Now that the Milwaukee Brewers know what the cost of keeping Christian Yelich will be long-term, it should provide David Stearns more flexibility in free agency moving forward.
Just as Spring Training was underway and luckily just before baseball, and the entire sports world for that matter, was shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Milwaukee Brewers and Christian Yelich agreed to a contract extension that will keep him with the team for what could be the remainder of his career.
This is a move that every Milwaukee Brewers fan wanted to see, but some remained skeptical that it would actually happen given that Milwaukee is very conscious of their payroll spending, especially under GM David Stearns. However, with some financial maneuvering, the former MVP and one of the best players in baseball will be staying in Milwaukee.
While there are plenty of obvious reasons that Yelich signing with Milwaukee long-term is good for the Brewers, there is also a positive trickle-down effect when it comes to the way Stearns handles free agency moving forward. To put it simply, he now has more flexibility.
Despite making a few big free agent additions in the past which includes Lorenzo Cain, Yasmani Grandal, as well as Mike Moustakas and that on Opening Day in 2019 the Brewers had a record-setting payroll, many fans were upset with how Stearns approached this past offseason.
Milwaukee is coming off of two straight postseason appearances and their window to win is wide open. But instead of re-signing some key free agents or making another splash signing or two, Stearns instead elected to let a number of notable players go and he replaced them with inexpensive, low floor, low ceiling free agents.
Although some of these additions such as Eric Sogard, Justin Smoak, Jedd Gyorko, and Avisail Garcia, among others have the potential to produce, if things go south for them, the Brewers could really struggle this year offensively. That coupled with Milwaukee’s payroll being in the neighborhood of $25 million below what it was last season has led to many showing frustration.
But with that said, if we look back on this past offseason knowing what we know now, we can understand why Milwaukee may not have been willing to spend big money.
With the Yelich contract extension talks starting back in October before free agency really started to heat up, and with Stearns not fully knowing how much money it would take to retain Yeli long-term, he was reluctant to tie-up future dollars on other players.
Let’s look at Grandal for example, since he was a player that the Brewers mentioned they wanted back. In addition to getting a deal from the Chicago White Sox that has him under contract until he’s 34 – which was already a turnoff for Milwaukee – having to match the $18.25 million per year that he is earning when Stearns didn’t know if Yelich would agree to $25 million per year or $35 million per year, had to be another factor in why Grandal wasn’t re-signed.
It was the unknown of what Yeli’s deal would look like that could have very well made the Brewers and Stearns more conservative in free agency this offseason. Ultimately Stearns didn’t want to back himself into a corner and lose payroll flexibility by signing a big contract or two without having their most important player locked down.
So instead, as I’ve already mentioned, the Brewers signed a number of inexpensive and short-term contracts to help bridge the gap this season while they figured out the Yelich extension and didn’t limit their spending power in future seasons.
Now as we look ahead to upcoming offseasons and knowing what it will cost to have Yelich in Milwaukee each year, it should give Stearns more flexibility in free agency moving forward. That dollar figure is no longer an unknown and Stearns can construct the roster around it, while potentially taking more risks since one major variable is now accounted for.
With all of that said, are the Milwaukee Brewers going to go out each offseason and be a big spender? Not at all. They are still a small-market team that has to be conscious of their payroll. However, I do expect Stearns to be more aggressive in making bigger free agent additions moving forward.