As the Milwaukee Brewers and star outfielder Christian Yelich are completing a long-term contract extension that will likely keep him with the club for at least the prime years of his career and a few years beyond that, the trade that brought him to Milwaukee in the first place is looking better and better.
Yelich’s former team, the Miami Marlins, were in the middle of their housecleaning under the new ownership of Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter when they traded him, Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna, all for prospects.
At the time, there was a debate as to which of the two biggest stars – Yelich and Stanton – would yield more on the trade market. Both are tremendous talents. However, with the team-friendly contract he’d signed with the Marlins and his general durability, Yelich was clearly a superior option even if he was costlier in terms of prospects. With Stanton, the only thing a team needed to be willing to do was to take that $325 million pallet of anvils through 2027. Prior to the new contract with the Brewers, Yelich was guaranteed $49.57 million through 2021 with a $15 million club option and $1.25 million buyout for 2022.
With Yelich blossoming from an excellent player into an outright superstar with consecutive seasons in which he won the Most Valuable Player in 2018 and was the runner-up in 2019, the Brewers chose to lock him up.
The trade itself does not appear to be costly now given what Yelich has provided them, but the Brewers surrendered a chunk of their system to complete the deal. To Miami, they sent three top-100 prospects in Lewis Brinson, Isan Diaz and Monte Harrison along with an alluring arm in Jordan Yamamoto. Brinson is running out of chances to prove he can hit big league pitching, but Diaz looks like a future star. Harrison could end up replacing Brinson as the Marlins’ center fielder of the future.
Yelich boosted his production from an .800 OPS in five years in Miami to 1.046 and the previously mentioned hardware in his two years in Milwaukee. He has justified the cost and then some. Certainly, he was helped by moving from a home ballpark with friendlier dimensions in Miller Park vs. the cavernous Marlins Park.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves were two known suitors for Yelich at the time he was traded to Milwaukee. There were others. The Yankees ended up with Stanton and undoubtedly regret it. They have no one to blame other than themselves. They had the prospects to get Yelich had they taken that route, but they allowed themselves to essentially be forced into taking Stanton because there was a marketing ploy to combine Stanton and Aaron Judge in the same lineup.
Yelich might not have had the glamour of Stanton, but he was and is a more useful player. Stanton steered the deal to pinstripes when he refused trades to both the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants, basically telling Jeter it was the Yankees or nothing. At the time, Jeter was mocked for supposedly helping the Yankees; that a diabolical plan to turn the Yankees back into a dynastic powerhouse including him taking over the Marlins and sending them Stanton for nothing. In retrospect, he got unintentional(?) vengeance against Brian Cashman for his contentious final free agent contract negotiation with the Yankees in which the GM told Jeter to leave if he didn’t like the offer.
The Marlins did quite well in both trades. For Stanton, they received two good prospects in Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers, some veteran production in Starlin Castro, and cleared that horrendous contract.
The Yankees did not need Stanton. Yelich has been ahead of Stanton in every conceivable context. This is not hindsight given the comparisons of the players’ two seasons after leaving Miami. It was known at the time that Yelich was the true prize and that has proven to be so. Even as he signs a long-term contract extension for $215 million, it’s $110 million less than the full freight of Stanton’s deal.
The argument could be made that the Brewers were under no pressure to give him a contract extension now. Still, owner Mark Attanasio is generous with his players, treats them well and wants to win despite mid-market constraints. The uncertainty of the upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations and how it will impact just about everything involved with the game is not a small concern. An understated factor could be that the Brewers would prefer to add Yelich to their organization’s Mount Rushmore with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor instead of current team home run leader Ryan Braun, whose reputation is still suffering from his PED suspension and his series of lies about it. Braun’s contract is up at the end of 2020 with a mutual option for 2021. Though Braun is still a Brewer, it’s Yelich’s team now.
The Brewers made certain Yelich is theirs basically for the rest of his career by going beyond the team-friendly contract and tearing up the club option for 2022. It all started with that trade. It was expensive, but it was worth it.