It’s pretty easy to see the Brewers locking up Christian Yelich through the 2028 season as a win-win. (Indeed, we might even be able to add an extra win for Brewers fans.) Christian Yelich gets a high salary for a long period of time and the Brewers retain one of the best players in baseball for nearly a decade. Jay Jaffe went through the contract yesterday, noting the very good ZiPS projections for Yelich as well as the lack of spending on players in their 30s in free agency over the last few seasons. The three seasons Yelich had remaining on his previous deal meant he wasn’t going to get the $300 million contract he would have if he had been a free agent now, but the Brewers’ $215 million commitment (roughly $175 million beyond his previous deal) represented a good compromise. Just how well the contract plays out depends on how Yelich plays in his 30s. So let’s see how players like Yelich have fared in the past.
To find players like Yelich, I looked at outfielders going back to 1969 with between 20 and 30 WAR between the ages of 24 and 27 years old, with Yelich’s 25.4 in the middle. I took out the players who weren’t within 25 runs of Yelich’s -5.4 defensive runs. Then, I removed players with fewer than six wins in their age-27 season to keep them in range of Yelich’s 7.8 WAR season last year. Here’s how those players compare to Yelich, from 24 to 27:
Overall, we have a group that’s pretty close to Yelich. While Yelich gains a win on baserunning, he also gets the benefit of UBR, which wasn’t around before 2002 and would make the BsR score about equal between Yelich and his comps. Yelich is still a bit better with the bat and slightly worse with the glove, but isn’t too far off in either direction. The group should immediately stand out for its greatness, as six of the 11 players are Hall of Famers with the rest having enjoyed very impressive careers. All these players were coming off very good seasons just like Yelich. With Yelich’s age-28 season less than a month away, it might be helpful to see how the group performed at that age:
That 4.7 WAR is a touch under our projected 5.6 figure, but add in the 50 more plate appearances Yelich is projected for and three extra runs on the bases compared to the group above, and we are basically there. In any event, these are some very good seasons. Now, let’s look at ages 28-30 as a whole, covering the rest of Yelich’s seasons controlled under the previous contract:
For the most part we get some really good results, with the players averaging more than four wins per season. The group hit at a very high level, with the average 136 wRC+. It’s interesting to note that this group stayed mostly healthy and that there aren’t any real outliers, particularly on offense, pushing the average up or down. It’s a fairly consistent group.
But none of the years we’ve talked about cover the seasons that Yelich’s extension covers. Because Andrew McCutchen has only played though his age-32 season, we’ll take the next set in two parts. First, here’s ages-31 and 32:
More good news for Yelich, as this group maintained its production into their early 30s, again averaging four wins per season. Only two players, Andrew McCutchen and Dave Parker, didn’t produce in those seasons and Parker’s issues are well known. While McCutchen’s production the last few seasons doesn’t bode well for the next four years, we have to take him out of the next group. Here’s the same set of players from age-31 through age-36, the years of Yelich’s contract that weren’t covered by the previous deal:
The results are consistent with a four-win player who declines by half a win per season. When Dan Szymborski ran his long-term ZiPS for Yelich for Jaffe’s piece, those same seasons were worth 18.8 WAR. This group of players in pretty consistent with that figure. If we assume a nine million dollars per win at present in free agency, and a five percent inflation rate, those 17 wins will be worth around $190 million. The Brewers are paying just $174 million for that potential production (and maybe less when deferrals are factored in); that’s just an 8% discount of the projected value three years in advance. Given the uncertainty in player performance, and that the Brewers were not under any pressure to sign Yelich, that discount is not significant. The Brewers are likely to get exactly what they pay for and Yelich gets long term security. Everybody wins.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.