Yelich on contract extension: 'A natural fit'

Deal could keep Brewers star outfielder with team through 2029

March 7th, 2020

PHOENIX -- It’s official. is a Milwaukee Brewer for life.

The Brewers formally announced Yelich's new nine-year, $215 million contract on Friday -- a seven-year extension to his previous deal, which will keep the 2018 National League Most Valuable Player and two-time batting champion in Milwaukee through at least 2028. The deal includes a mutual option for 2029, which would be his age-37 season.

"I'm really glad that I'm able to spend the foreseeable future here -- the rest of my career as a Milwaukee Brewer," Yelich said at Friday's news conference. "I've said many times that I've only been here two years, but it feels like it's been a lot longer. Ever since I came here, it just felt like a natural fit."

The mutual commitment between the Brewers and their 28-year-old superstar outfielder is reflected in the details of the deal, which is the richest contract in franchise history. It has a full no-trade clause that begins immediately and does not include any opt-outs, which have become common in recent years in the mega-contracts other elite players have inked. The contract also has $28 million in deferrals that will help Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns fill out the roster around Yelich when his base salary jumps to $26 million per season from 2022-28.

Before Friday, the largest contract in Brewers history was Ryan Braun’s $105 million extension, signed in 2011. The new money that Yelich will earn in his deal -- seven years and $188.5 million -- puts him among the 20 highest-paid players in Major League history by average annual value. But, because the extension required adding a no-trade clause to the final two guaranteed years on his former deal, and nixing a 2022 club option, it required a new, nine-year contract.

Could Yelich have earned more had he waited two or three years, until he reaches free agency? Perhaps.

But the time felt right, he said, to commit.

“This is a place where I wanted to play and where I wanted to be,” Yelich said. “I realize that I had three years before free agency, but above all else, I meant it when I said that I want to finish my career as a Milwaukee Brewer. Not only that, I want to be a part of winning teams as a Milwaukee Brewer. That’s very important to myself. It’s a large sum of money and people are always going to ask the ‘what-if’s’ -- did you leave [money on the table] or not? -- but I play the game to win, and to be a part of a place that I feel comfortable and I take pride in representing. For me, this is that place.

“That’s how I made this decision. It wasn’t one that I took lightly. I spent a lot of time talking about it with my family and my representatives. At the end day, we felt that this was right.”

It was Yelich who initiated talks, said Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, beginning with a lunch meeting on Oct. 31 at a Beverly Hills restaurant between Attanasio and Yelich’s agent, Joe Longo. Negotiations ensued over subsequent months, including two sessions attended by Yelich himself -- one in Los Angeles and one last week at the Camby Hotel in Phoenix, where Yelich, Longo, Attanasio and Stearns neared the finish line.

“I think that was the final day,” Longo said. “That was kind of where both sides sort of came to an agreement on a deal while we were sitting there.”

Both sides are assuming some risk. From the Brewers’ point of view, the risk is obvious when one considers that the commitment to Yelich falls $8 million shy of the $223 million Attanasio spent to buy the whole franchise 15 years ago. For Yelich, the question was whether to sign now, with three years remaining on his contract, or see what 29 other teams would offer when he hit free agency at age 31. It would have been much more tempting to go that route, Longo said, had the sides pushed the issue to next offseason.

“It was very challenging for me to come at this because I always feel like I’m a fan first,” Attanasio said. “And what Brewers fan, in the 50th year that we’re celebrating of our existence, wouldn’t want a way to keep Christian here for his career?”

“It’s very rare that a player and team’s identities become so intertwined in such a short period of time,” Stearns said, “and that’s happened here with Yelich and the Brewers, the state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee.”

Yelich’s third season in a Brewers uniform informally began Friday afternoon, when he went hitless in three at-bats as the designated hitter in a 5-5 tie with the Giants. Yelich’s first Cactus League action came at the end of what manager Craig Counsell figured was an emotional day.

“He didn’t have to do a lot in the field, but I’m guessing he’s exhausted,” Counsell said. “He did a fabulous job, I thought, of describing his feelings and why he wanted to do this.”

Already a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner when the Brewers acquired him from the Marlins for four premium prospects in January 2018, Yelich quickly elevated to superstar status with Milwaukee. In his NL MVP season, Yelich became the first league batting champion in Brewers history. He was even better in '19, hitting .329 for a second straight batting title, while leading the Majors in OPS. Yelich's 44 home runs were the most for a Brewers hitter since Prince Fielder slugged 46 in 2009.

Comfort was key, he said, and that began days after the trade when he boarded Attanasio’s private plane with Attanasio, Braun, Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker and Hall of Famer Robin Yount to fly to Milwaukee for the Brewers’ annual fanfest. Yelich was quiet on the way there, Attanasio remembers. Longo recalls that Yelich said he was nervous.

But on the return flight, Yelich was far more chatty. Attanasio remembers quizzing Braun and Yelich about pitchers of interest to the Brewers.

“You really want my opinion?” Yelich asked on the plane.

Just like that, a relationship was formed.

"I just really enjoy playing in the city of Milwaukee, the state of Wisconsin," Yelich said. "The fan base embraced me from Day One. For me, it's just a really special place to play. Our goal here is to eventually bring a World Series to Milwaukee and to the Brewers' organization, and we're now going to have that opportunity over the next nine years."

A source confirmed the terms of the deal, which was first reported by MLB Network insider Jon Heyman on Thursday evening. Yelich has the $12.5 million and $14 million salaries for 2020 and '21 from his former contract, and he will then earn $26 million per season from 2022-28. In each of those seven seasons, $4 million is deferred until the end of the deal.

The mutual option for '29 would pay $20 million, with a $6.5 million buyout. Thus, he is guaranteed $215 million, with a chance to earn up to $228.5 million in base salaries should both sides exercise the option.

The concept of an opt-out clause was never raised.

“It was a partnership,” Yelich said. “I didn’t want to go into something like this just to leave it at some point. We never really talked about the possibility of an opt-out. It wasn’t something that was important to me. I think kind of the situation I was in, it was never a thing that was going to happen, and I didn’t care about it because I wanted to be here for the long haul. That’s basically how it happened. I don’t know that it’s a great answer but it’s a truth.”

Business details aside, the highlight of his news conference came when Yelich was asked about the human side of the sport. He fought back tears recalling the family members, coaches and teammates who helped him get to the moment, including two current teammates, Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain, who stood off to the side as Yelich spoke. Counsell also attended.

“There are a lot of people who made my life a priority over theirs at times,” Yelich said. “It’s just a cool day.”