extension last month. The Brewers have few financial commitments beyond 2022. It's just Yelich and Peralta right now.
The Brewers may not be done signing core players
Now that Yelich is locked up (and Peralta too), the Brewers can look to sign other core players to long-term extensions as well. Here are their most notable extension candidates:
- LHP Josh Hader: Free agent after 2023.
- 2B Keston Hiura: Free agent after 2025.
- RHP Brandon Woodruff: Free agent after 2024.
Signing Hader long-term may be difficult. He lost his arbitration hearing last month and will earn $4.1 million in 2020. As a Super Two, he will go to arbitration four times instead of the usual three. His salary could jump to $10 million in 2021 and the Brewers may not be able to afford an eight-figure closer.
Hiura has less than one full year of service time and it stands to reason an extension for him would fall between Luis Robert's six-year, $50 million deal and Ronald Acuna Jr.'s eight-year, $100 million deal. Robert signed his extension before making his MLB debut. Acuna had a little less than one year of service time. How does seven years and $75 million sound for Hiura?
As for Woodruff, he is a pitcher with an injury history, so he may jump at the long-term financial security. He has less than two full years of service time and pitchers to sign an extension at that service time level in recent years include Jose Quintana (five years, $21 million) and Julio Teheran (six years, $32.5 million). Those deals were signed in 2014, so inflation must be considered.
The DH is likely coming to the NL
Not this year, but soon. It is expected the National League will adopt the designated hitter either in 2022, when the next collective bargaining agreement begins, or in 2027, when the collective bargaining agreement after that begins.
Yelich's new contract ties him to the Brewers through his age-36 season in 2028. He's going to slow down with age because every player slows down with age, and when that happens, chances are the Brewers will have the DH spot available and can stash Yelich there in his mid-30s. And, if he doesn't slow down, great. They'll still have the DH spot available for other players.