PHOENIX -- Christian Yelich told no more than a half-dozen people that he was in talks about a long-term extension before it came to fruition on Friday. One close friend was particularly helpful, he said, because more than Yelich’s parents, his brothers or his agent, Ryan Braun could understand exactly the decision Yelich was facing.
“I bounced a lot of stuff off Brauny,” Yelich told broadcaster Lane Grindle for a special edition of the Brewers On Tap podcast released late Friday. “He’s someone I’ve gotten close to over the last two years. Our careers have followed a similar trajectory.”
Said Braun on Saturday morning: “I would say the initial conversations probably started with me.”
That was more than a year ago, Braun figures. That means the teammates would have been talking about the concept of long-term commitment to Milwaukee before Yelich began the defense of his 2018 National League MVP Award. By October, Yelich was convinced. He instructed agent Joe Longo to open a dialogue, which began over lunch with Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio in Beverly Hills on Oct. 31.
Throughout the offseason, Braun and Yelich remained in touch as negotiations ebbed and flowed. Among the topics they discussed at length: Ways to channel resources back into the community in California, where Braun and Yelich helped create “California Strong” in the wake of a mass shooting and wildfires in 2018, and in Milwaukee, site of a mass shooting at the Molson Coors brewery last month. That’s a topic both players say they think about often, how to use their financial heft and platform to help their communities.
“He and I talk so much about our lives, and our careers have paralleled each other’s in so many ways,” Braun said. “Just in where he’s at in his personal life, and where we grew up, and that he would have been the first L.A. guy to go to [the University of] Miami since I went there. Like, I really feel like I’m getting to relive a lot of this stuff through him. So, we relate to each other on a lot of unique levels.
“I really appreciate him having the trust and confidence in me to confide in me as he was dealing with this, and as he deals with other things that are more important than this in real life. It meant a lot to me.”
It was nine years ago that Braun found himself in a similar position. Like Yelich, he signed a contract extension early in his career that turned out to be team-friendly. The eight-year, $45 million deal Braun struck with the Brewers in 2008 set a record for a player with less than one year of Major League service; Yelich signed with the Marlins for seven years and $49.57 million in March 2015 when he had one-plus year of service.
Neither player got to the end of their initial deals. Braun set a club record when he signed a five-year, $105 million extension in 2011, and is just now entering his final guaranteed season. Yelich broke the record Friday with a new, nine-year contract that guarantees $215 million.
“Look,” Braun said, “if we’re objective about it, we all recognize that the way this game works, we’re significantly underpaid early, and then my situation was similar [to Yelich] in that I significantly outperformed what my initial contract was. You get to a point where it’s a difficult position to be in mentally and emotionally, where you realize you’re so significantly underpaid. Obviously, we all play the game to win. We all love the game. We play for each other. We play with the intention of winning a championship. But at the same time, it’s always a business.
“When you get to that position, there’s so few guys who can relate to the way that he was feeling. I was one of them. So we’ve had a lot of conversations over a long period of time.”
The parallels were not lost on Yelich.
“I definitely talk to Ryan about a lot of things,” Yelich said. “Not only about this process but from my first days as a Brewer. His career has had a similar trajectory as mine as far as contracts and everything that’s happened. He was a big part of this. He gave me great advice.”
The Brewers held Friday’s press conference in a small auditorium with three rows of seats, designed to be used as a classroom for Minor League players. It was too tight for the whole team to attend, so Braun and Lorenzo Cain represented the players along with manager Craig Counsell.
On Saturday morning during their daily team meeting, the Brewers celebrated as a group.
Braun called it “definitely a passing of the torch-like moment.”
“I mean, he carried himself as well as anybody possibly could,” Braun said. “I was incredibly impressed. He handles everything really well. He’s had a lot that’s come his way the last couple of years, and I think he’s gotten so comfortable dealing with the media and handling challenging questions, and really embracing the role and the responsibility. Not just with our team, but within the game as a whole.
“I’m proud of him. I feel like a proud big brother. I was over there watching him like a proud big brother.”