Tuesday’s news of star outfielder Christian Yelich agreeing to a contract extension with the Milwaukee Brewers appeared to receive two reactions – joy and anger.
Admittedly, none of the latter was felt in Wisconsin.
While Brewers fans celebrated their team ponying up a nine-figure contract for Yelich, most of the vitriol from this news occurred 423 miles east. Within the Cleveland Indians’ fan-base, this news was viewed as another reason to bash team ownership for its handling of superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Seeing Milwaukee shed payroll this winter, but then use freed up funds to help ink an extension with Yelich. Seeing a small market team in general fork over a large contract for its star. Seeing the Brewers convince Yelich to take a hometown discount.
They’re all factors which, on the surface, could force a Cleveland fan to say “why can’t that happen here?”
To those who’ve felt this, who are tempted to voice their frustration about another small-market club proving that, yes, they make money, too, I have one polite suggestion.
There’s no point in spinning your wheels here. For the most part, seeing this as a reason to be upset with Indians ownership is off-based.
Though it may look that way initially, the reality is there’s very little about Yelich and Lindor’s respective situations which is comparable.
I will start by saying I get the frustration which may come from seeing a team in Milwaukee offer nine years and $215 million to one player. The “small market team cries poor” routine is both tired and hollow, proof of which has been on display all offseason. Cleveland earns all the gripes it receives when continuing to trot this excuse out to explain why it may not be able to extend Lindor.
The similarities between Yelich and Lindor basically end there, though.
Yelich obviously deserved an expensive extension. He’s been a godsend in Milwaukee, generating a combined 15.4 fWAR over his past two years with the team. Only three players in the entire league have been worth more to their respective clubs in that time frame.
As noted, though, the 2018 NL MVP signed off on a hometown discount.
Once Yelich surpasses the next two years of his contract – during which he’ll make a combined $26.5 million – he’ll net an average annual value of around $27 million over the following seven years. It’s likely lower than what he should be able to command, especially considering he was on pace to surpass his MVP season last year before being sidelined with a fractured kneecap.
This could be due to the fact he was on schedule to hit free agency ahead of his age-31 season, an admittedly tougher time to land a lengthy and lucrative deal. Either way, Yelich accepted a lower dollar amount with his team’s best interests in mind.
It’s a choice which was his to make. It’s also a decision no Indians fans should expect from Lindor.
Cleveland’s shortstop – set to enter free agency ahead of his age-28 season – would likely scoff at ownership if offered an AAV of $27 million. If Lindor believes he can get a $400 million deal elsewhere, he’s not going to hinder his chances to get it. He won’t be giving Cleveland any wiggle room, either, a point he made very clear to The Athletic’s Jayson Stark.
"Discounts? No. That don’t exist.”
Fans may feel compelled to hold this against Lindor, especially when a markdown feels like the only way the Indians can realistically ensure he stays in town. The harsh reality, though, is that no athlete in any sport should be shamed for going after every dollar they can get.
Lindor is a superstar now, but he’s one significant injury away from seeing his value decline. Yelich may have made peace with taking less to stay with his team, but Lindor won’t be doing anything like that. Nor should he, especially considering the numbers he’s expected to command.
Still, should a club from Milwaukee handing out a pricey extension be viewed as a bad look for the Indians?
Yes and no.
Yes in that we officially need to put the “small market = no money” excuse to pasture. Teams have money to spend, regardless of where they call home. It just comes down to whether they choose to do it.
However, Yelich’s overall situation – a star taking less than what he could realistically make partly because he was set to hit free agency at a later point in his career – just isn’t what the Indians are dealing with.
Lindor will enter free agency in his prime, and has zero interest in leaving any money on the table. Regardless of how you feel about the Indians’ efforts to retain him, comparing his situation to that of Yelich isn’t an accurate way to look at it.