Yelich, Crew nearing record extension

March 4th, 2020

PHOENIX -- Now the Brewers’ relatively frugal winter makes sense. On Tuesday, the team was poised to put some of those savings to work.

The Brewers are close to an agreement with 28-year-old superstar outfielder on a club-record contract extension, a source told's Mark Feinsand. If completed, it would add seven years and about $190 million to the two guaranteed years left on Yelich’s current contract, for a grand total of nine years and about $215 million from 2020-28.

The agreement would also include a mutual option for 2029, according to reports. And, like Ryan Braun’s five-year, $105 million extension in '11 and Lorenzo Cain’s five-year, $80 million free-agent contract in '18, Yelich’s deal is expected to include some deferred money, according to a source.

The club has not confirmed its talks with Yelich. According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, who first reported the extension, an announcement would happen Friday if both sides can finalize an agreement.

The deal would place Yelich among the top 20 in baseball history in terms of average annual value (around $27 million), and position him to remain in Milwaukee through at least his age-36 season. The highest AAV all time belongs to Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($38 million), with Angels outfielder Mike Trout next at $35.5 million.

“I just love playing there. It’s a great fit,” he said in November, when he finished runner-up to the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger in National League MVP Award balloting. “It’s the perfect place for me, I feel like. I love the fan base. I almost feel like I’ve been there more than two years. … I look forward to more years there.”

The agreement would tie a bow on a Brewers offseason that was busy -- president of baseball operations David Stearns acquired 15 Major League players -- but, by some observers’ estimation, lacked the sort of marquee acquisition one might expect from a team coming off back-to-back postseason appearances and with one of the game’s best players in his prime.

The Brewers let Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas walk in free agency, and they replaced them with a young catcher in Omar Narváez and a veteran platoon at third base in Eric Sogard and Jedd Gyorko, who were guaranteed a combined $6.5 million. They non-tendered first baseman Eric Thames and traded steady starters Zach Davies and Chase Anderson in deals partly motivated by money. Milwaukee’s biggest offseason addition was outfielder Avisaíl García on a two-year, $20 million contract.

At the same time, Braun is off the books (aside from deferrals) as early as the end of this season, the final guaranteed year of his contract. His contract includes a $15 million club option with a $4 million buyout. The Brewers’ only commitments at the moment for 2022, when Yelich’s extension would kick in, are Cain ($18 million in the final year of his contract, $1 million of which is deferred), Josh Lindblom ($2.75 million salary in the final year of his contract) and Freddy Peralta (he signed a five-year, $15.5 million contract last week for '20-24).

Now it’s clear why Stearns was marshalling his resources. A solid player in his five seasons for the Marlins, Yelich took it to another level after a January 2018 trade to the Brewers, beginning with winning National League MVP honors in ‘18 by hitting .326/.402/.598 with 36 home runs and 110 RBIs as his club made it to the NL Championship Series.

While many expected a step back in 2019, Yelich showed that his Brew Crew debut was anything but a fluke. He slashed .329/.429/.671 (a 179 OPS+), leading the NL in each of those categories while popping 44 homers. Back issues and a fractured kneecap that ended Yelich’s season on Sept. 10 might have been the only things to prevent another MVP trophy for Yelich, who finished a close second in the NL race to Bellinger.

This year, the Brewers are planning to move Yelich to left field, where he won a Gold Glove Award with the Marlins in 2014, in order to put newcomer García and his strong arm in right field. Yelich said he was open to the switch.

He reported to camp in full health, but has yet to debut this spring; the Brewers were waiting until late this week to give Yelich and Braun their first Cactus League at-bats.

“I think there’s levels of [competitiveness], for sure,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I always make the point that all of those guys are at the top of the competitive world when it comes to people. That’s why they’re in the room. I think Christian sometimes surprises us because he’s just a humble guy, and sometimes those two things [humility and competitiveness], when they cross, it’s almost like, 'I didn’t expect that.' But it’s in there. He’s got a real drive and desire to be great. It’s there, and it’s not going anywhere. It’s not going away. That’s why I’ve got so much faith in what he’s going to do every year.

“He’s at a point where he expects a lot from himself. He set a bar that is scary good. I think he always uses -- we all use doubters, man. Anybody who says they don’t use doubters in their life, I think they’re crazy. We always use them. No matter what line of work you’re in, you use them. And if you use them the right way, that’s really powerful.”