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  • E.J. Fagan

What About Christian Yelich?

By EJ Fagan

Special to SSTN

December 28, 2022


Note: This article comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is used with permission.


Michael Conforto signed a very reasonable one year deal with a player option with the San Francisco Giants. Dalton Varsho is now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. In this game of musical chairs, the seats are starting to fill up.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that Conforto isn’t a Yankee if he was willing to sign the contract he agreed to with the Giants. New York is a better place for Conforto thanks to the short porch, World Series contending roster and given that he already lives there. From the Yankee perspective, Conforto is a much better option than the Oswaldo Cabreras and Max Keplers of the world. I’ve already covered Reynolds and Tatis as trade possibilities. Assuming this isn’t a budgetary issue, who else would be better than Conforto?

Maybe the Yankees are interested in Christian Yelich.

Yelich has had a strange career. He started his career as a high batting average ground ball hitter for the Marlins with single-digit home run totals. Then he was traded to Milwaukee and became one of the game’s best power hitters, won one MVP and finished second for another, and signed a massive $215 million contract.

Today, he’s somewhere in between his two prior selves. Yelich is still a strong hitter who hits the ball hard, but has become more of an average power hitter. He’s also lost most of his defense in the outfield. Yelich has never had a strong arm, but used to have elite range. He now gets the worst outfield jumps in baseball.

There’s a lot to like here. Yelich has Yankees-level exit velocity. His problem has always been hitting the ball in the air. The Brewers are a pretty smart team, but I wonder if the Yankees coaching staff could get him to hit more balls in the air. He’s a left-handed hitter. Maybe the Yankees could get Yelich to pull the ball more.

His contract is a mixed bag. Yelich has an AAV of just $24 million for the next five seasons. It’s a back loaded deal, so Yelich is owed $26 million for the next six years. That’s not a great contract, but could be pretty reasonable if he returns somewhat to form. If he can be an average defensive left fielder, even the diminished Yelich of 2021-2022 would be a 3-4 win player. And there’s real potential for Yelich to return to more elite form. The contract is just bad enough that the Brewers might want to trade Yelich but not bad enough that the Yankees wouldn’t want it.

The Brewers are in a weird spot right now. They finished second with 86 wins in a weak NL Central in 2022. The Cardinals are still strong. The Cubs are trying to contend. The Brewers are probably better than the Cubs right now, but are staring down at a lot of their top players leaving for free agency. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Willy Adames are all free agents after the 2024 season. Yet, the Brewers don’t seem eager to rebuild just yet. They could be active at the trade deadline if the start of the season goes poorly, but for now probably want to make one more go at it.

If they were to trade Yelich to the Yankees, I think it would be a bit of a weird trade. The Brewers are pretty weak at third and second. I could see them being interested in Gleyber Torres, Josh Donaldson or Isaiah Kiner-Falefa. I’m sure the Yankees would have to kick in some prospects to get Yelich, but given the contract maybe not.

My trade proposal sucks, but what about this?

Yankees Get: Christian Yelich

Brewers Get: Gleyber Torres, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa, Trey Sweeney

I think both teams are better off in 2023 after this trade. Torres is a pretty huge upgrade for the Brewers, replacing most of Yelich’s production. He’s also a free agent at the same time as the Brewers core squad, so they could trade him at the same time if things don’t go well. The Brewers don’t really have a backup shortstop, and are pretty weak at third base as well.

The Yankees get a big improvement at left field, and a potential value if they can get some of his hitting back. They get a left-handed hitter to lead off. They not only get to hold on to some of the prospects that would be involved in a Tatis or Reynolds trade, but clear up the log jam that is currently blocking those prospects.

The downside is that Yelich is the same age as Aaron Judge. Both players will slow down into their 30s, with Giancarlo Stanton blocking the DH spot. Yelich’s decline may already have started, although I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that his physical tools have degraded over the last two years.

Acquiring him would definitely be a gamble. If he returns to form, the Yankees have a low-AAV star left-handed hitting outfielder who fits their team like a glove. If he continues to decline, the Yankees would have another unmovable contract elbowing out younger, better players. I’m not sure that I pull the trigger on this trade if I’m Brian Cashman, but I could definitely see it happening.

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Start Spreading the News is the place for some of the very best analysis and insight focusing primarily on the New York Yankees.

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