While the Milwaukee Brewers are coming off winning the NL Central, it is safe to say that they have entered period of transition heading into next season.
First their former President of Baseball Operations, David Stearns, took a new job running the New York Mets. Next their manager, Craig Counsell left them to join a division rival in the Chicago Cubs.
Now the Brewers look ahead towards the 2024 season where they are caught between trying to compete, while also looking to capitalize on some of their top impending free agents like former Cy Young Corbin Burnes and shortstop Willy Adames.
With so much in flux right now for the Brewers, it would be fair to wonder if Christian Yelich could find his name onto the trade block. If so, how many suitors would there really be for his services?
Yelich is still owed at least $116.5 million over the next five years and that is not even counting deferred money is contract for an additional $28 million paid over 12 years. Despite the fact that Yelich coming off a really solid season, there are few teams in baseball who would willingly take on the back-half of such a lucrative contract.
The one exception however could be the New York Mets, who just happen to be run by the executive that signed Yelich to that contract in the first place.
Why Would the Brewers Want to Trade Christian Yelich?
Yelich is the face of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise and has been since he won the NL MVP in his first season with the club back in 2018. Yelich was simply sensational in his first two seasons with the Brewers, hitting .327/.415/.631, with a 170 wRC+ across the 2018 and 2019.
Not typically a home run hitter earlier in his career, Yelich smacked 80 home runs, which trailed only Mike Trout and Eugenio Suarez for the league-lead during that span. He also posted two seven-win seasons according to fWAR, with his 14.9 mark trailing only Trout, Mookie Betts and Alex Bregman in those seasons.
Following his sensational two-year run, Yelich approached the Brewers about signing a contract extension, wanting to remain in Milwaukee for the rest of his career.
After re-watching the press conference where they announced the extension in March of 2020, it is easy to be taken aback by how much the narratives can change in a few years when it comes to a player signing a long-term deal.
When Yelich’s signing was announced by then-Brewers President of Baseball Operations, David Stearns and team owner Mark Attanasio, they were in the absolute honeymoon phase. Stearns and Attanasio spoke about how impactful Yelich had been, not only on the field but in the community.
They romanticized the contract and how it would keep Yelich in a Brewers uniform for the rest of his career. What they didn’t say out loud in that press conference though, was just how rare it was for the Brewers to make such a commitment.
One of the things I found very interesting was how this extension came about, based on the timeline that was laid out by Stearns and Attanasio.
Attanasio says in the press conference that Yelich approached him about an extension on Halloween in 2019. The contract was not finalized until March. It took over four months for this deal to be hammered out and Stearns heaped praise on Yelich’s agent for, “getting creative to work through their restraints in getting a deal done.”
Those restraints were obviously budgetary concerns, as having a player make a salary north of $20 million per season is uncharacteristic for the small market Brewers.
The more you dive into the contract, the more you can see the writing on the wall as to how limiting a deal like this can be to a franchise that operates on such a small budget.
First off, Yelich was signed to a seven-year extension, but that deal did not replace the team-friendly contract he had signed earlier in his career with the Miami Marlins. A seven-year deal that paid him just under $50 million.
Under his old contract, Yelich was set to make $12.5 million in 2020 and $14 million in 2021. Those figures remained the same in his new deal, which was important to the Brewers as it let some other big money come off their books.
In 2020, the Brewers were set to pay both Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain $16 million. Then in 2021, Braun would be off the books, but Cain was set to remain for one more season at that $16 million salary. By keeping his original contract in place, the Brewers did not have to start paying him north of $20 million until all their other eight-figure salaries were off the books entirely.
Now we fast-forward four years and everything has changed for Yelich and the Brewers.
After winning an MVP in 2018 and finishing runner-up in 2019, Yelich has not received a single MVP vote in his first four seasons after signing the contract. A back injury limited Yelich in 2021, but overall he just hasn’t been the same player.
Across the last four seasons, Yelich has hit .254/.362/.407, with just 54 home runs and a 112 wRC+. The decline in power has been the biggest difference for Yelich, as he has still gotten on base at a high clip, while playing solid defense and being an above-average baserunner.
One has to wonder how much the juiced baseball of 2019 helped Yelich, who smashed more home runs that season (44) than he has in the last three years combined (42).
Mark Attanasio talked a big game about how much the franchise loved Yelich when they signed him to the $188.5 million extension, but after seeing the decline in his production, it would be fair to wonder if there is a little bit of buyer’s remorse in retrospect.
Yelich’s original contract expired after the 2021 season, so his decline was already evident before he even started to tap into that extension money that he earned off his great 2018 and 2019 seasons. This is why the contract was such a great deal for Yelich in retrospect.
Now the Brewers are looking at Yelich’s salary figure as a real roadblock moving forward. They just signed top prospect Jackson Chourio to a record-breaking extension before he even plays a game to ensure that his contract remains at a fixed cost that they can afford.
Would you be surprised at all to learn that this contract is backloaded (most pre-arb extension are) to the point where he will not make eight figures until 2029. What is so significant about that year you ask? Well, 2029 is when Yelich has a $20 million mutual option in his contract, with a $6.5 million buyout. Once Yelich comes off the books, that’s when the Brewers will really start to pay Chourio.
All of this is to say that getting Yelich off the Brewers books would be a massive benefit to the franchise moving forward. It would allow the front office way more flexibility to work under their financial constraints and it would free Attanasio from the burden of a nine-figure commitment on a player who is no longer performing atop the league.
Yelich is still a beloved figure in Milwaukee and has a full no-trade clause to remain there if he chooses, but if you were to imagine a scenario where a trade was discussed, there really is no telling what the Brewers would do to get him off their books.
Why the Mets Would Want Christian Yelich
Everything we have discussed about Yelich’s contract holds true when it comes to another team acquiring him. Considering his uneven performance over the last few years, there is plenty of risk in taking on such a large salary.
Yelich turned 32 years old on December 5th and is under contract through his age-36 season. His days of hitting north of 30 home runs seem to be behind him, as his 19 home runs this past season was his best mark in four years.
With all of that said, Yelich is still an above-average hitter and was worth just over four wins this past season (4.1 fWAR). The New York Mets are pretty thin in the outfield right now, with Brandon Nimmo representing their only sure-fire starter on the roster.
Starling Marte is coming off a brutal 2023 campaign, which was largely affected by a groin injury from 2022 that he may never fully recover from. DJ Stewart is a holdover from last season who showed some promise, but is far from a cornerstone to build around.
In the minor leagues, the Mets have top prospect Drew Gilbert who they acquired in the Justin Verlander trade, but other than that, they are light on top-end outfield prospects.
Yelich could slide into left field next season and provide the Mets with a veteran leader and a really solid bat to put near the top of their lineup. Through an 11-year career, Yelich has never finished with an on-base percentage below .355.
With owner Steve Cohen, the Mets have the ability to absorb big salaries and have often used that to take advantage of the market in ways that other teams cannot.
Trading for Yelich could be one of those instances, as they could add an outfielder that would help them contend now, while also potentially getting a pitcher in the deal for doing them the favor of absorbing a salary that the smaller market Brewers would love to get off their books.
Which Arms Could Sweeten the Package for the Mets?
If David Stearns were to pursue a trade for Christian Yelich, this would be very much reminiscent of the infamous trade the Mets made back in 2019, when they acquired closer Edwin Diaz but had to take on Robinson Cano’s contract with him.
Then-GM Brodie Van Wagenen had a personal relationship with Cano, being that he was his former agent and believed he could still be a middle of the order contributor. Now in this instance, Yelich does not have the PED concerns and he is also four years younger than Cano was at the time.
What is the same however is the personal relationship that the Mets lead executive has with the player, as Stearns surely values Yelich’s contributions as a player and person more than most other executives who haven’t had the chance to work with him for so many years.
Reuniting with Yelich could be intriguing to Stearns, but only if he can land some pitching back in return as well. There are three arms that the Mets should be all over in this type of a trade, it is just a matter of what the Brewers would realistically put on the table.
Let’s break down the options:
RHP Corbin Burns, 29 years old, FA: 2025
We open with the biggest name, but one that may be the least likely to be included in such a deal. Burnes is a perennial Cy Young candidate, who many believe will be traded by the deadline next season. Set to hit free agency after the 2024 campaign, the Brewers are on the clock to get value back for their best arm.
Attaching him in what is effectively a salary dump doesn’t feel like the best way to do that.
For the Mets to take on Yelich’s salary, they are not going to want to give up a sizeable prospect return. The whole idea is to lessen the prospect capital they would have to give up to get a pitcher. While Burnes is great, he only has one year of control and the Mets can just wait until he becomes a free agent and then pursue him next offseason.
If the Brewers are going to ask for blue chip prospects in such a trade, the Mets are going to want a controllable arm. Which brings us to what would be the most ideal pitcher to acquire from a Mets perspective.
RHP Freddy Peralta, 27 years old, FA: 2027
Freddy Peralta is the one pitcher the Brewers have to build around right now, because he was signed to such a brilliant pre-arb extension (by none other than Stearns himself).
Peralta is set to make $5.5 million in 2024, then has a pair of club options for 2025 and 2026 that are valued at $8 million a piece. An argument can be made that this is best contract in baseball for a pitcher of Peralta’s caliber.
Last year, Peralta pitched to a 3.86 ERA across 165 2/3 innings pitched, with 210 strikeouts. His expected stats were even better, as he had a 3.35 xERA and a 3.42 xFIP.
Getting a pitcher like Peralta at that dollar amount would be massive for the Mets and would make it worth actually including a solid prospect return in a Yelich trade, which would make such a deal easier to swallow for Brewers fans.
On the other hand, the Brewers could get way more for Peralta if they didn’t water down the trade asset by including Yelich in such a trade. So it would really depend on how far the Mets would go with their trade package.
Between Jett Williams, Luisangel Acuña and Drew Gilbert, the Mets have three prospects who are becoming near consensus top-100 guys and a package headlined by any one of them, while taking on all of Yelich’s money could open the door to a blockbuster deal.
RHP Devin Williams, 29 years old, FA: 2026
Now we get to the final arm that could interest the Mets and the one that is probably the most likely to be acquired in such a deal. Devin Williams is one of the best relief pitchers in baseball and would look absolutely dynamic setting up Edwin Diaz in Queens.
Primarily thanks to his air-bending changeup, Williams has racked up 337 strikeouts in 214 career innings pitched, good for an absurd career 39% strikeout rate. Williams saved 36 games last year, while pitching to a sparkling 1.53 ERA.
While he is one of the best relief pitchers in the game, relievers still have far less value on the market than starting pitchers. In this instance, the Mets would not have to forfeit nearly the same prospect capital in a deal, as Williams would simply be the carrot that they receive for taking on Yelich’s money.
Brewers fans might hate the idea of trading any of their top arms in such a trade, when instead they could flip all three this offseason to completely rebuild their farm system. Really though, it just depends on how prohibitive owner Mark Attanasio views Yelich’s money moving forward.
Considering all of the flexibility a Yelich trade would provide over the next five years, giving up a closer two years removed from free agency shouldn’t be a sticking point.
Will a Trade Happen?
Christian Yelich still holds all the power in this with his no-trade clause, so there is every chance nothing comes of this. He may just finish his career with the Milwaukee Brewers as intended when he signed the deal.
If Yelich were to get traded though, you would be hard-pressed to find a better landing spot than the New York Mets.
With their obvious need for an outfielder, his connection to David Stearns and of course their ability to add payroll, the Mets are the ideal trade partner for the Brewers in a Yelich trade.