If the mammoth Giancarlo Stanton deal didn’t totally convince fans that the Marlins were serious about winning, then the Christian Yelich deal was the clincher. After an offseason that included inking Stanton to a 13-year, $325MM deal, signing Michael Morse, and pulling off multiple high-impact trades, the Marlins locked up the talented young outfielder on a $49.75MM, seven-year deal.
The two sides first began discussing parameters for a pact shortly after the 2014 season ended. Once the Marlins took care of their top priority, a new long-term deal for Stanton, they were ready to go full steam ahead with Yelich. At first, the Marlins casually reached out to agent Joe Longo to let him know that they wanted to work towards getting a deal done. Then, some initial figures were thrown out and it was clear that a sizable gap had to be bridged. For starters, Miami pitched a deal that was similar to Starling Marte’s six-year, $31.5MM extension with the Pirates.
“You arrive at deals different ways. You look at comps and you also think about the player and his skill set and how if you wait year-to-year in arbitration what those years would look like with consistent production,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill told MLBTR. “It made sense to us. That area was where we felt like we would like to try to get something done.”
While Longo could, on some level, understand the comparison between the two players, he felt that Yelich’s future earning potential called for something even more lucrative. What Longo could pretty much agree with, however, was the length of Marte’s contract. As Longo put it, “the framework of the deal was okay, but the numbers didn’t line up for us.”
Both sides were very much on the same page when it came to that length since the Marlins never seriously considered a deal that was shorter or longer. Hill explained that he’s not really a fan of contracts that only go through arbitration years and when it comes to a pre-arbitration player, he feels that a longer deal can always be achieved later on.
For a while, the Marlins were hoping to replicate Marte’s exact contract structure: a total of six seasons with two additional option years. Longo, meanwhile, preferred a six-year deal with one option year, which would have allowed Yelich to explore the open market before the age of 30. Eventually, the two sides reached a compromise on that point when the Marlins proposed that they would guarantee the 2021 season rather than leaving it as an option.
Even though that initial dollar figure was less than what Yelich’s camp was hoping for, Longo says he didn’t come away from that conversation disappointed.
“Negotiations have an ebb and flow to them. Ultimately, Christian was okay with waiting on an extension and waiting to see what could come in future years. Really, it’s a positive thing when your employer likes you and in baseball sometimes just getting an offer of an extension feels good, because that’s a good review of what you’ve been doing,” Longo explained. “I went back to Christian and I told him what the numbers were but I explained that A, They’ve never done anything like this before and B, he’s a unique player and there aren’t a lot of comps out there for him, so we had to be patient and take just the start of the conversation as a positive.”
Early on in the talks, Longo made a point to cite the advanced stats that supported Yelich’s production over the last two years. Yelich’s slash line and Gold Glove award were pretty good indicators of what he can do, but they were reinforced by his tremendous walk rate (10.6% in 2014) and UZR/150 (10.2 in ’14).
The advanced metrics were also very key to the Marlins’ side of things, not just in negotiations but in their overall evaluation of Yelich throughout the process.
“Everything played a part for us,” Hill said. “When you talk commitment you want to make sure it’s the right person, the right player, the right skill set, and the right talent and you want to make sound decisions. I don’t think there was anyone in our office who didn’t believe that this was the right thing to do for Christian.”
As the talks progressed, the discussions of stats became a little less pronounced and the two sides began to come a little bit closer on the dollar figure. Early on, Yelich was hopeful that a deal could be worked out, but he was also mentally prepared to continue on the arbitration path, at the advice of Longo. As Longo chatted with Hill and David Samson, the proposal of a $31.5MM guarantee slowly climbed up into the $40MM range. That was still shy of what Yelich was hoping for, but at that stage he felt that he had to at least consider what they were pitching in order to gain financial security for himself and for his family. The outfielder wanted to see where things would go, but he also asked that the talks cease before Opening Day to avoid any distractions.
Towards the end of spring training, the two sides shook hands on a sizable deal that will keep Yelich in Miami through 2021 and, possibly, 2022. The $49.75MM guarantee isn’t surprising to anyone who paid attention to what the 23-year-old did last season, but it’s the kind of money that was once reserved mostly for power hitters. In fact, Yelich’s deal is the second-biggest deal ever for someone in his service class, topping the likes of Ryan Braun and Anthony Rizzo. Hill is familiar with the precedent there, but that didn’t mean much to him when it came to Yelich.
“We totally understand the marketplace and how these young players have been compensated historically. We just believe that he’s a great talent and a complete talent. When you look at what he can do now offensively and what we think he’ll grow into as he matures as a hitter, the deal made sense to us,” explained Hill.
Of course, Yelich is not the first player without a major power bat to land a big deal in recent years. Around this time last year, the Braves signed defensive-minded shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year extension with $58MM in guaranteed money. And, just recently, Josh Harrison and Juan Lagares both got significant guarantees, albeit not on the same tier as Yelich and Simmons. Longo saw Yelich’s deal as yet another indication that teams across the majors, not just the Marlins, are putting emphasis back on defense and other areas of the game that might have been a bit undervalued.
Yelich’s well-rounded skill set, upside, and age gave the Marlins plenty of reason to want to tack on additional years of control. As Longo stressed during the talks, Yelich carries himself with tremendous poise for someone his age – not just on the field, but off the field as well. While some players choose to sit back and let their agent handle all of the back-and-forth contract talks, the 23-year-old took an active role in discussions with the Marlins’ front office.
“I think it was very unique for a player at his age,” the agent said. “Usually, the older they get, the more they participate in the process. Certainly when you get a guy who has been through an arbitration year, it causes a client to learn more about the business of baseball. But, the fact that he’s never been through the arbitration process and participated as much as he did, that was very impressive at 23 and I think that was part of the reason the Marlins targeted him. His level of maturity, how smart he is, how well he understands the game, and the business of the game all played a role.”
In the days leading up to the agreement, Yelich met a few times with Samson to discuss his long-term future with the franchise. The Marlins already knew that they were dealing with an older soul in the young outfielder, but he reminded them of his all-around maturity over the course of the spring.
“His plate awareness and strike zone awareness is definitely beyond his years. You look at his natural feel for the strike zone and his knowledge of the game and he’s been that way as a person from the day we drafted him in 2010,” Hill said. “He’s quiet, he’s focused, and he has a desire to excel at his craft to play in baseball. He’s not about flair, he’s not about the limelight, he just goes out and gets the job done.”
Now, with his deal in hand, the understated Yelich can focus on what he does best without having to think about his contract situation for several years.