Left Field Trades: Christian Yelich
The Yankees have at least one player set for each position next year but left field. Is there a player out there to trade for?
The Background on Christian Yelich:
Coming out as one of the best high school players in the country during his senior year at Westlake High School (Westlake Village, CA), Christian Yelich was set to fly across the country to play baseball with the Miami Hurricanes. Then, Christian Yelich had a new reason to fly across the country to play baseball. As the 23rd overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft by the Miami Marlins, Yelich forewent his commitment to college to go into the minor leagues.
Yelich would spend that 2010 season through half of the 2013 season in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut on July 23rd, 2013. By this point, Yelich had twice been the "Minor League Player of the Year" for the Miami Marlins and had gone from a consensus Top-50 prospect going into 2012 to a consensus Top-25 prospect going into 2013. Interestingly enough, Yelich never played at the Triple-A level- and had just 49 games at the Double-A level- before being called up to the bigs.
Christian Yelich would spend his first 5 years in the MLB with the Miami Marlins from 2013-2017. During this time, he solidified himself as a solid player who was just below great. He won a Gold Glove award in 2014 and a Silver Slugger in 2016. Though he was making a name for himself as a Marlin, a bunch of turmoil occurring with the Miami Marlins organization and front office after the 2017 season had Yelich sent off to the Milwaukee Brewers for a package of 4 players (none of whom panned out for the Marlins).
After becoming a Milwaukee Brewer, Christian Yelich immediately popped off and won the National League MVP Award, unanimously. He followed up that season with a 2nd place finish in the NL MVP award in 2019 (held back by his playing only 130 games due to a fractured knee cap off a foul tip in mid-September). To say Christian Yelich was not one of the best players in baseball at that time would be an understatement. So, going into the 2020 season, Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers agreed on a 9-Year/$215 Million ($26.9M AAV) extension to keep him in Milwaukee from 2020 through the 2028 season. Since then, however, Yelich has had some back problems and his stats have regressed from otherworldly to just above league average.
The Stats on Christian Yelich:
To look at the career of Christian Yelich, we'll break it into 2 parts: the Miami, and the Milwaukee.
Christian Yelich spent parts of 5 seasons (2013-2017) with the Miami Marlins while playing 643 games. During this time, he hit to a combined .290/.369/.432/.800 quadruple slash (121 OPS+) with 719 hits, 59 home runs, 219 extra base hits, 293 RBI's, 72 stolen bases (18 times caught) and 300 walks to 579 strikeouts. This led him to +17.5 bWAR and +17.5 fWAR.
Yelich has since spent the next 5 years of his career (2018-2022) with the Milwaukee Brewers while playing in 606 games. During this time, he has hit to a combined .283/.385/.503/.888 quadruple slash (139 OPS+) with 633 hits, 115 home runs, 246 extra base hits, 337 RBI's, 84 stolen bases (14 times caught) and 352 walks to 604 strikeouts. This had led him to accumulate +18.5 bWAR and +19.5 fWAR.
Overall in his career, Yelich has played in 1249 games while hitting to a .287/.376/.466/.842 quadruple slash (130 OPS+) with 1352 hits, 174 home runs, 465 extra base hits, 630 RBI's, 156 stolen bases (32 times caught) and 652 walks to 1183 strikeouts. All together, he's been worth +36.1 bWAR and +36.7 fWAR.
Creating a Trade Proposal for Christian Yelich:
One of the best things about looking at trades is trying to theory-craft different ideas for how a player could come over to the Yankees. Now, I am by no means an expert at this and if we want to adapt an old saying from the best in the business: "Your Trade Proposal isn't Very Good". That applies to me as much as it does to you. This doesn't mean that we can't have fun attempting to come up with a general trading principle, but it serves as a reminder that there is a reason none of us are running a major league franchise.
For Christian Yelich, his value (according to BaseballTradeValues.com) comes out at -112.2 MTV. (MTV means Millions [of dollars] of Trade Value.) That value is calculated to figure out how valuable he will be on his current contract. Even though he's under control through the 2028 season, his higher salary (about $26.9 Million AAV) combined with him going into his age-31 season and being under control until he's 36 and out of his prime go against him. For the sake of this experiment, we're also going to ignore that Christian Yelich. has a full no-trade clause in his contract and just assume that he'd okay a trade to New York.
Now, with that much negative value coming to the Yankees in this trade proposal, the Yankees would need to be getting back a favorable deal. To me, this would mean taking on a bad contract or two from the New York Yankees. Luckily, we have two players who fit that mold.
Josh Donaldson is not a necessary player for the Yankees in 2023. His defensive game is very good, but his bat has fallen off a cliff and the Yankees already have other options (IKF, DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Volpe?) who could quickly take over for Donaldson in the immediate (and long-term?) future. As he's a -20.3 MTV player currently and as the Brewers could use a third baseman (more on this later), he's a proper add to the mix.
Aaron Hicks would also find himself without a position on the Yankees, but coincidently the Brewers would be opening up an outfield spot with this trade. Hicks adds (?) another -17.4 MTV to the trade, bringing the Yankees and Brewers to be -74.5 MTV apart.
Now, in a perfect world where teams abided strictly by the values on BaseballTradeValues.com and had a desire to make trades perfectly even by it, the Milwaukee Brewers could also add Corbin Burnes and his +78.3 MTV to the trade (while asking for a lesser prospect from the Yankees in return) to complete the deal. This won't happen. (As much as I wish it could.) So, instead of that we will have to really become creative to make this deal work.
The next part of this trade would be an interesting swap, but would (on paper) make sense to get the deal to be closer in value. For this part of the deal, the Yankees and Brewers would swap "super-utility players" by sending DJ LeMahieu (-18.9 MTV) and Luis Urias (+15.6 MTV). This brings us within -40 MTV. Luis Urias is also set to be the Brewers third baseman in 2023, which this deal would also address by sending them Josh Donaldson.
From here, it's easy. The Milwaukee Brewers have a tradeable pick in the 2023 MLB Draft as a team with a competitive balance (Round A) pick, which is the 33rd overall for the draft and is worth +6.1 MTV. From here, we'd add in the Brewers eating $5 Million per year on the remaining guaranteed years left on Christian Yelich's contract (or $30 Million total...so, +30 MTV) and we have a difference of just -3.1 in favor of the Brewers.
Talk about a blockbuster of a trade! Wow.
The Milwaukee Brewers Get: Josh Donaldson, Aaron Hicks, DJ LeMahieu
The New York Yankees Get: Christian Yelich (+ Brewers eat $5M per year from 2023-2028), Luis Urias, 2023 MLB Draft Competitive Balance (Round A, 33rd Overall) Pick
Would I Do This?
This is an interesting case. On one hand, this would be a very clear and obvious 'yes' from me. While I am a huge fan of DJ LeMahieu, his recent health issues are a concern and in the trade a younger and cheaper version of him would be coming back to the Yankees. Add in how the Yankees would be able to shed a bunch more payroll/salary with the removal of Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks and it seems to be a no-brainer. Let's look at it this way, the combination of those three will cost the Yankees $47 Million in 2023 and $119.5 Million (when considering buy-outs for Donaldson & Hicks) over the course of their collective 8 years left on contract.
Christian Yelich alone is going to make (at least, considering his buy-out) $162.5 Million over his final 6 years on his deal. When you look at it this way, with the Yankees having contracts that cost less (in the bigger picture) while also holding onto a shorter leash for these guys, maybe the deal isn't great for the Yankees. (Note: These values do not include the $30 Million/$5 Million each year (2023-2028) that, in my deal above, the Brewers would have to add to the deal.)
For a team like the Brewers- who haven't had a Top-15 payroll since 2008- this may actually be a smart move. They'd get to shed their highest salaried player while taking on more money in the immediate future (during a time when we know teams are making tons of money on TV deals, league-revenues, etc.) while opening up more cash in the future to spend on extending their current talent. Not worrying about a Christian Yelich contract to navigate around every year for the next 6 seasons for the Brewers could drastically alter how much money Mark Attanasio would be willing to throw at the team.
The Yankees don't have those same concerns. They can handle another $26 Million contract and still make money hand over fist. To get the Brewers to eat on any of that extra $30 Million (or so, likely it'd be less) would be icing on the cake and also smart business.
Let's also think about it like this:
Christian Yelich's expected value for 2023 (by Fangraphs) is about 3 WAR for his $26 Million salary. Luis Urias is projected for 3 WAR at an expected $4.5 Million salary. Combined it'd be 6 WAR for $30.5 Million.
Meanwhile, the combination of Donaldson (1.4 WAR for $21M), Hicks (1.2 WAR for $10.5M), and DJ LeMahieu (2.4 WAR for $15M) comes out to 5 WAR for $46.5 Million.
Seems like an obvious win for the Yankees, right? Maybe. Except Josh Donaldson will be off the payroll in 2024. Aaron Hicks will be off the payroll in 2026. DJ LeMahieu (the best player of the bunch) will be off the payroll in 2027.
Christian Yelich is on the payroll through 2028.
Ultimately, this would come down to how much the Brewers want to shed future salary. If they want to be out from underneath the Christian Yelich deal, they could easily get this done. It's require a bit more up-front as a financial commitment, but the Yankees would be a perfect trade partner.
I'd make this deal.