On Tuesday night, the baseball world was shook by the blockbuster trade of superstar outfielder Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Is a similar trade down the line for the Milwaukee Brewers with their superstar Christian Yelich?
Baseball makes us feel many things: Happiness, sadness, excitement, disappointment, hurt, confusion, optimism, pessimism, and upset. Currently, Red Sox fans are experiencing more of those negative feelings. Why? Because their team just traded away a 27-year old superstar outfielder in a year where they were planning to contend because they “couldn’t afford” to sign him to a contract extension. This situation sounds fairly familiar to one the Brewers could find themselves in down the road.
Both Betts and Christian Yelich were the league MVPs in 2018, both are very young, superstar outfielders, and both would command a lot of money on the open market. Betts was always intent on reaching free agency, and will do so after the 2020 season. Yelich, however, signed a contract extension with the Marlins that the Brewers now reap the rewards of, holding control of Yelich for the next three seasons at a salary way below what he’s worth.
But if the Boston Red Sox, one of the wealthiest franchises in baseball “can’t afford” to keep Betts and had to trade him, is that something the Brewers will have to do as well?
Analyzing The Mookie Betts Trade
Most people around baseball look at this trade as a complete win for the Dodgers and a loss for the Red Sox. In return for their young, superstar outfielder, they got an outfield prospect in Alex Verdugo that has a high ceiling, but a bunch of question marks, and a fireballing pitcher from the Twins in Brusdar Graterol that has electric stuff, but could end up being a reliever. On its face, the return seems exceptionally low.
For a player with Betts’ arbitration salary, $27 million, and only one year of team control before free agency, his trade value was fairly low, but attaching David Price and his contract to the deal is what lowered the total return.
The Dodgers make out like bandits, the Twins get something that they need at a fairly steep price, and the Red Sox will take a step back in 2020.
While the Red Sox and Betts reportedly tried talking about an extension, they were never really close and that led to the trade, knowing they would only get a draft pick for him after he left in free agency.
Brewers fans have been asking about a Yelich extension for quite some time now, and GM David Stearns seems hesitant to talk about it, saying only that he’s happy to have Yelich, he’s under contract for three more seasons, and obviously he’d love to keep him for longer than that. Basically, he hasn’t started extension talks, but even if he did, it’s doubtful that he would tell us. Putting that out there serves no purpose for his leverage.
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We here at Reviewing the Brew widely expect extension talks to heat up next offseason, after Ryan Braun‘s contract runs out and the Brewers will have more money available to give to Yelich. It’s no guarantee that a deal gets done, but two years away from free agency is a good point to start extension talks.
Could the Brewers end up in the same situation as the Red Sox?
If the Brewers can’t reach an agreement with Yelich on a long-term contract extension heading into his final season of club control, there’s an outside chance they would consider trading him, depending on how competitive they are two years down the road.
The big difference between the two clubs, and this is important, is that Boston has a cluttered payroll with a lot of big, long-term contracts already on their hands. They have Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, JD Martinez, and Nathan Eovaldi each under contract for the next 3+ seasons, with each of them earning a salary of $17MM or higher. The Red Sox have $90MM locked up in just those four players. Affording Betts along with that and David Price’s contract for the next few years was simply too much.
The Brewers, while to the dismay of fans, have kept their payroll pretty clean of large, long-term contracts. This offseason, Stearns signed free agents to mostly one-year contracts, with a few exceptions being Avisail Garcia on a two-year deal and Josh Lindblom on a three-year contract. This will help the Brewers have all the money necessary to sign Yelich to a long term deal. They only have $51MM guaranteed for 2021, and the only players with guaranteed contracts in 2022 are Lindblom and Lorenzo Cain.
Since the Brewers aren’t in as big of a payroll mess as the Red Sox are, they won’t be as desperate to trade Yelich if it gets to the final year of his contract. Even if Yelich turns down extension offers from the Brewers, his $15MM salary for 2022 will be seen as a bargain for inquiring teams, and the Brewers won’t have to attach a bad contract along with him to get a deal done. That’s a far different situation than what Boston had with Betts and his $27MM salary in 2020, which is seen as market value.
Basically, the Brewers won’t be in as bad of a spot as Boston was with Betts. There is a chance they could end up trading Yelich heading into the final year of his contract if they can’t reach an agreement on an extension and feel like they aren’t competitive, but even if they do, they’ll be able to get much more in return for Yelich than what the Red Sox got.
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It’s still too soon to worry about trading Yelich and what could happen 2-3 years down the road. The Betts situation was unfortunate for the Red Sox and now everyone else in the National League, but the Brewers won’t find themselves in the exact same situation.