The Perfectly Reasonable Christian Yelich Extension

Not every contract extension is a winner for both sides. Sometimes teams guarantee too much money without getting many prime seasons. Sometimes players give away too many free agent years. In Christian Yelich’s 7-year, $49.6 million contract (corrected from $51 million) — with a team option for an eighth year — the Marlins have secured Yelich’s services through his 20s and bought out three potential free agent seasons, which could bring significant savings down the line. However, $50 million is also a significant guarantee for Yelich, and this deal looks like a winner for both sides.

Signed out of high school five years ago for $1.7 million, Yelich made the minimum for part of a year in 2013 and all of 2014. He would have made the minimum again this season and next, meaning he was faced with earning under $2 million total for his first four seasons, and if he stayed healthy and productive over the next two seasons, his reward would have been an arbitration salary of around $5 million. If he played well and avoided major injury, he could earn $7 million for his first five seasons, with the bulk of that money still three years away. Yelich faced considerable risk with an eight-figure reward not anywhere in his short-term future.

Given his uncertain prospective earnings, signing a contract guaranteeing close to $50 million is an entirely reasonable decision. Three years of free agency might be one or two more than he would have liked to give away, but at the same time, and the Marlins could end up looking very good down the line, but Yelich sold a lot of risk for a pretty significant guaranteed income, and he’s young enough to land another mega-contract down the line, as he’ll still be a free agent after his age-30 season even if the Marlins exercise their eighth year option.

How does it stack up against other extensions? Yelich’s contract is the second-largest guarantee to a player with under two years of service time over the past two seasons; Andrelton Simmons‘ seven-year deal worth $58 million signed last February is still the largest. Here are the contract extensions signed over roughly the last two years.

Name Team Age Prior WAR Contract (Year/$M) Options Service Time Free Agent Years
Andrelton Simmons Braves 24 4.6 7/58 0 1.125 2
Starling Marte Pirates 25 4.6 6/31 2 1.070 3
Yan Gomes Indians 26 3.6 6/23 2 1.083 3
Paul Goldschmidt D’Backs 25 2.9 5/32 1 1.059 1
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 23 1.8 7/41 2 1.040 4
Jose Altuve Astros 23 1.5 4/12 2 1.072* 1

(*Altuve’s deal was signed in July 2013. He had 1.072 days of service before the 2013 season started)

Yelich’s deal is in line with other players with other players with his service time, but he is receiving more guaranteed money than most of his peers.

Name Team Age Prior Year WAR Contract (Year/$M) Options Service Time Free Agent Years
Christian Yelich Marlins 23 4.6 7/50 1 1.069 3

Yelich’s contract slots in between Simmons and Marte. He receives significantly more guaranteed money than Marte — whose contract with the Pirates was far too generous to the team — but gave up more team control than Simmons. Given the prior deals, Yelich’s contract is not a market-setter for players, nor is it such a good deal for the team that others agents will be shaking their heads. Yelich is a solid player with potential for more growth, but he is not yet a star and depending on how well Marcell Ozuna develops, Yelich could be the third best outfielder on his own team. With Giancarlo Stanton just 25 years old, Ozuna just 24, and Yelich just 23, the Marlins are set up very well in the outfield. Ozuna has shown more power and plays the more important defensive position in center field, but Yelich’s patience and production have exceeded Ozuna thus far despite playing a corner outfield position.

In 2013, Yelich got some exposure to the majors and hit well. His .288/.370/.396 line was good for a wRC+ of 116 in 273 plate appearances. He started full-time last season and repeated the prior year’s success, hitting .284/.362/.402 for a wRC+ of 116. He has an unusual hitting profile, loading up on ground balls which fuels his high .363 career BABIP. He appears to have a good idea of what he is doing at the plate as he has just one infield pop-up in his MLB career (and none by late-August), approaching Joe Mauer and Joey Votto-like propensities for eschewing the easy out.

Yelich’s value is not entirely BABIP-dependent. He has walked at a high level since reaching the majors with his 10.6% walk-rate in 2014 good for 14th among National League qualifiers. His patience in 2014 does not appear to be a fluke. At every minor league stop where he received more than 200 plate appearances as well as both seasons in the majors, Yelich has had a double-digit walk rate. He has shown some pop with the bat hitting nine home runs to go along with 30 doubles and running his way to six triples in 2014. The large park in Miami may play some role in his numbers with seven of his nine home runs coming on the road and all six of his triples coming at home. Speed has been an important trait in Yelich’s game. He had 16 infield hits in 2014 and his six bunt hits ranked seventh in the NL. He has stolen 31 bases in 38 tries (81.6%) in the majors. His Base Running (BsR) of 8.7 ranks 11th in the NL over the past two years despite playing just half a season in 2013.

Yelich should be a good value for the Marlins and continue to play well as he continues to move into and through his prime years. The projection systems like him in 2015. Steamer pegs Yelich for an above-average season with three wins, but regresses his BABIP down to .328 causing a slight drop in offense. ZiPS is more optimistic, projecting a .350 BABIP and a .279/.356/.423 line, good for four wins.

Locking up Yelich long-term does little to change the future plans of the Marlins. He was already under team control for the next five seasons, but Miami does gain cost-certainty and the potential for some relatively cheap free agent seasons without paying him past his prime. While Marcell Ozuna is another player who would be an extension candidate, he’s represented by Scott Boras, and Ozuna is very likely to be a Super Two player at the end of this season; an extension there seems unlikely.

Yelich is precisely the type of player teams try to sign to an extension; young, has played well in limited time in the majors, and is still several years away from a big salary, increasing his incentive to sign a long-term deal. With this deal, the Marlins get up to three extra years of Yelich’s services for an added cost above-and-beyond his expected arbitration prices of around $40 million, which will certainly look like a huge bargain if he continues on his current path. But for Yelich, this locks in security he didn’t yet have, and comes at a price where selling his risk makes sense.

This is a good extension for both sides, and will hopefully show other young players that they don’t need to settle for the kind of contract Starling Marte took from the Pirates last year. You can get long-term security at a fair price. Yelich just did.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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9 years ago

As the CBA comes closer to expiring, I bet we see more teams lock players up to secure those cost savings. I think the next CBA agreement will see player salaries rise.